Dorie Barton: What shapes us as women deserves a whole film

Everyone on set – women and men – fully embraced that we were making a film about menstruation. There was no true awkwardness because we intentionally created an environment where it was perfectly “normal.”

Girl Flu - the lesson

#DirectedbyWomen conversed with Writer-Director Dorie Barton this week about her tender, funny film Girl Flu, which explores the complexities of a girl’s first menstrual cycle. Girl Flu has been chosen as Portland Film Festival’s Closing Narrative Film.

DBW:  Watching Girl Flu was a real pleasure. Thanks for making us a film about a girl’s first period. Definitely something that’s been lacking in cinema history.  What inspired you to tell this story and what do you see as the heart of your film?

DB: Thank you so much! The fact that this story has not been represented onscreen is what actually inspired me to make this film. I really felt like this life transition is so important to what shapes us as women that it deserved a whole film.

At the heart of the film is the challenge of accepting our bodies, at every stage of our lives. Navigating what our bodies are going through and what we feel that means about us as people is an incredibly delicate balancing act. Sometimes that comes from starting your period, or realizing that you’re old enough to have a daughter who’s getting her first period and that you yourself need to grow up to be able to help her. Our experience of our bodies can really define us.

I felt betrayed by my own body when I got my first period. I didn’t want to have the responsibility of “becoming a woman” and everything that seemed to mean. Some young women are ready for it. I was most definitely not. Since the average age of girls getting their first period is 12, I think it’s important to remember that “women” are really still children when this major life change happens.

Girl Flu - Film - Have a Nice Life

DBW:  There’s drama and tension in the film, but there’s also something very relaxed about the way the action unfolds. What was your vision for leading the audience into the story and keeping us engaged?

DB: It was important to me to give the audience the space to really connect with each character, and with the relationships between them. By seeing the intimacy of their world, the audience gets attached to the characters, and learns what they want and need. The audience leans in to their journey like we would with a friend that we want to see come through a crisis with laughter and love.

DBW:  I’m curious about your casting process. Was it challenging to find just the right actors for these roles?

DB: It was less difficult than many people expected it to be. I really felt strongly that the right people would somehow arrive, and they did. Every actor stepped up to the plate with an enormous amount of generosity and open-heartedness. The performances are really what make this film, and each actor in this piece really delivered something so unique and truly inspired. I’m grateful beyond my capacity to express it.

DBW: Menstruation isn’t always a comfortable topic for people to discuss. How did you help make your set a safe and comfortable place for your young star Jade to navigate through?

DB: Everyone on set – women and men – fully embraced that we were making a film about menstruation. There was no true awkwardness because we intentionally created an environment where it was perfectly “normal.” There were a lot of jokes and laughter, of course, and much of that was from the joy of it not being taboo. Everyone also felt naturally very protective of Jade, because what she was playing was so brave.

I was extremely lucky to have rehearsal time with Jade over the course of the several weeks of pre-production, and she and I talked about Everything. Set was also safe in some ways because Jade is so different from Bird. Jade got to play someone who was struggling with her first period, which – though hugely courageous and personal – is much the same as playing anything deeply personal. And she’s a great actor, with incredible emotional and intellectual depth. I’m also very open about my own issues with menstruation, and my awful first period. Being unguarded about it is the whole point of the film, so it was really gratifying to see everyone on set – and everyone in the audiences – so open about the topic.

Girl Flu - the talk

DBW:  How are audiences responding? Have you been surprised by who is resonating with the film?

DB: Audiences have been so warm and so overwhelming positive about the film. Many women come up to me afterwards and tell me about their experiences, both about their own first periods and having daughters going through that experience. It makes me incredibly happy that it resonates for so many people.

It has been surprising to see so many men really embracing this film. There are terrific performances by men in the picture that provide a way in for them, and shows them that it’s not only okay for them to talk about it, but that there’s a profoundly important role for them to play in this transition, too. If we’re going to change the dialogue around menstruation, we need both women and men to be willing to talk about it. When this film helps them do that, that’s truly rewarding.

DBW:  During September’s #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party film lovers will be looking for opportunities to expand their awareness of films by women directors… and discovering directors new to them. Have suggestions of women directors they might explore – particularly directors who aren’t household names?

DB: In the past two festivals I’ve been to, the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Sidewalk Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, I’ve seen the work of many women directors whose work I greatly admire. Leila Djansi, Melissa Finell, Maisie Crow, Amber Tamblyn, Tracy Wares, Amber Sealey, and Anna Biller are just a few.

Dorie Barton writer-director GIrl Flu

DBW:  Do you have plans to direct again?  Anything you can share with us about what’s on the horizon?

DB: I love writing and directing, so will absolutely be doing more. My next script is a darker, sexier but still comedic turn, looking at the role of a classic femme fatale. It’s always frustrated me that so many female characters are shown as rapacious opportunists who exist in films only to ruin the lives of men. I’m interested in showing the woman’s point of view.

DBW: Thanks for taking time to share.  Have a great time at Portland Film Festival.

DB: Thank you!

Girl Flu at Portland Film Festival 2016
Sunday September 4, 2016 7:15pm – 9:00pm
Laurelhurst Theater 2735 E Burnside St, Portland OR 97214