#IndyShorts: Women Directors Share Insights About Their Short Films – Part 1

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This post is the second in the #IndyShorts series. Please explore #IndyShorts: Women Directors Share Insights About Their Short Films – Part 2 (7/24/2018).

The Heartland Film Festival has expanded. This summer they are launching their new Indy Shorts International Film Festival: July 26 – 29, 2018. The narrative and documentary categories are Academy Award®-qualifying! This festival is making room for a larger number of short films to screen than was possible during Heartland Film Festival’s fall programming. Curious to learn about the creative process behind the making of some of the short films included in the new festival #DirectedbyWomen invited a number of women directors to respond to this question…

“Could you please tell us about a moment during the making of your film when you could feel your vision coming together or when you overcame a challenge in a satisfying way?”

Here’s what Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian, Carol Nguyen, Jean Pesce, Kendall Goldberg, Leah Galant, Ming-Zhu Hii, Rachel Myers and Rebecca Blumhagen had to say about their filmmaking processes. Stay tuned for more in an upcoming post.

Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian

Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian

Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian

When I first started working on the script, I felt I needed to gain back some of the feelings and the experiences I had during my first days in Israel. And so I went to visit an immigrant absorption center.

There,—through a family of immigrants who agreed that I would accompany them—I could relive the great pain of parting from your birth land.

Facing the Wall directed by Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian – Sureni, 14, wakes up to her first morning in an Israeli absorption center. She keeps her eyes and ears closed. She won’t leave her bed. She does everything she can to shut out her new reality and pretend she never left Ethiopia. As the hours pass, and the light of day fades, Sureni’s mother, at first blind to her daughter’s suffering, finds a way to reach out and help Sureni say goodbye to the world they left behind.

Facing the Wall screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Joyce Forum Winners program
7/26 – 11:30pm at The Toby

Follow Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian on the Black Sheep Film Productions website.


Carol Nguyen

Carol Nguyen

Carol Nguyen

The production of Every Grain of Rice surprisingly came together very smoothly. I say this because I always expect for something to have something go wrong on set, or to have major writer’s block when writing, but this film in particular felt very natural to make. It went so smoothly that I have anticipated something just having to go wrong later in the process. One bump that hit was on the second day of shooting, when we began to shoot scenes with my lead actress (my sister). She wasn’t giving me exactly what I wanted, so I had to pull her aside and help her re-evaluate the scene. I told her a very personal story, one that made me a little nervous as I spoke because I never told her it before. The honesty and my vulnerability helped her shift her perspective on the scene. It also helped us develop our own relationship in real life.

Every Grain of Rice directed by Carol Nguyen – They say it takes only three generations for a culture to assimilate. What happens next?

Every Grain of Rice screens at Indy Shorts as part of Shorts Program 2: We Are Family
7/26 – 1:30pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/28 – 7:00pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall

Carol Nguyen is serving on the High School Film Competition Jury. Carol is a two-time Grand Prize High School Winner at Heartland Film Festival. Follow Carol Nguyen on InstagramTwitter and on her website.


Jean Pesce

Jean Pesce

Jean Pesce

Everything that could go wrong, went wrong on this shoot! It was disastrously difficult. I remember thinking, “If this movie is even watchable, I will have succeeded.”

My movie is a true story. I really did have a drunken sit-down with the Mafia a couple of summers ago! Recreating that moment with such talented actors was just a joy. Truly, all of the actors were the best part of the process. They were amazing, intelligent, supportive, and collaborative.

One bad thing? We were loading into the Bar location. The actor playing my Bar Tender came up to me and said, “Hey, man. I’m really sorry, but I just got booked on a Tom Hooper commercial. I’ve got to bail.”

Now, with thirty minutes before we were due to shoot that scene, I had no actor to play the Bar Tender, who was set to shoot for two days and had a stunt, involving getting thrown out of the bar! After cursing up a storm on set, my sound guy approached me. His name was Matt and we’d gone to undergrad together. He said, “I did some acting, like ten years ago.”

I couldn’t believe my luck! Matt Casuccio! He’s Italian! What a happy accident! So, when you watch the scenes with the bar tender, please know: that’s the Sound Guy, who got hired twenty minutes before we shot the scene! And he did great! Also, he did the stunt like a champ. It makes me happy every time I watch it.

So You Like the Neighborhood directed by Jean Pesce is a dark comedy about a girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend and then evicted from her Brooklyn apartment, all in the same day. When she goes to drown her sorrows at a nearby bar, she befriends some locals who offer to help her with the eviction. They just so happen to be former mafia members and by ‘help,’ they mean something rather more nefarious.

So You Like the Neighborhood screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 8: Comedy
7/28 – 4:30pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/29 – 7:30pm at The Toby

Follow Jean Pesce on Facebook, Twitter, and on her website.


Kendall Goldberg

Kendall Goldberg

Kendall Goldberg

Making Gloria Talks Funny, which was my senior thesis film at Chapman University, was an absolute blast. I worked closely with some of my best friends and met new ones throughout the process.

There were many moments where I could see my vision coming together, but one in particular was when we were shooting Gloria (played by the amazing Candi Milo) performing stand up in a bar. We filled the place with extras (some crew members doubled). Candi had to entertain her “audience” in between setups. She was throwing jokes left and right, people were genuinely laughing, and everyone was having a great time. It was exactly what I wanted for the scene, but it was happening in real life, unscripted.

Gloria Talks Funny directed by Kendall Goldberg – Gloria, a down-on-her luck voice actress, hasn’t had a fulfilling gig in many years. Trying her best to look past the meaningless and degrading jobs her agent sends her way, she befriends her sound engineer, Kevin, who ends up pushing her to realize she’s more than just the voice behind the famed cartoon that started her career. When a fan recognizes her and asks if she’ll be voicing the remake of her old cartoon, she immediately confronts her agent, Dennis, as to why she hasn’t heard about this sooner. When she realizes Dennis isn’t going to help her become BioBoy again, she takes matters into her own hands. With the help of Kevin, and a new found interest, she beings to understand that she is talented, funny, and may not need to be BioBoy again to feel happy and fulfilled in her career.

Gloria Talks Funny screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 8: Comedy
7/28 – 4:30pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/29 – 7:30pm at The Toby

Follow Kendall Goldberg on Instagram, Twitter and on her website. And keep an eye out for her upcoming feature film When Jeff Tried to Save the World starring Jon Heder.


Leah Galant

Leah Galant

Leah Galant

Filming with Inge was such a fun experience and my goal was to subvert expectations of what they would expect the film would be about.

I lost all of my grandparents at a young age so having Inge in my life was really special. I think being around Inge and hearing her story I started to really understand the importance of cross generational relationships and how mutually beneficial it was for both of us.

Being around elders is so important and some of the advice Inge gave me I use on a daily basis. You can check on the film as a NY Times Op doc and at festivals near you to hear some of her wisdom and see her rock out to death metal music!

Death Metal Grandma directed by Leah Galant – 97 year old Holocaust Survivor, Inge Ginsberg, rose to fame as a songwriter for legendary musicians such as Doris Day, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. Death Metal Grandma follows Inge Ginsberg’s journey to break out as a performer of death metal music and as she prepares for an America’s Got Talent Audition. The short documentary interweaves the rich personal history of Inge’s life as she attempts to merge her personal lyrics with the contemporary genre of Death Metal.

Death Metal Grandma screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 6: Young at Heart
7/27 – 11:45am at The Toby
7/29 – 2:45pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall

Follow Leah Galant on Instagram, Twitter and on her website.


Ming-Zhu Hii

Ming-Zhu Hii

Ming-Zhu Hii

The moment I felt my vision coming together was actually quite late into post-production. It took two years to complete this 5-minute short, primarily because I wasn’t at all satisfied that what I had shot came close to how I wanted the film to feel.

After having played with a huge number of completely different cuts based on the original (much more narratively straightforward) script, I’d finally in desperation done this very fragmented edit of the film based on what interested me rhythmically; viscerally. I threw the entire initial structure, and about 70% of the captured dialogue out the window; I used multiple takes of the one shot repeatedly, and wrote a kind of poetic voiceover; essentially I followed my nose until I had something that felt very close to right.

But then I put that cut in a drawer for ages because I didn’t trust my own instincts, and half of me was still trying my force myself into a traditional storytelling box, even though everything inside me was screaming against the initial narrative I’d constructed.

However, it turns out I’m fiercely dogged about finishing things no matter what, so I brought another editor on board about a year later, and after trying the “straight narrative” version one last time, we decided to work from my poetic cut of the film with all its repetitions, its non-chronological intercutting and the visceral sense of traumatic intrusion as the driving force behind the progression of the film.

From then, as we refined, we began showing WIPs of it to a handful of other trusted people, and what was most thrilling about this was that a lot of people responded saying they felt as if the film itself were a panic attack — and that was precisely the point I knew we were very clearly on track. We have created a work of art that I am honestly intensely proud of, but that also serves with fidelity my initial intention behind the film. I feel like it genuinely needed to take that full two years for the film to tell me what it actually was.

But I think even beyond that, what I’ve developed is an incredibly strong foothold in my personal artistic practice which is in a very exciting way far less linear, and far more poetic and architecturally responsive to feeling than I thought it needed to be. Intrusion has taught me that in my own work, rule-breaking is a practical imperative.

Intrusion directed by Ming-Zhu Hii – Fashion editor, Marion enters a photographic studio to direct a shoot. A traumatic event has occurred the night before, but the details are fragmented and unclear. Marion finds herself entering the room repeatedly, until the memory of her trauma begins to emerge in the body and performance of the model.

Intrusion screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Finalist Shorts 2 program
7/27 – 4:30pm at The Toby
7/28 –  3:45pm at The Toby

Follow Ming-Zhu Hii on Instagram, Twitterher website and the film’s website.


Rachel Myers

Wendy's Shabbat

Rachel Myers

Rachel Myers

Entering the process of making the film I had storyboarded what we were going to capture and also shot listed with my cinematographer Jeanne Tyson. The footage was beautiful and plentiful and because we shot with two cameras there seemed to be unlimited options for the edit of our film. The biggest challenge emerged in how we pulled and culled the edit together in tone and also what we included. Every round of cuts seemed to be about trimming overall length while letting go of our darlings. My editor Dana Turken and I both felt strongly that the voice of the piece should be cohesive but succinct with an overall time limit in mind, so as we proceeded to cut we constantly found ourselves both adoring a piece of footage but asking in the balance “was it imperative” in how it painted our characters and filled out our story. The hardest part for me in the documentary filmmaking was feeling attached to the characters so that you didn’t want to lose them in the edit but also acknowledging that as a storyteller you are responsible for shaping the piece and that part of making the work means letting go.

Wendy’s Shabbat directed by Rachel Myers – The friends usher in the Sabbath – called by its Hebrew name, Shabbat – by candlelight, with challah bread and grape juice (no wine at Wendy’s) to complement their chicken nuggets and fries. Shabbat is typically observed at home with family, but here these seniors share in the celebration of their religion at Wendy’s. The Wendy’s staff, somewhat tickled and honored to be the site of such ritual, arrange the restaurant tables into a long row and prepare milkshakes for each attendee. This is a story of rediscovering the joys of community again in older age, and in the longing for ritual, however unorthodox it may appear. There are themes of love, of ritual and of community — all within the context of an adorable scene at Wendy’s

Wendy’s Shabbat screens at Indy Shorts as part of Shorts Program 6: Young at Heart
7/27 – 11:45am at The Toby
7/29 – 2:45pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall

Follow Rachel Myers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, her website and the film’s website.


Rebecca Blumhagen

Rebecca Blumhagen

Rebecca Blumhagen

One of the first challenges was figuring out how to include historical photos in a way that added to the aesthetic of the film without taking a break from the storytelling process, visually. I didn’t want to just do the same old thing that most documentaries do, a slow zoom or pan into old photos. I wanted to find a way to bring the photo to life that enriched the story and moved it forward, but still honored its history. I fell in love with the artist Georgie McAusland, who I found on a website called Women Who Draw, where I frequently source illustrators. I thought her style was perfect for this. When I wrote to her, she was really excited to join the team. Then I brought on my friend and frequent collaborator Erin Brown as my animator (we actually traded days on our shorts – I was her AD on a short that’s also playing at Indy Shorts, Rekindled, and she traded equal days of animating in the post process on The Happiness Machine). She helped to concept all the cool things we did. The slow rise of smoke from the chimney. The fall of a leaf from a tree. The small things you start to notice when you take the time (which is of course what the film is about). She came up with the idea of walking past the photos at the beginning. I came up with the idea of roots growing out of their feet to create the map. It was a fun process with lots of video calls spanning many time zones – Georgie in London, me in New York, Erin in LA. The best of collaborative, creative fun.

The Happiness Machine directed by Rebecca Blumhagen – Carl grew up a sharecropper on 22 acres in rural Iowa, which he now calls The Promised Land. A philosopher, inventor, and farmer, he shares with us the deeply intricate workings of his projects, (including a full span bridge he built with his hands), how they are connected to the land which was given to him as a promise, and what he hopes to pass on to his children as the gift of place.

The Happiness Machine screens at Indy Shorts as part of Shorts Program 6: Young at Heart
7/27 – 11:45am at The Toby
7/29 – 2:45pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall

Follow Rebecca Blumhagen on Facebook, Instagram and on her website.


Stay tuned. More insights from women who have work at Indy Shorts on the way in the coming days.

Hope to see you at the festival.

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Barbara Ann O'Leary

Inviting the world to fall madly in love with films #DirectedbyWomen.

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