This post is the second in the #IndyShorts series. Please explore #IndyShorts: Women Directors Share Insights About Their Short Films – Part 1 (7/17/2018).
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…
Here’s what Erin Brown Thomas, Hannah Ayers, Hannah West, Ilana Lapid, Inès Eshun, Isabelle Levent, Joey Chu, Julia Elihu, Laura Moss, Livia Alcalde, Margaret Bialis, Mari Mantela, Séverine De Streyker, Sylvia Le Fanu, Tassie Notar, and Zhanna Bekmambetova had to say about their filmmaking processes.
Erin Brown Thomas
This was my first time directing a comedy and I wanted to make sure every possible moment was mined for humor. The script did not have the dance number or songs in it, they were part of my vision (which was welcomed by the writer / lead actress Kelly Vrooman).
Once she and I decided to add those elements, we worked together with the composers to create the original songs in the film. Kelly and I came up with tons of funny / character-developing lyric possibilities, and our composers arranged them into the song you hear peppered throughout the film. It was a truly collaborative process that elevated the script from something that could have been seen on stage, to cinema.
Rekindled directed by Erin Brown Thomas – A comedy about removing the rose-colored glasses from the memory of first love, REKINDLED follows successful businesswoman Kate as she purchases an online deal to revitalize her relationship with her high school sweetheart. But as she soon discovers, the 40% discount is there for a reason…
Rekindled 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
Part of the process of making An Outrage involved traveling to sites where lynchings took place and meeting descendants and activists to learn about their efforts to memorialize those places. One early humid morning in Memphis, my co-director Lance Warren and I met Andre Johnson, a local pastor and professor, and George Grider, a retired oceanographer, in a construction company parking lot. Both are members of the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis, one of the most impressive grassroots efforts we’ve seen to investigate, document, and publicly recognize lynchings.
When we met them in June 2016, the site where Ell Persons was lynched 99 years prior was in a deeply forested area grown up with weeds. George led our search party, bushwacking a path through brush, thorns, and woods. When we finally emerged at the creek where Ell Persons was murdered in front of a crowd of thousands, we were all sweaty and covered in burrs. It was surreal to be so close to urban and industrial Memphis while standing in an eerily secluded spot.
We turned on the camera and audio recorder, and Andre began explaining what happened there—how a man’s life was brutally taken away, and how thousands cheered on the murder. “The trees are still drooping,” he said. “They’re still alive and bearing witness to what happened here—and asking us not to forget.” Documenting, preserving his reflection, we felt like we might be doing something worthwhile. On the one hand, the creek bed where we stood was a long-neglected space, one with no marker to the injustices that took place. At the same time, we were there with local people who were doing all they could to change the meaning of that space—to reclaim it and this time make it accessible as a place where people could reflect on lives lost to America’s tradition of racial violence.
Two years later, there are now two markers in Memphis that honor Ell Persons’ life and recognize his murder. Lance and I hope that our film will help other communities recognize their own histories of racial violence and determine how to come to terms with those histories in public, meaningful, and enduring ways.
An Outrage directed by Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren is a documentary film about lynching in the American South. Filmed on location at lynching sites in six states and bolstered by the memories and perspectives of descendants, community activists, and scholars, this unusual historical documentary seeks to educate even as it serves as a hub for action to remember and reflect upon a long-hidden past.
An Outrage screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 4: Making a Difference…
7/27 – 11:30am at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/28 – 10:30am at The Toby
I think the hardest part of any documentary is the editing process. That was especially true for Reversal. I had no idea where to start in telling Ian’s story. I totally scrapped everything and restarted the editing process roughly five or six times. However, I’m so happy I stuck with it, because I’m truly thrilled it came together the way it did. If you believe in a story, stick with it. It will figure out how to tell itself.
Reversal directed by Hannah West – Ian Pomfret, a mixed martial artist from Indiana, refuses to allow his past to define him. He has always been a fighter, both in the cage and in life. Ian must balance his personal struggles and experiences in order to be the man he is meant to be.
Reversal screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program: Indiana Spotlight 1…
7/26 – 7:15pm at The Toby
7/29 – 5:15pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
Follow Hannah West on Twitter.
We shot Yochi in western Belize, near the border with Guatemala. The film is about a 9-year-old, selectively mute Mayan boy, who guards a nest of endangered Yellow-Headed Parrots, and his older brother, who’s in debt and becomes a poacher. For the sake of authenticity, I decided to cast non-actors from villages in the region. Luckily, our producer found the young boy before I arrived in Belize, but we had trouble finding the 18-year-old. When I arrived in Belize, we drove through the villages of Cayo, stopping people in the street, announcing the film on the radio, even chasing down a man on horse-back who looked like a candidate. Three days before my crew arrived, the situation was looking dire. That night we drove up to a jungle lodge for a birthday party. When we got there, my producer came over and said: “Guess who is here? Itza (the character’s name)! He’s over there eating his dinner.”
I walked over and saw Evan Martinez, and straight away, I intuitively knew we had found our lead. I thought they had already told Evan about the film, so I dragged him away from his dinner. I started telling him: “This is how it’s going to be…” He looked at me for a long minute and said: “You need to chillax man. Go have a drink, eat your food, and then come talk to me!” This only confirmed to me that he was the one for the role. And indeed, Evan ended up doing an amazing job—even though he had never acted before.
The shoot was challenging. We stayed at a jungle lodge with only oil lanterns in our cabins. There was no cell phone reception in much of the region. Very limited internet. We had to wake up at 3:30am on most days to make it down to the village for sunrise. It was exceedingly hot. But thankfully we had an incredible crew of dedicated Belizean and US filmmakers, and we had the support of the village of San Antonio, Cayo. All the scenes with parrots were filmed with endangered Yellow-Headed Parrot chicks that had been rescued from poachers, being raised by Belize Bird Rescue.
When I first came up with the idea for Yochi, I remember wondering how we would manage to shoot a film in a remote region of Belize with non-actors and limited resources. It was so exciting and rewarding to see the project come together. It felt like an exercise in manifestation—things aligned almost as if the film itself wanted to be made. I feel very grateful for the experience.
Yochi directed by Ilana Lapid – Yochi, a 9-year-old selectively mute Mayan boy, guards a nest of endangered Yellow-Headed Parrots in Belize’s pine savannah. When his beloved older brother, Itza, returns from the city, Yochi learns that he’s in debt and has turned to poaching – setting the brothers on a collision course.
Yochi screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 4: Making a Difference…
7/27 – 11:30am at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/28 – 10:30am at The Toby
One of the most challenging but rewarding shooting days was when we shot the underwater scenes with the babies. Babies have a reflex that makes them hold their breath automatically under water, but I was still afraid of keeping them under water for too long.
Luckily the parents and the crew were very supportive, and the footage turned out great.
Esteban, the main character in my short film is played by 5 different young actors in different stages of his life. It was a challenge to cast all the different boys, making sure that they really looked like each other and formed a believable character together. Once the puzzle was made and Esteban came to life, it was truly an amazing feeling.
The Life of Esteban directed by Inès Eshun – Esteban, a future Olympic swimmer, has grown up with a single mother and doesn’t know who his father is. As he searches for his identity in this poetic short film, he determines swimming is a metaphor for life itself.
The Life of Esteban screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 3: Around the World…
7/26 – 10:00am at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/29 – 2:30pm at The Toby
Something I struggled with throughout the entire filmmaking process was figuring out how to contextualize minimalism in the 21st century. My film focuses on only two members of Generation Z and their minimalist habits and lifestyles, but I wanted to present the greater picture of overconsumption, consumerism, and technology that has prompted a new wave of minimalism. A few weeks before a strict submission deadline set by my fellowship program, I still felt as if I were missing the beginning to my film. Short on time, I was reluctant to commit myself to anything extraneous, but an idea had been percolating in my mind. Acting purely on instinct, I spent a week interviewing friends and high school classmates about minimalism. What started as a short interview often became an hour-long conversation that extended onto the street and subway. Minimalism resonated with everyone I spoke to. They wanted to talk about addicting phones and apps, fast fashion cycles, and the extreme pace of city life. After hours of aggressive trimming, editing, and second guessing, I finally found my beginning.
Less directed by Isabelle Levent – Two members of Generation Z expound on their values and habits as they redefine minimalism in a world of consumption, technology, and information overload.
Less screens at Indy Shorts as part of the High School Film Competition…
7/27 – 4:45pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/28 – 12:00pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
Follow Isabelle Levent on Instagram.
Since I am the subject’s daughter, this film unveiled aspects of my mother that I had never encountered. My mother trusted me with her story and my intention was simply to portray her legacy in other’s lives. Prior to shooting the film, I have never read any of my mother’s writings, so the scene of her poetic diary entry was something I did not expect. It was particularly difficult to hear of her struggle in present tense, as if it was happening right then. Not only did I learn a lot more about my family through the making of this film, I learned a great deal about myself and my upbringing. The process tackled a lot of questions I had growing up, and it forced me to see through it. I felt the faith my family had for me to give their stories justice. And most importantly, I felt a lot closer to my mother. When I went through the interviews and stories during post production, I was constantly reminded of her strength in me. To me, $30 To Antarctica became something more than the film itself. I believe that to be the most rewarding part in making this film.
$30 To Antarctica directed by Joey Chu – Raised in 1960s Hong Kong, Chau faced the bias of her elders who attempted to discourage her interest in the academics. Through a small gesture of support she received from a teacher, Chau built a life and career that moved beyond the restrictive boundaries set by her parents’ generation. She is now ready to fulfill a childhood dream—to see Antarctica.
$30 To Antarctica screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Finalist Shorts 1 program…
7/27 – 7:00pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/28 – 12:45pm at The Toby
On the first day of filming we overcame a great challenge, because we had to do a huge last-minute location change with almost 30 child actors. This was one of the most stressful moments during the filming process, but we managed to rally all of the kids and parents together and move to a park down the street in order to film the first shots of the film.
Once we finally got it settled, started rolling the camera, and I saw all of the kids and crew members in action, I realized again why I love filmmaking so much. I love seeing people in their element all come together for one purpose: for the passion of storytelling!
Yasamin directed by Julia Elihu – An eleven year old girl named Yasamin has just moved from Iran to Los Angeles amidst the Iranian Hostage Crisis; however, her navigation of the trials and tribulations of assimilation are learned through the act of waxing her eyebrows for the first time.
Yasamin screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 2: We Are Family…
7/26 – 1:30pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/28 – 7:00pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
This film really came together in post. The film is basically a stand up routine/nervous breakdown from the 1980’s and I was very selective about the reaction shots I felt were believably period. I realized we didn’t have enough audience coverage. We were going to have to repeat shots of the audience during the film. The horror! I banged my head against the cut, and eventually realized I could embrace the shot repetition to add to the unsettling feeling I was going for. A weakness became a strength. It was an important reminder to always try to see my way through the obstacles and be open to unexpected solutions.
Allen Anders – Live at the Comedy Castle (circa 1987) directed by Laura Moss – ‘Found footage’ of Allen Anders famed 1987 performance at New York City’s Comedy Castle offers a revealing window into the troubled comedian’s psyche.
Allen Anders – Live at the Comedy Castle (circa 1987) screens at Indy Shorts as part of Shorts Program 7: After Hours…
7/27 – 9:30pm at The Toby
7/28 – 9:45pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
My vision usually begins with a fading, blurry silhouette somewhere between dreams and consciousness. It hangs in there, waiting for its good chance to grow. Anything can feed it: a sentence from a couple who’s fighting on the bus, the weird trajectory of a feather falling to the ground, a child running with an ice cream melting in his tiny hands, unexpected joy, grief, longing and silence. So the vision eats, and eats, and grows, and, as far as it concerns me, I do not mold my vision: it molds me. The sculpture shapes its sculptor. And it is also the case of Reshma, my first short film: it changed my life, as a human and as an artist. Well, Reshma herself changed my life. The film is nothing but a reflection of who she is, her courage, wisdom and grace.
Reshma is an experimental documentary about this extraordinary young woman who overcame some of the most horrifying traumas a human can endure. She survived an acid attack at the age of 17, and she didn’t let it destroy her life. As a film troupe, we followed her modelling debut at the New York Fashion Week. It’s been hectic! Busy backstages, and quiet hotel rooms: the excitement of NYC noisy streets, and the peace of a forest. The vision was there. It kept growing, molding itself and all those who were part of it. There wasn’t a specific moment where I saw the vision coming to life: I felt that I came to life through it. This was made possible by Reshma herself, her trust and her kindness, and the incredibly talented crew I had the honour to work with: the executive producer Andreas Benz who made it possible, the producers Chiara Nardone and Roman Zawadki, the art director Pablo Patane’, the DOPs Greg Harriott and Alejandro Cortes, who painted with depth and touching humanity the portrait of Reshma’s soul, and everyone who helped us on the set. Together, we made the vision alive. Or, to say in a better way: we let the vision bring us to life. This is the magic of filmmaking: it is not only to create, but to be created.
Reshma directed by Livia Alcalde – New York, September 2016. Reshma, an indian girl who survived an acid attack, is getting ready in a hotel room. Her narrator voice begins to tell us her story while we see her walking around the city, in a forest, and, at the end, on the Fashion Week catwalk.
Reshma screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 1: Heroes & Survivors...
7/26 – 2:45pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/28 – 2:15pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
A moment when I really felt like my vision was coming together in my film was when I animated the last scene of Opening Night, with the “therapist.” The protagonist of the film talks to himself saying, “I don’t know if I’ll ever find someone who loves me for who I am” after spending his entire life internalizing struggles with his peers and loved ones. I remember always sharing this sentiment with my mom when I was younger, and when I finally watched the final animation with audio I gasped specifically at this scene.
I wanted to depict an honest portrayal of how loneliness and isolation can distort a sense of self worth over time, and how ultimately being open minded and loving can resolve tensions. I think that emotional honesty is rarely depicted in film and seeing this scene in its completion made me proud of the journey I had taken to finish the project. Hopefully the film can touch people in a similar way.
Opening Night directed by Margaret Bialis – A man reflects on formative conflicts from his past with optimism, humor, and gratitude… with a musical twist.
Opening Night screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Shorts Program 7: After Hours…
7/27 – 9:30pm at The Toby
7/28 – 9:45pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
Follow Margaret Bialis on her website.
It took me years to find the perfect main actor for the film. She had to be a woman who could carry a story with no concrete, outer antagonists, from zero to hundred. I also had to convince the film funding partners that a woman´s work identity crisis is a subject big enough for a silver screen.
After all the years it is a warm feeling deep inside me to see this film came true and how it found its way to the international audiences.
An Autobiography directed by Mari Mantela – Two days before her retirement Anja makes a decision: She will not leave her work in a rental cars parking hall deep under the ground. But when the man upstairs sends a young trainee ready to replace her, Anja is forced to face the fact – her life as she knows it is coming to an end.
An Autobiography 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
Séverine De Streyker
The real satisfaction on the shoot was when the actors played and went beyond what you imagined…
When they understood so well your point of view that they went further and proposed something new, and gave you a real emotion.
In this moment, you are in love with them and with what you do…
Calamity directed by SSéverine De Streyker and Maxime Feyers – France meets her son’s girlfriend for the first time. She loses control…
Calamity screens at Indy Shorts as part of the 9FilmFest Winners Program…
7/27 – 2:15pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
Sylvia Le Fanu
I was struggling with one of the scenes (the one where Adnan comes home from school and the dad is fixing the bike). It didn’t quite work because of some script problems and we were losing precious time. In this instant the boy actor, Jihad, suddenly started taking control and thinking out an alternative direction of the scene with new lines and actually started helping me direct his father (who is his father in real life). Immediately the scene started working much better and at this point I really realised to what extent both actors had embodied their characters and the story.
This is the kind of collaboration all directors hope for, but can be quite rare, specifically with non-professional actors. In general they were both a great resource in terms of helping me understand both the cultural and linguistic aspects of the story.
Abu Adnan directed by Sylvia Le Fanu – Sayid, a refugee doctor from Syria, has just received a Danish residence permit, and is about to embark on establishing a new life in rural Denmark together with his son Adnan. At the same time as having to learn a new language, he faces the challenge of maintaining his boy’s respect, in a situation where Adnan’s assimilation seems to be going somewhat faster than his own.
Abu Adnan screens at Indy Shorts as part of the Finalist Shorts 1 program…
7/27 – 7:00pm at DeBoest Lecture Hall
7/28 – 12:45pm at The Toby
Follow Sylvia Le Fanu on Facebook.
It was the moment on the beach in Valencia when our subject was stitching by the Mediterranean that I knew we had a winner. Her clip about the meditative rhythm, and the power of community that was involved in stitching, and seeing her doing her stitching by the sea, was incredible. It was then that It really hit me—the significance of this stitching project—how it personally affected each person, and how it would affect people who would come to view the completed stitched work, as well those who would view the completed film.
Stitchers: A Tapestry of Spirit directed by Tassie Notar – One woman’s ambitious project to create the entire Torah, in needlepoint. Over 1,000 stitchers in almost 20 countries, are each stitching a portion, in the hope that the final work will become a inspiring traveling museum exhibit.
Stitchers: A Tapestry of Spirit screens at Indy Shorts as part of The Joyce Forum Winners program…
7/26 – 11:30am at The Toby
I felt that my vision came together when I saw sparrow character animated in a scene.
He turned out to be as I wanted him to be—playful, a little dull, kind of like a kid. Kids have pure vision in life. And that was very important for this character.
Tweet-Tweet directed by Zhanna Bekmambetova – Our life is like walking on a tightrope. In times we are scared or lost we lose balance. When we are happy and excited, we forget we walk on a rope. We can even fly! Main characters are girl Luba and her friend Sparrow. Silly Sparrow doesn’t know fear. By playing with him Luba forgets her she is on a rope.
Tweet-Tweet 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 Tweet-Tweet on Twitter.
Hope to see you at the festival.