#NFFTY: Emerging Women Directors Share Insights

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The thirteenth National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY)—”the world’s largest festival for emerging filmmakers, ages 24 and under”—takes place in Seattle October 24-27, 2019. #DirectedbyWomen invited women directors with films screening at the festival 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 they had to say about their filmmaking processes.


Aşrı (Distant)
directed by Ecegül Bayram
(Age 22)

Asri (Distant)
Asri (Distant)
Ecegül Bayram
Ecegül Bayram

Aşrı (Distant) is about a Turkish woman coming to terms with living with a Syrian refugee girl who was bought as a second wife. It’s about a girl who has to suffer for a safe space, a woman who’s afraid of being replaced in her own home, and a man who is in denial of his infertility in a patriarchal society. It is about two women who learn the importance of supporting each other.

The story takes place in my hometown Gaziantep, a city on the border of Turkey with Syria. What surprises people the most about Aşrı is that it was shot in Brooklyn. So as you can imagine, our first big challenge was to make a Brooklyn apartment look like a Gaziantep one. I had experience in production design and there were lots of details that went into the film but I couldn’t have done it if my mom hadn’t mailed me the doilies and the costumes that I asked for for the film, all the way from Turkey. I was feeling very nervous until that package arrived. Then, at the costume rehearsal right before the shoot, I took a photo of my actress who was playing the second wife with a blue top and a white headscarf. She looked like a painting. Until that moment, my vision—conveyed through a script and mood boards—was only on paper, but now I knew it was all coming together. I was telling my point of view with the help of others. I was trusting them and they were trusting me. We are very excited to share it with a bigger crowd at NFFTY in Seattle.

Ecegül Bayram is scheduled to be present for the screening of Aşrı (Distant) as part of NFFTY’s The Long & the Short Of It program: Friday, October 25, 2019 | 8:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1

Follow Ecegül Bayram on Instagram and her website.


Baby Steps
directed by Kira Findling
(Age 21)

Baby Steps
Baby Steps
Baby Steps
Kira Findling
Kira Findling

Baby Steps is incredibly personal with stories about my adolescence and gender identity that I had never shared publicly. I drew from Photobooth videos I had made from the ages of eleven to fourteen for inspiration. I was emotional as I watched them for the first time in a decade, realizing that many of my desires and fears at that time mirror those I have today. Making Baby Steps became a healing experience—a love letter to the younger self I carry within me and to the parts of myself I am only beginning to understand.

Kira Findling is scheduled to be present for the screening of Baby Steps as part of NFFTY’s Reclaiming Me program: Friday, October 25, 2019 | 1:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1

Follow Kira Findling on her website.


The Best is Yet to Come
directed by Abena Taylor-Smith
(Age 24)

The Best is Yet to Come
Abena Taylor-Smith
Abena Taylor-Smith

The roundabout scene was a challenge. We wanted to capture a sense of dreaminess, quiet reflection and the suspension of time for the two teenage best friends. The plan was to shoot several 360 degree revolutions on a roundabout. Organising ourselves so that the field of view was clear in every direction was really challenging. Also the roundabout was incredibly stiff and difficult to push. It was rusty and built for tiny children. We had two actors, our DOP, the camera and several apple boxes to push round. Our crew had to take turns pushing the roundabout continuously to keep it moving. The rest of us were lying flat on the floor in the rain. It was an odd experience but I’m so pleased with the way it turned out.

Abena Taylor-Smith is scheduled to be present for the screening of The Best is Yet to Come as part of NFFTY’s Closing Night: Generation NOW program: Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 6:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1 — Awards Ceremony immediately follows the screening

Follow Abena Taylor-Smith on Instagram and Twitter.


Beyond the Green Mountain
directed by Meicen Meng
(Age 22)

Beyond The Green Mountain
Meicen Meng
Meicen Meng

 Yes. I think the moment that really stuck with me, that I can’t believe this is actually happening, is when we started filming the first scene. It was the scene where the main character, Leaf, washes his face. He uses the camera as the mirror. This is the scene in the movie where I break the fourth wall in the most blunt way. It is cinema at its most cinema to me. And after months of preparing everything by myself: location scouting, negotiating time and price of locations, posting casting calls online, auditioning actors, assembling crew members, rehearsing with actors (we rehearsed for a week where the two main actors lived in my family’s house), booking the flight tickets for my DP from New York to Beijing, ordering all the equipment, accommodations, gathering props and wardrobe; I just could not believe that this is really happening. The shot is so beautiful: the brick walls in the back, the greens on the wall, and my actor’s beautiful face and body. Beyond The Green Mountain is my first narrative short film. It also tells a story that is so deeply personal to me — the first time you fall for someone. Is it love? Is it a crush? Is it just in your head? All the agony and excitement of youth is in this film. Not to mention it is a LGBTQ film set in China. Two parts of my identity that don’t seem like they can ever merge together, but they did, briefly, publicly, romantically, in this film. 

Meicen Meng is scheduled to be present for the screening of Beyond the Green Mountain as part of NFFTY’s Come As You Are program: Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 1:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 2

Follow Meicen Meng on Instagram.


Charley Horse
directed by Luna Garcia
(Age 17)

Charley Horse
Luna Garcia
Luna Garcia

Charley Horse was shot in only three nights. On night 2, we weren’t getting the performances we needed. Both cast and crew were exhausted, and tensions were high. It was a night that truly made me understand that making movies is not glamorous. It is not easy. Oftentimes, it’s hard to remember why you wanted to do it in the first place. But seeing the dailies of that scene—the way it was shot, the performances our actresses gave us, the understanding that all of the turmoil and hard work created something beautiful—that was when I remembered that the reason we make movies is because we have to. Because all of the lows can culminate in the highest of highs.

Charley Horse is screening as part of NFFTY’s Closing Night: Generation NOW program: Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 6:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1 — Awards Ceremony immediately follows the screening


Kneeling Sheep
directed by Hai Rihan
(Age 24)

Kneeling Sheep
Kneeling Sheep
Kneeling Sheep
Hai Rihan

My vision did not come together first on camera, but off. In order for the actress for “mother” and the actor for “son,” who were total strangers, to really bring alive their mother-and-son love for each other, I had the two talents eat at the same table and live in adjacent rooms starting a week before shooting. This gave them plenty of time and opportunity to get to know each other, to connect, and to care for one another. One day after dinner, I noticed they were voluntarily going on a walk with just the two of them together, under no one’s instruction. When I saw them from the back, the way he (son) held her (mother) going down the stairs, it was such a loving image. That was the moment when my pictured vision came true: a loving mother and son who have nothing but each other. Later during shooting, they both proved their strong connection and chemistry on screen, vividly. The “mother” was also able to bring out her emotions easily when shooting the most difficult scene: crying in front of a dying sheep.

Kneeling Sheep is screening as part of NFFTY’s Cinematic Journey program: Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 11:00 AM SIFF Film CenterFollow Kneeling Sheep on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Lucky Girl
directed by Sidi Wang
(Age 22)

Lucky Girl
Lucky Girl
Sidi Wang
Sidi Wang

Filming Lucky Girl was a big challenge. We shot on 16mm with very limited film rolls, worked with kid actors, and filmed in a public restaurant … but these challenges were not really unconquerable when you are working with a great team on set. When I look back, I think the hardest part was casting. There are 7 main characters in this film and 4 of them needed to be Chinese/Chinese-American females. It was very easy for us to cast the Caucasian characters; they are all professionals and easy to work with. But there were only 2 registered Asian actresses in Austin and none of them spoke Mandarin. My producers and I had to draw on all the resources we had, visiting local Chinese schools, churches, etc. All the Chinese characters are non-professionals, but I think their performances turned out to be very natural. We were really lucky to meet our lead actress Jada, who is also a Chinese adoptee just like our main character. Her family saw the casting call and decided to drive all the way from Dallas for her audition. The character in the script is 11 years old but she was only 8 at that time. I was worried at first since she never acted before, and the film has some deep themes related to adoption that I wasn’t sure she was ready for. Fortunately, her family was really supportive throughout the process. We had many very long email exchanges about the role, the backstories, and what we could do to protect her feelings. I think she really surprised everyone on set with her amazing performance at the end.

Lucky Girl is screening as part of NFFTY’s Facing the Frontier program: Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 12:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1

Follow Lucky Girl on Facebook and on Sidi Wang’s website.


Men Helping Women
directed by Isue Shin
(Age 23)

Men Helping Women
Isue Shin
Isue Shin

Production wise, I was really making this film on my own. I was going around buying props, renting gear, and organizing the talent as a one stop shop production designer, DP, and AD, and of course thinking about story and mood as the director. Even though that was challenging, it was really gratifying when the image translated the feelings I wanted to express.

Isue Shin is scheduled to be present for the screening of Men Helping Women as part of NFFTY’s Closing Night: Generation NOW program: Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 6:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1 — Awards Ceremony immediately follows the screening

Follow Isue Shin on her website.


Open
directed by Sarah Nocquet
(Age 19)

Open
Open
Open
Open
Sarah Nocquet
Sarah Nocquet

One of the most challenging aspects of shooting my film Open was creating the ‘in utero’ special effects. After a lot of test shoots and experimentation with different materials, my team and I created a womb-like atmosphere in a fish tank. We filled the tank with a mixture of water, gelatin, and food coloring, and suspended a fetus cast in silicon with a wire disguised as an umbilical cord. On the back of the tank, we attached a hand-made veiny backdrop. To film the mother’s hand pushing through the skin of her stomach to grab her baby, we stretched a thin, skin-like silicon sheet over the top of the tank, positioned the camera underneath the tank, and had the actress reach through the sheet. Pushing ourselves to come up with creative in-camera techniques to achieve these visuals was challenging, but incredibly gratifying. I am extremely proud of the result and its effect on audiences!

Sarah Nocquet is scheduled to be present for the screening of Open as part of NFFTY’s Centerpiece program: Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 6:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1

Follow Sarah Nocquet on Instagram and her website.


Playhouse
directed by Kerry LeVielle
(Age 23)

Playhouse

We shot the film not too long after my grandmother passed away. And so the overall production was challenging due to the autobiographical nature of the story. However, it was an incredibly cathartic experience that I cherish deeply. We tried playing with one duality of nostalgia—memory and tangibility—so finding physical props that reminded me of childhood like the pink bucket Jo washes her grandmother’s feet in coupled with these subtle poignant moments shared between granddaughter and grandmother were nice ways for us as a team to explore those elements. It also helped that we shot the entirety of the film at my parents’ house which heightened that sense of memory we sought after.

Kerry LeVielle is scheduled to be present for the screening of Playhouse as part of NFFTY’s Family Ties program: Friday, October 25, 2019 | 11:30 AM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1

Follow Kerry LeVielle on Instagram and her website.


Rainbow Mothers
directed by Elle Luan
(Age 24)

Rainbow Mothers
Rainbow Mothers
Elle Luan

Rainbow Mothers follows Sesame and Bean, a Chinese lesbian couple on their unapologetic fight against the ancient systems of oppression that stand in their way of getting married and starting a family. I lived with the couple and their twins in a tiny village in the mountains in China for about two months and during that time, I was constantly amazed by the serene beauty of their lives and moved by their love for each other, for their family. While it was so satisfying to capture that beauty, my biggest challenge was how do I convey the devastating oppression, and political and legal obstacles they’re facing? And to communicate that to a foreign audience? After all, the LGBTQ community in China is “invisible” and their struggles are also “invisible”. That’s why when Bean’s mother finally opened up to me and talked to me about how she would “kill herself” and lose her “courage to live” if other relatives ever find out about her daughter’s sexuality, I was at first heartbroken but at the same time I knew that was the strongest demonstration of the issue I was trying to highlight. No one could speak better about the fear of having to conform to the mainstream ideology to “stay safe” than the couple’s mother, whose generation experienced the most political trauma in modern Chinese history. Her fear, when juxtaposed with the courage and resilence of the lesbian couple, was one of the key moments that shaped and defined my entire film.

Rainbow Mothers is screening as part of NFFTY’s Global Currents program: Friday, October 25, 2019 | 2:30 PM SIFF Film Center

Follow Elle Luan on Instagram, Vimeo, and her website.


A Three Player Scrum
directed by Danika Vermette
(Age 24)

A Three Player Scrum
A Three Player Scrum
A Three Player Scrum
Danika Vermette
Danika Vermette

I remember standing on the rugby field at night, on the last day of shoot. We had had nice weather the whole weekend, but that day and night had been particularly cold and the longest day of shoot. The actresses, players and crew were cold and tired, but as soon as the girls started playing, everybody was so focused that it looked as if we were doing our first shots. We ended up shooting some of my favorite shots from the whole film, both in term of performance and aesthetics.

Danika Vermette is scheduled to be present for the screening of A Three Player Scrum as part of NFFTY’s The Long and the Short of It program: Friday, October 25, 2019 | 8:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1

Follow A Three Player Scrum on and follow Danika Vermette on Vimeo.


Uma Fruta Estranha (A Strange Fruit)
and
Self-Destruct (Mumbai Mix)
directed by Natalie Harris
(Age 21)

Uma Fruta Estranha (A Strange Fruit)
Self-Destruct (Mumbai Mix)

For Uma Fruta Estranha the moment where I felt like my vision come together occurred when I was editing. I wrote the poem that the film is essentially a visual poem to while on the beach in Recife, Brazil. I wrote it as a way to reflect on my racialized experiences in Brazil and the feelings that I couldn’t necessarily express around my white peers. All of the shots that I either filmed or compiled felt quite separate until I began editing everything together. The story came together through the edit which is something I was not used to since I primarily work with narrative films or documentaries. Creating a more experimental film taught me a lot and showed a beauty for editing that I didn’t know before in this way.

For Self-Destruct, I was really pleased throughout the whole process of making the film. Creating a music video was something that I had not done before so it was daunting at first, but I had an amazing team of primarily women and non-binary filmmakers of color that truly enhanced the project! The energy that we had on set was incredible. The most challenging part was overcoming my fear of experimenting with a new form, similarly to Uma Fruta, but that was something that I learned to work through and I’m really pleased with the end product. 

Natalie Harris is scheduled to be present for the screening of Uma Fruta Estranha (A Strange Fruit) as part of NFFTY’s Facing the Frontier program: Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 12:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1 and for the screening of Self-Destruct (Mumbai Mix) as part of NFFTY’s Art in Motion program: Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 12:30 PM SIFF Film Center

Follow Natalie Harris on Instagram, Twitter, and her website.


Virgencita
directed by Giselle Bonilla
(Age 23)

Virgencita
Virgencita
Giselle Bonilla

This was my first short so I was overwhelmed with logistical challenges, but one issue I didn’t anticipate was the actual sensitivity of the topic I chose to satirize. It was so close to home, I never thought twice about how it might affect my other cast members. Especially when you get to set and are surrounded by children, preteens to be exact. They look like they’ve probably already had this talk with their parents, but then one of them makes a fart noise and receives an uproarious ovation… Also, who am I to imprint my own damage on these kids?

I took the noble route. I lied. 

I lied to my child actors about the premises of all the scenes they were involved with and related the actions to conflicts they would be able to understand. There is narration over their scenes, so the flashback itself didn’t need to be explicitly directed to innocent kids who would be deeply disturbed by my sense of humor.

Giselle Bonilla is scheduled to be present for the screening of Virgencita as part of NFFTY’s Closing Night: Generation NOW program: Sunday, October 27, 2019 | 6:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown 1 — Awards Ceremony immediately follows the screening

Follow Giselle Bonilla on her website.


What Daphne Saw
directed by Lizz Marshall

(Age 22)

What Daphne Saw
What Daphne Saw
What Daphne Saw
What Daphne Saw
Lizz Marshall

There were a lot of challenges with this film, as it was my first professional short. My crew and I had just graduated from USC, so it was a little bit of a jump doing a project of this scale on a very tight budget without the guidance/assistance that came from being in school. Funding was the first hurdle. We managed to crowdfund and form a partnership with anti-human trafficking group NotInOurCity, as the film centers around issues of human trafficking as well as issues of criminal justice. I had also received the inaugural Stephanie Rothman Fellowship for women student filmmakers for my script for What Daphne Saw, presented at Etheria Film Night by Blumhouse’s Shock Waves podcast; the funding from the fellowship was what allowed us to actually complete the project.

But, the biggest challenge came just days before we were about to shoot. We lost two actors for the male lead back to back due to conflicts with the schedule. It was very crucial since his character was the only one speaking most of the time, so if the casting wasn’t right, the whole thing would’ve fallen apart. It was a nightmare situation to be in, not having a lead actor days away from production… but a miracle happened! Through a stroke of sheer luck, my producer/composer’s mom’s childhood friend was an agent and actually found the perfect fit for the part: George Griffith, who I had known as Ray Monroe of Twin Peaks: The Return. He delivered the most incredible performance and it worked out fantastically. It was definitely a lemons-into-lemonade outcome. Sometimes things happen for a reason!

Lizz Marshall is scheduled to be present for the screening of What Daphne Saw as part of NFFTY’s Powerful Grit program: Friday, October 25, 2019 | 7:30 PM SIFF Film Center

Follow What Daphne Saw on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Follow Lizz Marshall on Instagram, Twitter and her website.

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