Brigitta Wagner, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

New Maverick: Brigitta Wagner

Brigitta Wagner, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Brigitta Wagner, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

The damsel in distress. The doting wife reliant on her strong husband. The man who saves the woman he loves. These are the romance stories that are told with great frequency in our society. Brigitta Wagner, who wrote, directed, co-edited and co-produced the film Rosehill, wanted to know why there wasn’t as much coverage of the kind of experiences that women in their 30s have while trying to establish healthy life and work boundaries in modern day America.

“Why are we always seeing women saved by men?”

Brigitta is animated and passionate about her film, and we spoke for a while over coffee in between her screenings and meetings during the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. She told me that the concept came together based on conversations with her friends and her own personal experiences. “I wanted to explore ways that real women deal with real problems,” she said.

Rosehill is a film about two women who are old friends but haven’t seen each other in a long time. Katriona, the main character, distressed about her relationship with her boyfriend, decides to visit her best friend Alice in Indiana. The rekindling of their friendship leads to a road trip and blissful disregard for the responsibilities of their day-to-day lives. The journey isn’t always a happy one, however, but in the end both women gain perspective on their lives from the experience.

Though Brigitta did compose a preliminary script for the film, she also left plenty of room for improvisation.

“I like it when something happens that I don’t actually control on the screen,” she explained. The two main characters, played by actresses Josephine Decker and Kate Chamuris, maintain a voice of their own and “created a friendship that you can see on the screen.” Brigitta allowed space for the two to bring their own ideas and influence to their roles and to the film, making it something altogether new.

“It makes films more interesting and more alive,” Brigitta said. “We just had a porous boundary.”

Brigitta’s history as an academic also influences her perspective on her film work, stating that she believes strongly in the importance of including film education when making new films. “There are a lot of academic questions you can ask about the world with the camera,” she continued, elaborating more on her improvisational style. “If you’re an artist or if you’re a humanity scholar of some kind you can go out with a camera and ask questions, it’s very liberating to work that way.”

Rosehill was included in the competition and New Mavericks programming at the festival, and Brigitta also came to the New Mavericks lunch at Parish where she met with other female filmmakers and honorees. I asked her about her experience as part of the program.

“It has been amazing,” she said. “I’ve only been here for a couple of days in Atlanta but I’ve met some really amazing women producers, filmmakers, and actors.” The New Maverick program provided an opportunity for Brigitta to network and brainstorm with others who share her dedication to bringing real women’s stories to the big screen.

“It’s really brave of the Atlanta Film Festival to have a series like this,” she told me, indicating that from her experience it’s mostly on the indie side of the filmmaking spectrum where women are seen in the higher positions of film production. “It’s important to support these young women who are out there making films,” she said.

I do believe that’s something that we can agree on.

To see stills and learn more about Rosehill, go online to the Facebook page.

-Isadora

Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

New Maverick: Angel Kristi Williams

Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Popularity, influence, and sexuality come to a head in Charlotte, a coming-of-age story about two young women. I spoke with writer and director Angel Kristi Williams to discuss the short film which showed during the New Mavericks shorts block of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. In the film, the 13 year old protagonist, Alex, becomes friends with the more popular and feminine Charlotte. “It’s such an impressionable time that shapes who we become as women,” Angel said.

Over the course of a weekend, the two girls bond and explore the limits of their friendship. Desperate for acceptance, Alex finds herself playing house and touching upon feelings of intimacy that she doesn’t quite understand. “I wrote the story based on my what I remember about being a young girl,” Angel told me, “I had friends like these characters.​” This quiet, thoughtful film tells their story without pretense, allowing the girls to express their emotions in moments of silence, long looks, and unspoken words. The bathroom scene in particular stands out to Angel as being one of her favorites. “That was the scene that I saw in my head very early in the writing process,” she explained.

“I’ve always been a storyteller,” said Angel. In 2014 Angel was listed as one of ten Black directors to watch by Paste Magazine and her films have been shown both nationally and internationally, bringing praise and attention to the subjects she features. It all started with a genuine love for narrative film and television. “When my Dad bought a VHS camcorder I never put it down,” she said. Later, Angel attended the University of Maryland where she pursued her Bachelor’s of Art in Visual Arts, and upon graduation she began working in television for a company called Discovery Communications. She was then awarded the Lumiere Scholarship which allowed Angel to attend the Columbia College of Chicago to obtain her Master’s of Fine Art degree in Cinema Directing.

“I’ve loved watching films for as long as I can remember,” said Angel. It was after watching the film Battle of Algiers that her affinity for film came to the forefront of her mind as a young woman. Angel writes about real-world experiences, pulling from her own life to bring complex issues to the big screen. During the process of working on Charlotte, Angel grew as a filmmaker. “I learned that building your audience starts before the film is seen,” she said, implicating the importance of networking and promotion for her work.

The film was selected for the Atlanta Film Festival and Angel made the trip to be a part of the festivities. “It was a great experience,” she said. “I was really pleased with the reception the audience and the festival brought, and the amount of attention short filmmakers like myself could benefit from.” Being a part of the New Mavericks program added another level of success to the film and connections with other female filmmakers. “It was really lovely to have that kind of support for my work.”

Next up, Angel is developing and writing a love story for her first feature length film. Though she’s not revealing any details yet, there’s little doubt that the project will be just as well received as Charlotte and her previous shorts. “I’m looking forward to an opportunity to play at Atlanta with future feature projects,” she told me.

To learn more about Angel and see behind the scenes photos from Charlotte, go online to the Seed & Spark website or watch the trailer on vimeo.

– Isadora

Jen West, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

New Maverick: Jen West

Jen West, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Jen West, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Jen West is an Atlanta filmmaker, designer, and blogger whose short film, Little Cabbage, had its world premiere at the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival and was featured as part of the New Mavericks program. We sat down together to discuss the film in the Filmmaker’s Lounge at the Highland Ballroom during the fest. “Little Cabbage is a story about a female composer in the 1950s who was given a musical instrument, and when she plays it distorts her perception of reality and her relationships,” Jen told me.

In the days before the deinstitutionalization movement sparked by the introduction of Medicaid and the implementation of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, asylums in America often held not only mentally ill patients but also people who were sick or otherwise considered difficult to care for in everyday life. Women especially would sometimes find themselves in a mental hospital for reasons that today would be considered commonplace or even expected, like postpartum depression and anxiety. “A lot of women during that time were hospitalized and they weren’t even actually crazy, just because they didn’t have men to take care of them.”

Jen’s inspiration for writing this plot came from thinking of the time that led to involuntary commitment for those women. She began “exploring the story of a women before she goes into one of those facilities,” inspired by a book called Letters of a Victorian Madwoman. The book is a compilation of letters from Andrewsic Moore Sheffield who was incarcerated in an asylum against her will for 30 years after setting a building on fire. Andrewsic was under the influence of opiates at the time but otherwise sane, and painstakingly documented her experiences while institutionalized.

Madeline, the film’s main character, is a passionate but eccentric musician living in relative isolation in the deep south during the 1950s. Making a living by teaching music lessons out of her home and working towards a grand opus masterpiece, Madeline begins to lose touch with reality. The reasons for her dysfunction are more fantasy than reality in Little Cabbage, as Jen explained “instead of her being on drugs, she’s under a magical spell from a harmonica.”

The film is a period piece, a distinction that requires special forethought to execute on a small budget. “One of the hardest parts of Little Cabbage was making it look authentic,” Jen explained. The reason for the film’s success was the collaboration of her art department and support team during the extensive pre-production phase. Working with a solid, committed team is the key to produce a high quality and solid finished product. “You need to have people who are very good at their craft,” she said. Overall, production went smoothly. “The whole shoot was really magical and it worked really well,” said Jen, “the movie has an aspect of magic to it.”

Little Cabbage is Jen’s fourth short film and is a prologue for a feature length film that is currently in development and slated for sometime later this year. “I kind of fell into film in a nontraditional way,” Jen told me. It wasn’t until after graduating from college that she came to know about independent films. At that time she was working at a small boutique advertising firm and the owner was an avid fan of indie films and wanted to make one. The idea hit home with Jen and a new passion was born. “It was like an instant connection.”

Outside of working on indie films, Jen makes a living as a freelance graphic designer for local organizations such as the Zoo Atlanta and various nonprofits. One of her biggest clients, the Historic Oakland Cemetery, employs Jen for her filmmaking talents as well. “I do some video work for Oakland Cemetery in more of a producer role,” she explained. For example, last fall Jen interviewed Lillian Deakins Timberlake, the first cousin of Margaret Mitchell, for the cemetery’s Living Links film series.

Jen has been instrumental in developing the New Mavericks program, a concept born from a brainstorming session with fellow Atlanta creatives Lane Skye, Robyn Rebecca Hicks, and Brantly Jackson Watts. After discussing the idea of forming a collaborative group here in the city Brantly made the connection with Kristy Breneman and Christina Humphrey to bring New Mavericks to the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival.

“It’s really exciting to think that we are going to have a group here in town that is not just female directors or writers, but also editors and cinematographers and all these other equally important roles,” Jen said. “I’m looking forward to it so much.”

Being a woman working in the film industry, Jen said her experiences have been purely positive. “As a matter of fact, people tend to celebrate what I do more because I’m a woman,” she explained, citing the absence of female directors in larger-scale productions as a reason for that added support. When you look at the metrics, only 5% of for-hire directors in mainstream cinema are women. “That’s why it’s so important for women to do their own projects and make them happen,” she said, “the more work you do the more likely you are to get hired.”

Jen recently toured with Little Cabbage to the Ozark Foothills Film Festival in Arkansas, the Chattanooga Film Festival, and Indie Grits in Columbia, South Carolina. The pre-production of her upcoming feature length film, Electric Bleau, is also well underway with the script currently in the review and editing stage. This film will again tie to the magical, cursed harmonica theme, this time taking place in one of Jen’s favorite cities, New Orleans. The film follows an African-American punk rocker in the late 1970’s as she inherits the cursed musical instrument that’s been wreaking havoc on her family for generations.

As always, Jen has her hands in a variety of projects and endeavors at any given time. Driven and passionate, her plans and ideas continue to evolve and push her to create even beyond the plans she has now. Her commitment to the craft and perseverance in her work rings true. When it comes to working in film, Jen said it best- “you can’t just half ass it, you have to go all the way.”

To read more about Jen, see behind-the-scenes shots from Little Cabbage, and stay updated on future films such as Electric Bleau, go online to her website.

-Isadora

Meryem Benm'Barek

New Maverick: Meryem Benm’Barek

Meryem Benm'Barek

Meryem Benm’Barek, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

Jennah, a short film by filmmaker Meryem Benm’Barek, explores the struggles of a girl on the cusp of womanhood. The film was shot in Brussels for her thesis project at INSAS (Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle et des techniques de diffusion), a film school in Belgium.

“The idea of Jennah crossed my mind about questions that come up to women naturally,” Meryem said. The film follows a girl as she reaches, “that that in-between moment” when she transitions from childhood to womanhood. It is in this time that Jennah faces her concept of femininity as shaped by her mother and when faced with an absent father figure. “Jennah is in that age where she is realizing the complexity of what it means to face the world as a young woman,” Meryem told me.

The dynamic of seeking validation with men caused by a lack of a fatherly connection during this pivotal time in a girl’s life is familiar to Meryem, who herself had experienced some challenges in the absence of her own father as a young woman. In Jennah she explores the actions and connections that create lasting change in larger ways when sorting out what exactly it means to be a woman. “I do not pretend to universalize that thought,” Meryem said, “or to generalize it because each life story is different… but having myself grown up in an almost similar pattern I wanted to explore these aspects of a teenager’s life.”

As with any film of similar circumstances, Meryem encountered occasional problems or issues, but the end result was a window into a moment of change in this young woman’s life that has gained significant attention and praise. “I think we always choose to tell the stories that look like us,” Meryem said of her motivation to take on this coming of age story.

“Being on the set is always my favorite part in a movie’s creation,” Meryem told me. It’s when the cameras are on and the team is working together that she feels the most in her element as a filmmaker. Her voice rings the loudest and truest when expressed through cameras, lights, and sound. “I completely feel myself because I am more comfortable with that tools than with words,” she said. The production itself was low-budget, filmed with a crew of loyal and resourceful individuals who were all committed to the final outcome of the project.

On Saturday, March 28, Meryem won an award for Jennah as part of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. The film was selected and shown during the New Mavericks shorts block at the Plaza Theater. New Mavericks is a new series of hand-selected films that feature strong female protagonists and are filmed by female directors. Meryem was presented with an award made by R. Land for the festival and was honored during the Awards Brunch at the Highland Ballroom.

“It’s a great experience for me who comes from Europe to have that opportunity to show my work in Atlanta,” Meryem said of the Fest. Participating in the festival offered her an opportunity to show her work to a large international audience and to network with like-minded filmmakers. The New Mavericks program in particular has been a welcoming experience for Meryem, who said “there is no competition here, just people who create and share their own voices with some other artists.”

I asked Meryem what is next for her, and she told me that she is currently working on her first feature length film, set to be shot in France, Morocco and Spain. She described the plot as “a kind of contemporary and very realistic fairy tale, a love story on the road.” Meryem also wants to film a story about a brother and sister based in Morocco, aiming “to show the underground part of that country in order to break some existing prejudices that are often shown about Arabic countries.” Additionally she hopes to work on a project based in America, potentially based in New York City. It’s clear that she is an incredibly motivated and passionate artist, and I doubt we have seen the last of Meryem and her films.

To learn more about Jennah and Meryem, check out twitter and click here to watch the trailer.

-Isadora

New Mavericks: Ana Maria + Luisa

Ana Maria & Luisa

Ana Maria Hermida and Luisa Casas, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

The Firefly, or La Luciernaga, is a film written, directed and co-produced by Ana Maria Hermida. The story follows the journey of a woman in mourning who finds comfort in an unlikely ally. Ana Maria and Luisa Casas, co-producer, sat down with me to discuss their film. “I came up with this idea about five years ago after going through a mourning process myself,” Ana Maria told me. She fell into a period of depression after losing her brother with whom she was very close in a tragic car accident in 2007. “It was a very dark time in my life,” she recalled. “I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted.”

Shortly after the accident her late brother’s long-term girlfriend got in touch and the two women connected over their shared sadness. The two began spending a lot of time together and helped one another heal while sharing in the mutual love of Ana Maria’s late brother. Helping his bereaved girlfriend, in her own words, “gave me strength” as Ana Maria processed her feelings. “It really is a fictional piece but it came from something that happened in real life,” she said of the storyline.

The Firefly could be described as a love story, but “it’s kind of a love that goes beyond boundaries, because neither of these women are attracted to women,” said Ana Maria. It’s a story about friendship, often expressed through nonverbal cues and creative use of actions like slurping a coffee that hint at the real experiences of Ana Maria in her personal friendships.

In the film, Ana Maria pulls from folklore and analogies to convey the emotions of the main character, Lucia. “I wanted to play with magic realism, but it’s kind of goth magic realism,” she said, a term that she has invented and feels is applicable to the story. The Firefly plays with classic archetypes expressed through dreams, including that of Catrina, the Mexican representative of death. “She sees herself as this dark being,” Ana Maria said of Lucia, citing this analogy as the reason for the name of the film, “but she reflects light in her dreams, she lights them up.”

The connection between Ana Maria and Luisa was initially forged nearly 15 years ago when Ana Maria first moved to America and shared an English class with Luisa here in Atlanta. Oddly enough, though they were very close as friends, it took many years for them to begin talking about film and working on them together. “We were very close friends,” Luisa said, “but we never talked about film.” It was a fruitful revelation when they realized their shared interests, and thus the collaboration was born.

“I fell in love with the story,” said Luisa of her choice to come on board. In addition to a solid script complete with true-to-life references to female friendships, Ana Maria had also planned to film it in Colombia, the country where both women were born. “Because I am Colombian I feel as a filmmaker I want to show how beautiful and magical it is.” This piqued Luisa’s interest because she is also quite interested in filming in Colombia and is currently working towards at least one additional film set in the area.

“It’s funny because even though Colombia is our country and we thought it will be easier because we are from there, it was just as hard as if we were shooting in Romania,” Luisa laughed, recounting some of the challenges. Though they had a few resources in the areas where they were shooting, being outsiders in their settings sometimes posed a problem logistically.

“I think because we had so much fun we forgot about the problems we had,” Luisa said, because “everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.” Somehow despite the odds they managed to solve each problem they encountered with the help of their crew. “They are helping you, they are part of your film’s success,” Luisa said, making a point of how important it is to treat the crew with respect. “If you don’t care about them, they won’t care about you.”

Sometimes, the inherent differences of working under a female director and producer became apparent and created lasting connections as well. “Being a female producer, we are more nurturing with the crew,” Luisa told me. They found themselves often asking their team “‘how are you doing? are you hungry? what do you need?'” The attention to the crew’s well-being paid off, and together they overcame the challenges that they faced during filming. “We always found a solution because the crew loved us. We always treat our crew with respect,” Luisa said with conviction.

“It’s important for us to have fun on set,” Ana Maria told me. “As a director I try to make my set fun and free spirited and open for inspiration.” It’s the time when she feels the most herself and the most relaxed, but is also unfortunately often the shortest part of the process. Although admittedly challenging at times, and complete with long hours and arduous work, working on this production was rewarding for them. “We were tired, but it was so awesome,” Ana Maria said. “We had difficulties but I don’t even remember because we had so much fun.”

Both Ana Maria and Luisa have a variety of projects currently in the works, and the two plan to work together again in the future. To learn more about The Firefly, follow them on Twitter.

-Isadora

New Maverick: Danielle Beverly

Danielle Beverly

Danielle Beverly, photo by Isadora Pennington 2015

Danielle Beverly is a Brooklyn based filmmaker, and this weekend her film Old South played during the Atlanta Film Festival at the Plaza Theater. The documentary explores the effects of a fraternity moving into a historically African American neighborhood in Athens, Georgia. A friend who lives nearby alerted Beverly to the impending conflict and allowed her to relocate to the neighborhood and fully dedicate herself to capturing the story.

When filming, Danielle prefers to work alone, immersing herself in her projects. “You don’t have a film without access,” she said, “at least not as a documentary maker.” Gaining that access to a close knit community as an outsider is not always an easy task, and she has found that it is easier to gain the trust of others when she works alone rather than in a team.

“I live very low to the ground when I do this kind of work,” she said of her process. Big changes in the story often came from Danielle simply walking through the neighborhood, making connections with people in the community, and in the case of this film that meant sometimes following the sounds of a frat party in full swing to get the shot.

Danielle refers to her filmmaking style as “longitudinal documentaries,” meaning that she doesn’t necessarily have a predetermined plot or outcome in mind when she begins working on a project. As with any of her films, “there will be a moment of turning” when the nature of the story organically shifts and things begin to fall into place.

Old South offers a window into a community in transition with a cast as varied as they are likeable. “This is a community that worked extremely hard for everything that happened,” Danielle said, praising the individuals she came to know during the process.

Next up for Danielle is a film called Dusty Groove which is currently in production. The film follows Rick, a used vinyl records expert and record shop owner in Chicago, Illinois. In this project, Danielle is exploring the transition that comes from selling vintage records. “Rick serves as a locus to walk me into peoples lives,” she said. Many of the people who sell their records to Dusty Groove are in a state of transition, and letting go of these precious and valuable items that once defined them but no longer do leads Danielle to pose the question “when does that moment happen?”

To learn more about Danielle, Old South, and Dusty Groove check out her website and Facebook page.

-Isadora