WomenCinemakers, Special Edition

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w o m e n Sabina Vajrača


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Contents 04 You've made your bed, now lie in it 32 BIG VOICE 58 YES BUT NO 76 Ambience 96 What You Done 116 Doll and Silence 142 La La London 172 Cold Water 198 Almanci Bride 222 Alone Sabina Vajrača Varda Bar-Kar Inès Arsi Ji Hyun Kim Lydia Janbay Carol Rodrigues Madeleine Spivey Andrea Goldman Hale Ekinci Spela Francic


Cinemakers meets

Sabina Vajrača

Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA, USA

Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sabina Vajrača immigrated to the U.S. in 1994 as a war refugee. She started her professional career in theatre, writing, directing and producing plays at The Lincoln Center, SITI Company, and Shakespeare & Company.

In 2005 Sabina ventured into the world of film by directing and producing the critically acclaimed feature documentary Back to Bosnia. The film premiered at AFI Fest and screened at over 30 festivals worldwide, winning Director’s Choice at the 2006 Crossroads Film Festival. It is currently streaming on multiple platforms, including Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.

Since then, she wrote, directed, and produced numerous short narrative films; music video for Nouvelle Vague’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead; commercials for ESPN and IFP Media Center, and wrote a number of short and feature screenplays, including Variables, for which she was awarded the 2017 Alfred P. Sloan production grant.

She also assisted writer/director Max Mayer on his feature film Adam, starring Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Fox Searchlight. She is currently attached to direct a feature drama Lost Children, written by Erin Kathleen, with Erika Hampson and Myriam Schroeter producing, and starring Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul).

A passionate advocate of women in film, Sabina received multiple awards for her work, including the Annenberg Fellowship, Cagney & Lacey Fellowship, AAUW Fellowship, FEBA Road Map Award for shaping the women’s role in the society, Dana and Albert R. Broccoli Scholarship, MSN/ Visa Ideas Happen Award, and grants from Jerome Foundation, Puffin Foundation, NYSCA/IFP and LMCC. Most recently she was selected for the Ryan Murphy’s Half Diversity Directing Mentorship.

Sabina spends whatever free time she has left studying philosophy, shopping in her closet and dancing to the beats of The Hot Sardines. A proud New Yorker since 1999, she now resides on the West Coast, pursuing her M.F.A. at the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, CA. She’s a member of Film Fatales, Women in Film, WIMPS, and Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and is repped by Lawrence Mattis at Circle of Confusion.

An interview by Francis L. Quettier and Dora S. Tennant


Callback is a captivating short film by award-winning writer

and director Sabina Vajrača: her film offers an emotionally complex visual experience, demonstrating the ability to capture the subtle dephts of emotions: we are particularly pleased to introduce our readers to Vajraca's stimulating artistic production.

Women Cinemakers

Hello Sabina and welcome to

Before starting to elaborate about your artistic production we would like to invite our readers to visit in order to get a wide idea about your artistic production and we would start this interview with a couple of questions about your multifaceted background: after having earned your Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Directing & Stage Management, you nurtured your education with an MFA in Film and TV Production, at the prestigious University of South California: how did these experiences influence your evolution as a filmmaker and as a creative, in general? Moreover, how does your cultural substratum direct the trajectory of your artistic research?

Hello, and thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity to connect with your readers!

Although I am deeply grateful to both of the universities I attended, for the knowledge they imparted, and (even more importantly) for the people I met there, I’d say the biggest influences in my filmmaking journey thus far came not from schools, but all the various experiences life has so generously thrown my way. Originally from Bosnia, I was only 14 when the war broke out, forcing me and my family to flee for our lives. After a couple of years in Croatia, we immigrated to the U.S.A. as war refugees, and proceeded to rebuild our lives from scratch. Since then I’ve lived mostly in NYC, surviving like most struggling artists in a big city, until 3 years ago I moved to LA for yet another “new beginning.” There were a lot of heartbreaks, setbacks, deaths, and hardships along the way, but also plenty of laughter, great friends, and some amazing experiences I could have never dreamed of. I used my times at both academic institutions to work through each of those experiences, using them as fuel for my storytelling, and creating work that (hopefully)


Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers

helped my audiences see life in a new way. Perhaps because of my history, I tend to gravitate towards characters that are haunted by their past (either figuratively or literally), and prefer to tell stories that deal with the darker side of human nature. I am forever curious about what we can learn from those shadows.

For this special edition of we have selected , a captivating short film that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once impressed us with your brilliant storytelling is the way it sapiently engages the viewers with a cliché free narrative. While walking our readers through the genesis of , Could you tell us what did attract you to this particular story?

was made as part of my MFA studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Every semester the school selects 3 directors out of a large pool of applicants, to support in the creation of their advanced project, and this Spring I was one of those lucky 3. We each had a choice of 8 scripts to direct and I selected not only for its timely message, but also because I understood all too well the issues the main character is dealing with. The story revolves around Laura, a struggling actress in LA, who has an inappropriate run-in with an A-list director at the biggest audition of her career, and has to decide whether to pursue the role, or walk away from her dream. While I myself have never been an actress, I have been in way too many rooms where it was obvious that advancement in my career comes at a price of my body. Such scenarios are almost a given, or at least they were, until recently. And not just in the film industry. Service workers are constantly having to suffer inappropriate behaviors for that tip that may just make a difference come rent time, for example. I felt it was important to shine the light on this issue, because to me it’s not a matter of one “bad man”, but a reflection of a systematic cultural

Women Cinemakers interview

Women Cinemakers

phenomenon that we have all been witnessing, and choosing to look the other way, for far too long.

Elegantly shot, features stunning cinematography by Mikaela Addison and Lina Li: what were your when shooting? In particular, what was your choice about camera and lens? Thank you so much for the compliments. We worked really hard to create a cohesive and meaningful visual language, through which we could tell a story in a more subtle way. In the end, our decision of how to film it was guided by two distinct factors: characters and themes.

I created extensive character histories, going as far as assigning them horoscope signs, and elements, which my DPs and production designers then used to create the world of the film. Laura was Earth/Woods, and Randy was Metal/Water. We gave Laura the colors of a forest in autumn, deeply saturated, her lines curvy, since there are no straight lines in Nature. While Randy was more harsh, metallic, desaturated, covered in straight, sharp lines.

From there we went to the main theme of the film“Integrity vs Ambition” - to help guide us in the planning of our shots. Laura is a very ambitious woman. She’s worked very hard to get where she is, while keeping her integrity intact. But when faced with a possibility of losing what may be her last chance to “make it”, she starts to slip into blind ambition territory, forgetting, or rather ignoring, her gut instincts. She knows in her heart she should walk away from this situation, but yet she doesn’t. This is the “why” I was most interested in, and worked a lot with Kirsten Kollender (the actress playing Laura) to come up with the most honest answer we could.

These two factors together dictated all the choices we made, from lenses to camera movements, and all production design elements you see on the screen. In the story we go from a wide-angle lenses and circular motions of the opening shot, to long lenses and still, non-moving camera in the callback scene, to show the arc of both Laura as a character, as well as the story as a whole. When she’s true to herself, she’s in her colors, the lines of the camera movements reflective of the Nature’s curves. But as her

ambition takes over, her whole world becomes more Randyesque - gray, straight-lined, and almost painfully still. Closer she gets to it, the more boxed in she is, with the path out of it all almost invisible. It is as if the world all around her is warning her of what is about to happen, but she ignores it. This is something I felt all of us have experienced at some point, in one form or another, and could therefore relatethat blind running off the cliff, when we know deep down that we have to stop before we fall. And yet we don’t. I

wanted this film to remind us of that common phenomenon, so that we approach Laura with compassion, rather than judgement.

With its brilliantly structured storytelling imparts unparalleled psychological intensity to the narration, to unveil an ever shifting internal struggle. We have particularly appreciated the way your film gives to the viewers the sense they are watching excerpts from

Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers

real life: would you tell how did you develop the structure of your film in order to achieve such moving autenticity? Moreover, how does everyday life's experience fuel your creative process to address your choices regarding the stories that you tell in your films?

The writer conceived the idea right in the midst of the Harvey storm last fall, but by the time I became attached to the script,

the conversation was shifting already. Aziz Ansari incident happened right before we filmed, and people were starting to question the stories of these brave women coming forward. It was super important to me and my team to keep the story relevant, and we spent hours on end brainstorming about how this story will still be timely a year from then. In the end, the reason I myself was originally drawn to the script, is what became our guiding light.

I am forever fascinated with the grey zone of every situation, with “why” being my very favorite question. When not making movies, I like to study Vedanta and Stoic philosophies, digging deep down into the patterns of human behavior, and reasons for the choices we make. I do this with all my films, and this one was no exception. As we worked on the rewrites, we kept asking: Why would he do what he does? Why would she go back to that room after? Why, why, why…? Until we reached

answers that made sense to us, and that made the characters and their choices multi-dimensional and human.

Featuring compelling narrative drive leaps off the screen for its essential still effective and we like the way you created entire scenarious out of : how did you structured your film in order to achieve such powerful narrative effect? In particular, what what are you hoping Callback will trigger in the audience?

Oh, thank you so much for noticing that! We worked really hard to create the structure that would carry all these lofty ideas and themes we were coming up with, and I’m really happy to hear you picked up on it. :) For this I have to give full credit to two of our professors at USC: Irving Belateche, whose story structure class was our guiding light on this journey, and Bruce Block, who taught me how to translate feelings I want to invoke in the audience into visual images on screen.

As for what I hope the audience will walk away with, I turn to one of my favorite quotes, which has become a sort of a personal motto of mine - “Artist’s job is to disturb the comforted, and comfort the disturbed.” I don’t believe these types of stories have happy endings, even if the bad guy gets caught. I wanted to tell a story in a way that everyone who has ever been in that situation can relate and feel “I am not alone.” And for every person who has looked the other way, to finally have to face up to the truth of what’s been happening in front of their noses all along. So far the audiences have been mostly angry, which I think is a good sign. We need to be furious at this whole situation if we were ever to be motivated to change it.

In your film you leave the floor to your characters, finding an effective way to walk them to develop

Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers

with the viewers: what was your preparation with actors in terms of rehearsal? In particular, do you like spontaneity or do you prefer to meticolously schedule every details of your shooting process?

My background is in theatre directing, and I love to collaborate with my actors as much as possible. This starts as early as auditions. I always look for actors who, in addition to being talented, are also smart and fearless, willing to drop all their insecurities in order to portray the story in the most honest way possible.

This film was no exception. Before meeting with my actors for the first time, I wrote up very detailed character histories, which helped guide us as we started exploring the text in rehearsals. We talked a lot about their choices and reasons for doing what they do, and did a lot of improv, shaping the dialogue and situations until they felt just right for each character.

I carry this open collaboration to set as well. While I do shot-list all the scenes before coming to set, and create detailed schedules with my AD, I use those as guideposts only, letting the actors and the location itself tell me what’s truly needed to be captured once we’re all there. I like seeing what comes when all these elements we were developing separately finally come together for the first time. I find this “creating in the present moment” approach deeply inspiring not just for me, but for all involved.

Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once remarked that "

": what could be in your opinion he role of filmmakers in our contemporary age? In particular, does your artistic research respond to cultural moment?


Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers

Storytellers have an enormous power to shape and influence the world. We are all brought up with stories, whether told by our families, or by writers and filmmakers we’re exposed to in our formative years. Whichever story we hear over and over again, we start to believe, sometimes consciously, but most of the time subconsciously. Telling stories therefore carries a huge responsibility, and we as filmmakers have to be aware of the messages we’re spreading, making sure they are something we fully stand behind. I firmly believe that we can change the narrative we disagree with, by changing the stories we tell, to ourselves, and to others. My personal goal as a filmmaker is to not only entertain my audiences, but also to enrich and enlighten them, whenever possible.

Another interesting work that we would like to introduce to our readers is your film , a stimulating experimental film marked out with allegoric qualities capable of drawing the viewers into a multilayered visual experience, addressing them to inquire into :

what did attract you of this theme and how did you research about it? In particular, how would you consider the role of metaphors playing within your practice as a filmmaker?

This film came from a deeply personal place, so most of my research was done by going within, if you will. For about 15 years of my life I battled war-caused PTSD, which manifested itself as an acute depression. I did this secretly, and never considered therapy because I was told all my life that only crazy people did that, and I wasn’t crazy, at least not in my own view of myself. I was just sad, deeply sad. What was strange about that? I’m Eastern European after all. Aren’t we supposed to be melancholy and depressive, by default?

It took a sudden death of a loved one to finally get me to realize I need help if I was to survive. I bit the bullet and went into therapy

Women Cinemakers interview

Women Cinemakers

(secretly, of course). But what really helped me more than anything was philosophy, Vedanta in particular. I started studying it at the School of Practical Philosophy in NYC, and for the first time in my life, I had the tools to go beyond the crippling depression, and find a way out of it.

My teacher at the school liked to say that underneath all the layers of anger, sadness, fear, and other dark companions, lies the happy core. That deep down we are truly happy. And that all we have to do is clean off those layers on top to have that part of us shine. I didn’t believe her at all in the beginning, but I was willing to try anything at that point, so I started digging. And scrubbing. And pealing all the layers that kept me locked into the darkest corners of my mind for far too long. It was painful and hard, but I could see it working, so I kept at it. In the end it took a handful of years before I realized I was suddenly believing what my teacher told us at the very beginning. That no matter what happens, at the bottom of it all I am truly a happy person. Risking being super cheesy, it’s like realizing that even on the gloomiest day, Sun is always beyond those clouds. You can choose to focus on the clouds, or you can look beyond. This was truly life-changing for me and I wanted to find a way to express that in an artistic way. is a film that came out of that journey.

As for metaphors, I have to admit I love them, sometimes too much. I find that some ideas and stories are best understood when told as a metaphor, and I try and use them as much as possible in all my films.

Both and have drawn heavily from and we have highly appreciated the way you have created such powerful resonance between the intimate qualities of ordinary locations and the atmosphere that floats around the

stories: how did you select the locations and how did they influence your shooting process?

I would say in both cases, it was the script that influenced the type of locations we were after.

As I developed I kept thinking of cleaning yourself of debris, so you can finally see the reality as it truly is, not as you imagine it to be. Liv, my protagonist in that film, starts with just a bathtub and some pipes, alone in the vast space of nothingness, until she fights her way back to the real world, full of ordinary things, that remind her she is not alone after all. We shot that in three different locations - an abandoned house, a warehouse, and a bathroom of my good friend Sara, who was brave and generous enough to let a film crew take it over for a day.

As for , the first image that popped into my head when I read the script was a hot summer night in 1970’s NYC. I wanted this story to stick to the viewer the same way your elbows would stick to the counters in those crowded dingy Alphabet City bars back then, as you listen to the Punk open mike, the stench of cigarettes and spilled beer staying in your nostrils for days afterwards. We wanted to have some of that raw grittiness in the locations we found, but instead of making it obvious - Laura = clean / Randy = dirty - we chose to play the opposites. Placing Randy in a sterile environment while it’s really his acts that are disgusting and sticky, while making Laura’s world gritty on surface, but pure and honest within.

Over the years your films have screened at over 30 festivals worldwide: how much importance has for you that you receive in the festival circuit? And how do you feel previewing a film before an audience?

Women Cinemakers

I absolutely love screening my films at festivals. It gives me a chance to see them through a whole new set of eyes - those of neutral audience members.

It’s super easy to feel good about yourself when your only audience are your friends and loved ones. But when it’s a room full of strangers, that’s when you truly know if it clicks. I can see if they laugh where I wanted them to laugh, and cry in spots I deemed to be touching, or if I missed it completely (known to happen!). It’s scary, of course, but super important in my growth as a filmmaker. After all, we make the films for our audiences, and the only way we get fluent in their language is by practicing it over and over again.

You are also member of and , so before leaving this conversation we want to catch this occasion to ask you to express your view on the future of women in cinema. For more than half a century women have been discouraged from getting behind the camera, however in the last decades there are signs that something is changing: as a passionate advocate of women in film, what's your view on the future of women in cinema? Do you think it is harder for women artists to have their projects green lit today?

Oh, this is a loaded question, and can probably hold a whole other interview all in itself. I don’t think there is anyone out there who would disagree that it has historically been much harder for women to get their projects off the ground.

There is so much statistical data to support this, it’s enough to make us all quit. But ever since the #TimesUp movement began, this outdated status quo seems to be shaking in its foundation. I’ve been following the whole phenomenon with cautious optimism. Hoping it is a permanent shift for the better, while at the same time keeping my fearful inner skeptic at bay. In a way it all feels like our “15 min of fame”, and I hope we find the way to keep this momentum going even after the trend of “women directors, for

Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers

everything!” has worn off. All in all, I think it is a long road ahead of us, but I remain hopeful because so many amazing and powerful individuals (both men and women) are doing everything in their power to make this shift permanent.

Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Sabina. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?

Funny enough, after years of staying away from Bosnia, I found myself once again digging through my past for the next couple of stories I’m working on.

This August I will be filming another short, called , for which I was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Production Grant last year. It is a coming-of-age drama based on a true story about a group of Bosnian teenagers who got to leave the war-torn Sarajevo, in order to compete at the International Math Olympiad in Canada in 1995.

And I’m currently developing a feature drama called , about a successful Bosnian-American banker who is pulled into the dark underbelly of the Bosnian Muslim immigrant community in Florida when his younger brother dies under suspicious circumstances.

Overall, I see my work getting more and more ambitious as I grow as an artist and get more opportunities to direct. My passion lies in character-driven commercial films, with my eye firmly set on eventually directing a (female) Bond.

Women Cinemakers meets

Varda Bar-Kar

Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA, USA

Varda discovered film as child one summer night at a beachside motel in Israel when outside her window she caught sight of a kissing couple as large as a building. Turns out, next door a drive-in movie house was screening "A Man and A Woman". Her love affair with film began.

Following a successful career as a Script Supervisor, Varda launched into directing with her award-winning short film WINDOW starring Louis Gossett, Jr., about a veteran desperate for the bed by the window. Since then, Varda has been creating uniquely meaningful, compelling and imaginative films that delve into what it means to be human. Her work ranges from feature projects to branded entertainment for multiple platforms including theatrical, broadcast, web and mobile.

Her films tour the festival circuit winning multiple awards.Her short film "What Kind Of Planet Are We On?" co-written with Taylor Negron was honored with YouTube's Most Innovative Non-Profit Video award. Her PSA "Journey To Safety" won a Silver Telly, and her poetic short "Ode To Los Angeles" received the New Filmmakers/LA On Location Project Grand Prize valued at $100,000. It’s no wonder SHOOT Magazine selected Varda to participate in their coveted New Director's Showcase.

Varda's most recent project the feature documentary BIG VOICE was awarded "Best U.S. Premiere" at the Heartland Film Festival, screened at the United States Capitol as an advocate for arts education and has been picked up for North American distribution by Gravitas Ventures and educational distribution by The Video Project. Varda's work has been aired on major networks including CBS, NBC, ABC, The Documentary Channel and PBS, as well as going viral on the web, amassing millions of views. Varda sits on the board of New Filmmakers Los Angeles and is a member of Film Independent and the Alliance of Women Directors.

An interview by Francis L. Quettier and Dora S. Tennant


Brilliantly constructed and elegantly photographed,

is an emotionally gripping musical documentary by Santa Monica based director Varda Bar-Kar: through sapient storytelling and editing, her film walks the viewers to explore a challenging year in the life of a determined high

Women Cinemakers

school choir director pushing his students to achieve a high level of artistry. Brilliantly shot, this captivating film introduces the viewers to the figure of Jeffe Huls, offering a multilayered experience: we are particularly pleased to introduce our readers to Bar-Kar's stimulating and multifaceted artistic production.

Hello Varda and welcome to : before starting to elaborate about your film we would ask you a couple of questions about your background. Are there any experiences that did particularly influence your evolution as a filmmaker?

I first developed an interest in movies when I was a young child living in Israel. One night when we were on holiday at a beach town, I peeked out the hotel room window and discovered a giant man and woman kissing. It turned out the couple was being projected on a massive screen at a nearby drive-in movie theater. I was astonished and mesmerized, and from then on I had a strong interest in movies. A few years later, after living in London for a while, my family moved to San Francisco where a wonderfully innovative teacher named Mr. Mohan allowed me to make paintings, create sculptures, write & direct plays, choreograph dances and make films in place of writing papers. He nurtured and encouraged my creative expression and his belief in my creativity fortified me during a tumultuous childhood.

For the remainder of my middle and high school years, I continued to paint and to perform in school plays, but my main focus was modern dance. I had deep, intense emotions and a sadness I could not shake. Dance provided


Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers

me a way to express these feelings. At Cornell University where I went to college, I shifted my focus to Theater Arts and Cultural Anthropology, but it was at New York University where I was studying in absentia that I had the pivotal experience that awakened my journey to being a film director. I was primarily at NYU to study acting, but I decided to enroll in a film theory class since New York University was known for its brilliant film program. I discovered the power of visionary films to reveal the truth of the human condition. During a screening of Nicholas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” it hit me that the film combines painting, sculpture, dance, acting—all the arts I had dedicated so much of my life to—which made me uniquelly suited to be a filmmaker.

Moreover, how does your due to your previous career as a Script Supervisor direct the trajectory of your work as a director?

Working as a Script Supervising provided me with the opportunity to learn what must be captured during the production in order to have the elements you need to realize the film you envision. As a Script Supervisor I came to understand that everything in the frame matters, and that sometimes the accident or the seemingly unsurpassable obstacle becomes the very thing that makes a film more original. I came to understand the collaborative aspect of filmmaking, and to know that each crew member, from DP to PA even the driver, brings a unique value to the production.

Making a film means creating a world so convincing that the viewers are willing to surrender their intellect and

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emotion in order to fully experience it. This means that the acting, the wardrobe, the make-up, the props, the set, the lighting, the movement, being captured requires your complete attention and consideration. I also discovered that filmmaking is puzzle solving and that you can be sure that the director will be faced with some kind of a challenge that seems insurmountable, but that whatever comes up, even if it seems like an impossible challenge, the solution you find will make the story even more interesting than you had originally imagined.

I enjoyed being a Script Supervisor and found the job fascinating until one day, I realized that I was more

ghost directing than script supervising and it was time for me to take the leap. I stopped Script Supervising altogether and started to make my own films.

For this special edition of we have selected , a stimulating musical documentary film that our readers has already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article: we have appreciated the way your film eschews any nostalgic or conventional direction, favoring documentary style to provide the viewers with a sensitive yet realist portrait of the work oh Jeffe Huls and his students. When walking our readers through the genesis of , would

you tell us what did direct you to explore these themes?

During the time that I decided to make BIG VOICE the media was being especially critical of teachers. As I have mentioned, my middle school teacher, Mr. Mohan encouraged and empowered me during an especially difficult time in my childhood. I am indebted to him and to all the teachers who encouraged my artistic expression and made me feel loved and appreciated. I wanted to tell a story that reflected my positive experience with teachers. I was especially interested in telling the story of a teacher who empowers students through art education. I had attended one of Mr. Huls’

high school choir concerts and was deeply moved. I wanted to know how he was able to create such exquisite art in the context of a public high school. Not to long after that concert, early on a foggy morning, I saw Mr. Huls walk across the school campus and had the feeling I was watching a movie. Here was a chance to tell the story of a great teacher. I had such a strong desire to tell his story and just couldn’t shake it. BIG VOICE was meant to be.

Featuring such stimulating enriched with sapient cinematography, balances captivating storytelling and refined editing: what were your when shooting? In

particular, how did you structure the editing process in order to achieve such brilliant results on the narrative aspect?

Thank you.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted BIG VOICE to draw in the audience so that you feel a part of the year long journey. In addition to focusing on Mr. Huls, I decided we would get to know some of his students too. I managed to identify a diversity of students who had some screen presence. It just so happened that one of these students became homeless, one struggled with academics and two of them fell in love.

I wanted you to feel transported when watching BIG VOICE just like I felt the first time I went to one of Mr. Huls’ choir concerts. I wanted you to be drawn into the story in the way you would a narrative feature. In order to accomplish this, I visioned the story in three acts with turning points that catapult the story forward. This is a conventional structure that everyone is familiar with ensuring you the audience will feel safe enough to surrender to the story’s unfolding. Because I knew what kind of structure I wanted prior to shooting, I was able to keep and ear and eye out for story elements that would lend themselves to this kind of storytelling. Relentless diligence and good luck combined to provide us all the story elements we needed. Our DP Daron Keet helped me come up with a lush look and because I wanted BIG VOICE to be intimate he agreed that we should shoot with a shallow depth of field. While this made maintaining focus tricky, it was worth it. We always shot with a minimum of 2 cameras. One camera was

Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers

assigned to getting lots of close-ups to provide that sense of intimacy I wanted. I also made sure that we captured as much production sound as possible, and my collaborator Dennis Leight who was present for every shoot day made sure that our sound was good.

BIG VOICE editor Bob McFalls did an excellent job. He came up with the strategy of creating unique storylines which we could then combine in different ways until we found the optimal pacing and juxtapositions. He shared my passion for BIG VOICE and brought a great deal of skill and sensitivity to the creation of this story. Once we had a solid rough cut, we shared it with our producers Marina Viscun, Deb Love and Carol Coote. They provided us with very useful notes. When we had a fine cut we felt good about, we showed it to a select audience who answered a series of questions we posed to them. We spent a year and a half in post production.

In your documentary you leave the floor to the figure of Jeffe Huls, finding an effective way to walk the viewers to develope between their own inner sphere and his epiphanic artistic journey: what are you hoping your film will trigger in the audience?

Firstly, I hope the audience is entertained and engaged by BIG VOICE. Some audience members have told me that they are reminded of their school days and of a teacher or teachers who influenced them in a positive way and they reflect on their teachers with appreciation which I think is marvelous. I’ve seen audience members moved to tears which I did not anticipate at all. Teachers who have been

Women Cinemakers

in our audiences seem especially moved by BIG VOICE. They appreciate that we have recognized and acknowledge how tough and challenging teaching can be and at the same time, profoundly satisfying. We’ve had audience members exclaim that they did not understand the level of discipline and intensity that music education requires. And that they did not realize how hard teachers work. Audience members have shared with me that at first they feel uncomfortable with the intensity with which Mr. Huls pushes his students, but by the end of the film, they come to realize that sometimes students have to be pushed and allowed to feel uncomfortable so that they will eventually be able to achieve artistry well beyond what they were able to imagine. Viewers also find the students’ stories compelling and they comment on the uniqueness of each student’s choir experience.

We daresay that could be considered an allegory of and the way Jeffe Huls spurs his students to set aside their egos seems to speak to a wider audience: do you agree with this interpretation? Moreover, what could be in your opinion in our unstable, everchanging contemporary age?

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. I noticed as we were filming that the choir dynamic provided a compelling metaphor for how are society best functions. For example, each individual student has his/her own interests & desires and yet there are times when the individual must set aside his ego and personal desires for the greater good.

Women Cinemakers interview

Women Cinemakers

Women Cinemakers