Austen, a 12-year-old troubled bonne vivante, meets her father for the first time before he heads off to prison.
Written and Directed by Arizona O'Neill
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
It is very important for me to talk about issues young girls go through every day. I’m interested in the ways that society holds girls back and the way that they respond to these pressures and find their selves despite them. In the context of this film, I was specifically looking at the way parents begin your narrative for you when you are a little kid.
And how as you get older you have to toss out that story and begin to write your own. My protagonist Austen has no desire to see herself as possessing any of the negative stereotypes that come with growing up in a single parent home. She wants to be accept all that and be bigger than it too. She’s named after an author, not a character!!
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I think it captures how difficult a relationship with a parent can be, especially an absent and/or imperfect one. So many people have a parent or a family member who really doesn’t do anything to earn their love, and yet to be a bigger fulfilled person, they have to give it to them. We only get one family and there’s an absurd bit of luck to it. I think everyone relates to that.
And I wanted to create a unique literary world with beautiful things and funny, wild girls. And I like finding those types of world out there.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The idea for the film came from a personal experience that I had. You have to accept who your parents are, and moving forward. Often I find people harbor anger for a parent, and this film shows it is better to let that go. I think that when you take the feelings from events from your life, and translate them into the visual language of film, you have an important story. Yes, I was raised by a single mom. This was a story where I dealt with the subject matter quite literally. But I might in the future deal with it through an alien climbing into a makeshift ship, declaring that it was not meant for life on Mars.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
In the original script, Austen was never going to meet her dad. She was going to evolve by confronting and dealing with his absence. But it never felt right. The meeting with the father was the most difficult scene to write. A lot of people who read initial drafts of the script thought that he wasn’t mean or harsh enough. But I knew that wasn’t the point.
I wanted him to be a shiftless drifter who means well and can never quite put his finger on where he went wrong. I also didn’t want the dad to provide her words of wisdom that help her on her life journey, or have anything useful to teach her. That was actually where a lot of the comedy in the film came from. The fact that he really has nothing to impart to her. It was also really important to me that Austen realizes her dad’s failings, accepts them and then decides to change her life around on her own.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
People really love the set direction. I have a very specific idea of what I want my movies to look like. There’s a vocabulary to all the details in my film. I’m really interested in the female teenage gaze. I wanted to recreate the colours and objects and heightened sense of the world of a teenage girl in this film.
Anyone who has ever worked on a film with me has spent hours rummaging through snazzy outfits at Eva B’s giant thrift store and has driven out to the suburbs to pick up weird telephones I spotted on Craiglist. We completely wallpapered my room for the opening shot. But when the film was screened at the student festival everyone gasped when they saw that shot. So it was worth all the work.
People have also commented on the way that I direct my actors. It’s a very deadpan, literary delivery that I try to elicit. It’s a way to heighten the exchange, so that it’s almost as though it’s a play. And at the same time it’s very funny. Humour is important to me.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
A lot of people tell me that they have had a similar experience to the protagonist Austen. That was wonderful for me, of course. Even though my films are heavily stylized and the cinematography meticulously crafted, at the heart of my films I want there to be a message and a meaning.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
This is my first short film to be in a festival. I'm 21 and have just graduated from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. So I would like this to kick start my career in a way. It’s a calling card for bigger projects that I want to pursue. I’ve begun to build an aesthetic and a voice and a world and I want to see what else it can produce. I want to make people see that I have something to say.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How important is it to accept responsibility for one’s place in the world?
What are you developing or working on now?
I have another short film that is in the works. But I am also working on a feature script. In the meantime, I am shooting music videos.
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Written and Directed by Arizona O'Neill
Arizona O’Neill (1994) was born and raised in Montreal. She recently attended the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University where she wrote and directed “Father’s Day” (2016). Her work focuses on the condition of young women. She uses humour, literary techniques, and carefully constructed art direction to create unique, stylized representations of the female gaze.
Una Piercy as Austen Kayla Shefford as Bronte Adrian Burhop as Bruce Em Bee as Mom.
Release date: June 30th 2016 Playing at the Fantasia film festival July 30th And August 1st at the Vancouver Lift Off Festival