Ana is a young woman trying to reimagine her life after her mother’s death during the course of one California spring. Filled with resentment over her father’s mistakes, Ana feels disconnected from herself and everyone around her. Swept up by new romance and a warm reunion with her half-sister, Ana is so taken by the newfound support and love in her life that she sets out to find someone—anyone other than herself—to help. She finds a volunteer project in Maria, a reclusive hoarder who has alienated her own family with her compulsive behavior. As the two become unlikely friends and confidantes, Ana finds herself in an emotionally complex relationship that reveals some uncomfortable truths about herself. First-time writer/director Jasmine McGlade Chazelle (producer of “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” TFF ’09) returns to the Festival with a vivid and authentic portrait of grief through a young woman’s journey to find her own way, inspired by supporting actress Lauren Fales’ life. Judy Marte (“Raising Victor Vargas”) delivers a naturalistic performance as Ana and strikes chemistry with two-time Golden Globe winner and Academy Award® nominee Karen Black as Maria. [Synopsis courtesy of The Tribeca Film Festival]
“Maria My Love”
Primary Cast: Judy Marte, Karen Black, Brian Rieger, Lauren Fales
Director: Jasmine McGlade Chazelle
Screenwriter: Jasmine McGlade Chazelle
Story By: Jasmine McGlade Chazelle, Lauren Fales
Producers: Jennifer Glynn, Tiana Matthews, Jasmine McGlade Chazelle
Cinematographer: Brian Outland
Editor: Katy Skjerping
Composer: Maxwell Drummey
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
Responses courtesy of “Maria My Love” director Jasmine McGlade Chazelle.
My parents played an integral role in helping me discover that filmmaking was my true passion. From very early childhood they exposed me to art and culture in a way that really informed how I see the world now. I’m sure they’d say my “director” personality has been there from the beginning. I was always bossing everyone around and coming up with elaborate games and writing fiction and making little DIY videos. I grew up watching movies and when I was young thought I would pursue acting, but quickly realized I was really a writer/director.
By middle and high school I knew I would pursue filmmaking seriously and did what I could to work on related projects to give myself some experience. However, I was a competitive athlete during my childhood, so filmmaking wasn’t my number one priority until I went to college and studied it as my major. Now I completely devote my life to my career and wouldn’t have it any other way. I just want to work and work and work until I am so old and annoying that a studio finally tells me it’s either the old person’s home or death. At that point I’ll just move to France and keep working…
Old friends, new ideas…
The idea first came about exactly two years ago, the night that my husband’s film “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” premiered at Tribeca. My old high school friend Lauren Fales showed up unexpectedly to the premiere and I hadn’t seen her in over five years. After the screening we went to get a bite to eat and she told me that her mother had passed away and how she’d been struggling – she is a wonderful actress who was really on her way to making a career for herself in London, where we went to high school, but everything came to a halt when her mother got sick. I was really touched by her story, and the idea for this movie came from my conversation with her.
I immediately began writing and developing, and the project went through some twists and turns: at one point I planned to shoot the film in New York City with entirely improvised dialogue. Once some of the key team players were brought on board – Jennifer Glynn and Tiana Matthews and our beloved DP Brian Outland – we decided on Southern California, I abandoned the idea of all improv, wrote a formal script, and the current “Maria My Love” came to life. I approached Judy Marte, an actress I had aspired to work with since first seeing her in “Raising Victor Vargas,” to play the lead, and to my great delight she said yes. Karen Black was my mother’s brilliant suggestion, and Brian Rieger is a longtime childhood friend and film virgin whom I’ve watched on the stage since his middle school days in our school’s production of “Grease.”
When fiction meets non-fiction…
I am really interested in what happens when non-fiction meets fiction. While we shot the film largely according to script, I was equally interested in coming up with scenes on the day of shooting and having my actors improvise dialogue. I was looking for very naturalistic performances and to find some sort of emotional and physical truth. There’s nothing as thrilling as being on set and just trying to observe your actors and the environment and then capture some beautiful moment or image that couldn’t have been written ahead of time. I really love actors – I’m compulsively drawn to them and getting to interact with them on set is one of life’s great pleasures for me. I’m always interested in studying the people they are – their quirks, what makes them unique, how they behave – and aim to combine their personalities with the characters I’ve written for the final product.
“This is directing and this kind of stress is what I live for…”
We had very limited resources, which meant not enough time and that I often had to do things myself, such as some very technical post production work that felt really outside of my comfort zone. On set I felt like I was running around like a madwoman trying to capture as much as possible to get what we’d need in the editing room. And in post I felt like I was scrambling like a madwoman to put out fires and get everything done. But don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. This is directing and this kind of stress is what I live for. It’s such a privilege. The bottom line is I was blessed to have crew willing to wear multiple hats on this film in order to make it all work. That’s how we arrived at the finish line.
The writer self vs the director self…
One thing I found out about myself while shooting is that I can really separate my writer self from my director self. I remember almost feeling that the Jasmine who wrote the script was a different person. On numerous occasions I’d look at the sides and refer to the dialogue I had written as “crap” and just cross it off vigorously and either re-write it or ask the actors to say it in their own words. I think on set my documentary filmmaking instincts really kick in and I am always looking for whatever feels most authentic and interesting in the moment. Here’s a quote I love from art collector David Teiger on his strategy (I stumbled upon this line in the book “Seven Days in the Art World”, and it really speaks to me): “I plan it out very carefully, then disregard the plan and go with the moment.” While I don’t foresee myself making every film in this way, it was definitely the spirit of “Maria My Love.”
I’ve written a script called “The Fencer” that I hope to direct next. It’s about a young woman struggling with the anxieties of competition as she vies for a spot on the US Olympic Fencing Team. At its heart it asks the following question: Why do people compete when it causes so much suffering? Since I grew up a competitive fencer I feel a great sense of responsibility in carrying out my vision for the story, and want to honor what I went through as a child by creating a relentlessly authentic and gripping portrait of both fencing and the lead character.