Hollywood, take note! If you're searching for the next female director to break big, here's a look at five filmmakers who are making a lot of noise on the festival circuit with their short films this month. If their shorts are indications of their abilities to helm features, all five women are more than ready to join the big leagues.
Mollie Jones's 16-minute "Animal Love" would impress even if it didn't pack the star power of Selma Blair and Jeremy Davies as the romantically blighted leads. Writer/director/producer Jones's plotline of an intentionally impersonal hook-up is just one element being explored in this unexpectedly layered and highly entertaining future-set short.
"'Animal Love' is related to a feature script I've just finished," reports Jones, an alumna of USC and Columbia. "It's called 'This One Life' and is also a love story set in a near future of environmental degradation. Both films explore the same terrain: how our spiritual and emotional lives might evolve in a world post global warming. Both the short and the feature script were inspired by 'An Inconvenient Truth.' I wanted to try to make a narrative piece that would give the same visceral jolt that Al Gore's film did."
This month, "Animal Love" screens at the CFC Toronto Worldwide Short Film Fest, Los Angeles Film Festival (where the filmmaker will attend both screenings), and Palm Springs ShortFest.
Niki Lindroth von Bahr
"Tord and Tord," Stockhom-born Niki Lindroth von Bahr's 11-minute stop-motion animation, follows the twists and turns in a relationship between two neighbors both named Tord. Extremely charming and delightfully offbeat, Lindroth von Bahr's short is a terrific calling card for tackling a feature along the lines of "Fantastic Mr. Fox."
"I worked on 'Tord and Tord' for about one and a half years," emails the animator from Sweden. "Since the project was not financed at all, I had to do basically everything on my own. It's my first animated film, but I'm educated in prop making (to build things for film and theatre) so I really enjoyed making all of the puppets and models. I got the idea for the film when reading the original short story that my friend Jorun Jonasson wrote. I loved the strange underlying feeling, even though the story takes place in everyday surroundings, and also the special relationship between the two characters."
In addition to being an audience-pleaser at Annecy, Sundance, and Berlin, "Tord and Tord" has raked in prizes at Rio de Janeiro, Ottawa, and Abu Dhabi fests. This summer it screens at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Outfest, Hamburg, Provincetown, and Rooftop Films.
Tatjana Najdanovic's 13-minute "Pass the Salt, Please" centers around a white-haired couple enjoying a typical dinner at home. When the small talk turns blue, actors Fionnula Flanagan and Seymour Cassel face the camera straight on - a brave choice on Najdanovic's part that is a good indication of how fearless and assured this director is.
Najdanovic is also a talent magnet. "People are drawn to good stories," she emails from the Syndey Film Festival, where she's attending the world premiere of her short, "and I had no problem attaching people as I went along. I fell in love with the play, got Radha Mitchell to be my executive producer. I contacted Seymour, who called me the very next day from the airport, as he was leaving on a film shoot to tell me that he loved it and he wanted to do it! We attached Jonathan Rhys Meyers as another executive producer, as he's been looking for the right project."
Najdanovic continues, "It took me a while to find my actress, but when Fionnula responded to the material right away and with the same enthusiasm, I knew I had my match." Her ability to attract top-drawer talent continued in post. "We managed to find an amazing editor Mark Yoshikawa, who was just fresh from editing 'The Tree of Life' and who loved the script, and was looking to do a film in LA. He's done an amazing job."
Najdanovic will be attending the North American premiere of "Pass the Salt, Please" in Palm Springs later this month.
Setting her story in Tehran, Saba Riazi wrote, directed, and edited "The Wind Is Blowing On My Street," a story which dramatizes the consequences of a young woman accidentally appearing in public without a head covering.
As a filmmaker, Riazi displays a strong ability to capture realistic characters and settings. Born in Iran, Riazi went to Tisch School of the Arts at NYU to get her MFA. "Making 'The Wind' was an amazing experience since I could work with both my classmates from my undergrad in Tehran (I studied theater) and also my current classmates in NYC," Riazi emails from Tehran. "Also having participated in some 30 festivals, I got brilliant feedback from so many great audiences, which I think has paved the path for me to make my first feature, which is in its development phase. My feature debut will be done hopefully by 2012."
Entitled "Dar kouche baad miayad" in its original language, Riazi's 15-minute film was shortlisted for the Student Academy Awards, received a jury mention when it played Cleremont-Ferrand, and took best student film at Aspen Shortsfest, where the jury praised it for its courage, subtlety, and authenticity. "The Wind Is Blowing On My Street" is screening in June at both LAFF and Palm Springs.
When Deb Shoval showed "AWOL," her 13-minute drama about a conflicted teenage soldier, at the Sundance Film Festival, she was awarded with the Women in Film LA Grant from Kodak, Technicolor, and CalmDown Productions. As an MFA student at Columbia, Shoval received a Columbia Women in Film Fellowship. She was also chosen for the Berlin Talent Campus, 2011. And of course readers of Heeb Magazine know she is one of the Heeb Hundred People You Need to Know About.
A film with real weight and brimming with emotional honesty, "AWOL" is enjoying an unstoppable festival run. Last month, it played Seattle, Tel Aviv, and Provincetown. Upcoming are Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Outfest. Due to other commitments, Shoval's West Coast festival attendance is limited to the LAFF screening on June 22.
As for upcoming projects, Shoval is happy to report: "I am in development with two feature film projects, 'Poppies and Olives' and a feature version of 'AWOL.'"