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Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #42: Eliza Hittman Tells Her Brooklyn Summer Story, ‘It Felt Like Love’

Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #42: Eliza Hittman Tells Her Brooklyn Summer Story, 'It Felt Like Love'

Eliza Hittman was at Sundance two years ago with her short “Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight,” which Indiewire’s Kim Adelman named one of the fest’s best.  She’s back with her first feature, the coming-of-age drama “It Felt Like Love.” 

What It’s About: A fourteen year old girl pursues an older guy she sees on Rockaway beach and tests the boundaries between obsession and love.

And So It’s Really About: A fourteen year old girl who is willing to sexully degrade herself to experience intimacy and force herself into adulthood.

What’s been your path to filmmaking?  I was born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I started out in theater, directing barebones downtown productions in New York with up-and-coming playwrights. Without a trust fund it seemed like a dead end, my interest faded and I desperately wanted to break out of the confines of a black box. I made the decision to leave theater behind me, and went into a dark place, creatively pent up. I stayed home and watched movies obsessively. Then I met a Columbia film student at a party and he showed me his thesis film and in the back of my head I said “I can do that.” I applied to Calarts for an MFA in the School of Film / Video, took out a lot of loans and started generating my own scripts and directing them. When one of my first short films premiered at Oberhausen, I knew I was on the right track.

How was it casting your lead role? I wanted the young actress in the main role to actually be young, with palpable vulnerability, and not someone over 18 pretending to be a kid. This legally limited some of the choices I could make and even with those limitations it was difficult to cast. We scared away several girls early on that I was interested in. When I approached Gina Piersanti for a callback and let her and her mother read the script, they declined. I was in total despair, because Gina was by far my favorite. I didn’t know what to do and I was in dire straits as the shoot dates loomed, but I didn’t want to compromise and cast an 18 year old. We were afraid we would have to push back another year, but thankfully the script lingered with Gina and her mother. Weeks later they asked for another opportunity to audition. There were lots of back and forth e-mails and questions on how things would be executed. It took a really long time to establish trust, build a relationship, and bring her on board, but eventually she decided to trust me.

Are there more films in your future?  I am writing two feature scripts. One is called “Beach Rats” about a junkie from Gerritsen Beach, who wants to be a hip hop star and is torn between his family, his addiction and his dreams. It’s about how he has to live with the fact that he’s pushed his kid sister to perform sexual favors for drugs. The other is called “Old Man Tim” about a world weary teenager’s phobias. It’s inspired by a haunting and depraved sex party I went to in college. I am also producing my boyfriend’s, Scott Cumming’s experimental film called “Buffalo Juggalos”. We shoot in the summer.

What’s the film that most inspired you?  I try not to watch films when I am making my own work, because I feel pulled in other directions, not inspired. But my work has been influenced by “A Real Young Girl” (Breillat).

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on January 17 for the latest profiles.

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