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LFF Women Directors: Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele – ‘Appropriate Behaviour’

LFF Women Directors: Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele - 'Appropriate Behaviour'

Appropriate Behavior writer-director Desiree Akhavan is the Iranian-American co-creator and star of the critically
acclaimed web series The Slope, a
comedy that follows a pair of superficial, homophobic lesbians in love. Akhavan’s first feature, Appropriate
, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Akhavan was
featured as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” and will appear on the next season of Girls.

Appropriate Behavior producer Cecilia Frugiuele was born and raised in Milan,
Italy and has been based in the UK since 2004. Since joining Parkville
Pictures, she’s produced a large breadth of work, including award-winning shorts as
well as online content for Time Magazine and Random House. She was Associate
Producer on Parkville’s first feature film, Borrowed
(BBC Films/Film London). (

Appropriate Behavior will play at the London Film Festival on October 11 and 12.

W&H: Please
give us your description of the film playing.

DA: Appropriate Behaviour is a comedy about
a bisexual woman [played by Akhavan] in Brooklyn struggling to win back her ex-girlfriend and come
out to her Iranian family.

W&H: What drew
you to this story?

DA: When we were
developing the script, I wanted to work through what was plaguing me at the
time: a failed relationship and the aftermath of having come out to my Iranian

CF: Hope this
doesn’t sound cheesy, but for me the hook was Desiree herself. Her sense of
humor and onscreen presence are terrific. Plus, she has the unique skill to
tackle serious issues while turning them into comedy.

W&H: What was
the biggest challenge in making the film?

DA: Creatively,
editing was the most painful part of the process for me.

CF: I agree the
editing was probably the most taxing experience. Because of the film’s nature
we could have gone in several different directions in terms or structure and
tone, especially when you start getting feedback from people who are outside
your core creative team. Finally reaching that stage where you say “this is it,
this is our film” — it’s a very daunting experience.

DA: It’s hard to
see potential in a rough cut — especially with comedy, which is hit or miss. This
is where my lack of experience hurt me — not in the execution of the final
product, but with my expectations for it in the early stages of post. It took a
lot of work to massage the right pace and tone. A huge transformation took
place in the three months we were editing, but we couldn’t see the difference
until the last weeks.

W&H: What do
you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

DA: I hope that
people leave laughing and relating to a character who may seem very distant
from themselves. I wanted to make a film which happened to be about a gay
Iranian, but didn’t feel like taking your medicine.

CF: Same here. The
film deals with a different perspective not so widely explored in mainstream
cinema, but ultimately our aim is to entertain our audience.

DA: It’s like when a US magazine does the “Stars, They’re Just Like Us!” thing, only we’re saying, “The
Marginalized! We’re Just Like You!”

W&H: What
advice do you have for other female directors?

DA: Don’t wait for
someone to enable you to make something.

CF: My advice is
not gender-specific. As a producer, I would say, Just go out and create content
no matter what format — something that will allow you to find your voice and set
you apart. Then find the right producer who shares your vision and who will
stand by you (hint hint).

DA: Yes, definitely
seek a partner! That’s tricky advice to give, though, because that’s where luck
comes into play. It’s like telling a single person, “Why don’t you get off your
ass and go find a beautiful partner to share your life with?” I met Cecilia
while studying abroad in London nine years ago. I write to make her laugh. She has
always understood what I want to accomplish, and her thoughts and notes enhance
everything I make. She gets my brain. It’s been the most exciting, creatively
fulfilling partnership of my life.

Also, as Cecilia said, this isn’t
advice specifically for women. I don’t currently have advice for women because
women are pretty well represented when it comes to first features on the
festival circuit. It’s when it comes to second and third films that we see a
drop off, so if I’m fortunate enough to keep making films, I will return with
some good female-specific advice.

W&H: What’s the
biggest misconception about you and your work?

DA: There is no conception
of me at this moment in time. Perhaps one day I will be fortunate enough to be
upset over how I misunderstood I am. A girl can dream.

CF: I think people
dwell too much on whether this film is autobiographical. Desiree’s work is very
personal, but that doesn’t make it a biopic of her life.

DA: Yeah, what she

W&H: How did
you get your film funded?

CF: Desiree’s
web series The Slope had been a
success, with people responding extremely well to her distinctive style of
comedy. I pitched the feature to my colleagues at Parkville Pictures, who could
immediately see the huge potential in the film. We decided to raise the money
through private equity in the UK via a tax-incentive scheme. Thanks to The Slope investors, who could see that there
was an audience interested in what Desiree had to say well ahead of making this

W&H: Name your
favorite women-directed film and why.

DA: I have many. Vagabond, Fat Girl, Goodbye First Love,
Stories We Tell, Fish Tank — I can’t choose one. These films speak to me because
they’re intelligent, unsentimental, and deeply honest.

CF: Father of My Children by Mia Hansen-Løve — she is someone who draws
a lot from her own experience and just turns that into incredibly cinematic and
compelling films. And Beau Travail by
Claire Denis — a beautiful exploration of masculinity through the eyes of a
woman, a masterpiece.

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