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Sundance 2016 Women Directors: Meet Bonni Cohen – ‘Audrie & Daisy’

Sundance 2016 Women Directors: Meet Bonni Cohen - 'Audrie & Daisy'

Since co-founding Actual Films in 1998, Bonni Cohen has produced and directed an array of award-winning films, including “The Island President,” “Inside Guantanamo,” “The Rape of Europa” and “Wonders Are Many,” among others. She recently executive-produced “3.5 Minutes,” which had its premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and aired in 2015 on HBO. She also executive-produced “Art and Craft,” which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Cohen is the co-founder of the Catapult Film Fund. (Press materials)

Audrie & Daisy” will premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 25. The documentary is co-directed by Jon Shenk.

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

BC: In different parts of the country, two high-school girls are assaulted at parties by boys they call their friends. Bullied online and at school in the wake of their assaults, each girl is driven to attempt suicide. “Audrie & Daisy” probes this societal trend of assault and bullying from the perspective of the boys involved, the girls who are speaking out publicly for the first time and the wider communities that were torn apart as a result. Ultimately, the film is an exploration of truth, power, trauma and memory at a time when America’s teenagers are coming of age in this new world of social media spun wildly out of control.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

BC: I am the mother of two teenagers who are growing up in a culture where relationships are made and broken on social media. I have been struck by the emotional attachment that teenagers have to their social-media communications — how they can be moved to tears or elation by a text message. This isn’t how I grew up. If you wanted to break up with your boyfriend and avoid a face-to-face, you at least had to make a phone call. Now, you can write a few words in a text.

I read about Audrie Pott in the newspaper and was devastated to read that boys had taken pictures of her naked body and shared them. It was a new, scary twist on social-media use. I wanted to explore how it was that teenage boys thought this was okay, that it was a joke, that it wasn’t a crime to take pictures of a naked 15-year old girl who was drunk and incoherent. [My co-director Jon Shenk and I] discovered that Audrie’s story was one of a number of cases around the country where there was a sexual assault, followed by social-media bullying. I wanted to dig deeper to find the human story.

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

BC: We want audiences to feel that they have seen a great film. I don’t like to pretend I know what people should think after watching a film. It’s a very personal experience.

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

BC: Perseverance.

You can have kids and make movies: Never feel you have to make a choice between them.

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

BC: I can’t really answer this as I don’t believe there are misconceptions.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

BC: We were very lucky to have the support of Impact Partners, a number of generous individuals, foundations, the Sundance Documentary Fund and the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund.

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

BC: “Long Night’s Journey Into Day,” directed by Deborah Hoffmann and Frances Reid, released in 2000 and nominated for an Academy Award [for Best Documentary Feature]. Debbie Hoffmann was the co-editor of “The Times of Harvey Milk,” which is the film that made me realize I wanted to make documentaries. I had the great pleasure of working with Debbie when she edited a film I produced for Jon Else called “Wonders Are Many.” “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” tells the story of Apartheid in South Africa through four cases that went through that country’s truth and reconciliation commission. The film is beautiful and poetic even in light of the horrors it details. Debbie’s craft is all about finding truth and humanity, while never losing the beauty and poetry of the craft of filmmaking.

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