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Sundance 2016 Women Directors: Meet Maggie Greenwald – ‘Sophie and the Rising Sun’

Sundance 2016 Women Directors: Meet Maggie Greenwald - 'Sophie and the Rising Sun'

Writer, director and producer Maggie Greenwald is an award-winning filmmaker who began her career as a picture and sound editor. Her 1987 film “The Kill-Off,” a noir thriller based on a novel by Jim Thompson, is acknowledged by the British Film Institute as one of the “100 Best American Independents.” Greenwald’s groundbreaking 1993 Western, “The Ballad of Little Jo,” won an Independent Spirit Award. Greenwald subsequently wrote and directed her music-based drama, “Songcatcher,” which garnered a Special Jury Award for Ensemble Performance at the 2000 Sundance Dramatic Competition. In 2002, Greenwald was awarded the Dorothy Arzner Award from the Director’s View Film Festival. Greenwald has directed various films and television episodes for Lifetime Television, the Disney Channel, TNT, Nickelodeon and ABC Family. She is currently developing her first television series, “Called to Gilead,” with Relativity Television. (Press materials)

Sophie and the Rising Sun” will premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 22.

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

SW: In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, lonely Sophie’s (Julianne Nicholson) life is transformed when an Asian man [played by Takashi Yamaguchi] arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

The film is based on a novel of the same name. As always, I fell in love with the powerful and compelling women characters, and the deep, complex relationships between them. I was also very interested in the way we see women fighting for their beliefs on their own terms.

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

SW: Raising the money, of course.

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

SW: I’d like them to think about how unfortunately relevant this story is. Despite the intense racism that still pervades our society, we’ve become more accepting of interracial relationships.  

However, as a society we are still afraid of outsiders or people we believe are different. Our government did horrible things to Japanese-Americans seventy years ago, yet the same conversation is going on today about Muslim-Americans.

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

SW: The only advice I have is to be tenacious. Never give up. Keep making your work, no matter what. Fifty percent of the world’s population has been left out of the “human” narrative in art. The world needs your work. Your voice is essential.

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

SW: I have sometimes been labeled a “political” or “feminist” filmmaker. While I am both, that is not the original intent of my work. My first interest and passion is to tell the story of a particular woman, her journey of freeing herself from society’s constraints and realizing her dreams or self.

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

SW: This film was made with private equity financing. Certain things were essential to making the budget low enough that raising equity financing was feasible. Key to making this happen were the magnificent locations we found in South Carolina, which provided a significant tax credit. Also, New York’s tax credit for our post-budget and the DGA and SAG low-budget agreements all helped.

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

SW: I’d really like to name a few, but I’ll stick to the question. Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” was very influential. I think it’s the first film directed by a woman that, while watching, I could feel a woman’s voice in the authorship. The imagery is gorgeous, luscious, sensual. The entire film is so deeply, powerfully feminine — and I mean something very strong, not weak. It was a revelation to me.

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