‘To the Stars’: Making a Period Piece That’s Honest About the Past

Martha Stephens' Sundance film tells the story of a 1960s Oklahoma community, before and after the arrival of a spirited newcomer.
Zazie Beetz, Babak Anvari, Armie Hammer
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Aïssa Maïg, and William Kamkwama
Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Julianne Moore
56 Images

To the Stars” takes place in 1960s Oklahoma, a setting that could easily fall into tropes about both the region and the concept of period pieces in general. Directing the story of a pair of friends whose shared discoveries deeply affect the community around them, Martha Stephens wanted to find the specificity in each of the core characters’ experiences.

“It’s an ensemble of women at different ages, different times in their life, dealing with different things in a time and a place where being a woman was especially hard. It’s not changed too much maybe, but it felt right. I love the period and the setting,” Stephens said when she and the rest of the team behind the film stopped by the IndieWire Studio presented by Dropbox.

Kara Hayward and Liana Liberato star as the central pair, and the cast around them helped to show how the film’s midwestern environment drew on more than just location. Jordana Spiro — who’s no stranger to Sundance, having directed last year’s NEXT selection “Night Comes On” — talked about a conversation that Stephens would have with her and the cast about what each was bringing to the filming experience.

“She was really specific about which characters were dragging their past with them,” Spiro said. “So often, when you see a contemporary movie that’s set in [the past], everything is that decade. Whereas in reality, there’s things from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Certain characters hold more of yesterday in their ‘now’ than others.”

Cast member Malin Akerman also talked about the spirit of independent film that was present while filming.

“Ultimately, nothing changes with the acting and the passion. If anything, there’s more of that seen when you all embark on an indie together because it’s the whole reason you’re there, for love of the project,” Akerman said.

Watch the interview from the studio below:

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