Willow Creek Road
Interview by Cesar Solla
I can't help but admire Sheldon Chau's cinematography and the way he shot Montana. It was beautiful! How did you come about choosing Montana? Did the narrative spring out of deciding on a location first? How essential was it in having Mother Earth present in expressing motherhood?
Yes I agree, thank you, Sheldon captured Montana beautifully. He and our director, Francesca Mirabella, had worked together before and they had an expedited artistic short-hand. They were inspired by the films of Terence Malick and John Ford and, although our film relies on a different narrative, they were aware of the Western cannon. I spent the first 18 years of my life in Montana and longed for a chance to return home. The narrative first came to my colleague Natalie Engelbert and I in NYC: two very opposite women experiencing tension over the Mother role. NYC never felt totally right though and a rural character seemed to fit the story better. Codes of conduct with children are very different in NYC in comparison to a place like Montana. It allowed us to further explore the moral grey area of when a stranger intervenes in another family's life. Yes, you got it—it was indeed very essential that a character as isolated as Ruth get her mothering from Nature— a form of self-soothing. This was something I experienced growing up in Montana - I escaped outdoors to process emotions that I couldn't process within my family.
What I find fascinating with your film is your choice to challenge the male perspective on the American Western Landscape as an external, hostile place to a female view on the landscape as a source of comfort while one struggles internally. Could you elaborate on this?
For sure. One of the team members at Bozeman International Film Festival, Phoebe Lewis, helped me articulate this. She was struck by seeing a female ranch hand mending a fence off the bat - something you don't often see. I think it's fair to say the Western landscape is particularly associated with the masculine - genred survival tales and period pieces that offer well known and loved tropes: the Cowboy, the Prostitute, the Outlaw, the Law etc. and often times, Man vs. Nature. Modern Day and period piece Westerns are starting to re-emerge after a hiatus post "Unforgiven" and deconstruct the genre a little bit ... films like "Damsel" and "Certain Women." And in our film, we have the female gaze and the breaking of tropes in the Western landscape -- but specifically, we are examining a present day, internal battle that an exceptionally isolated, rural woman faces. The land is the most consistent balm for her to return to when human relationships fail. For me, it was also a return to the ease of nature after pounding pavement in New York City for 12 years.
What this film takes pride in is its female team members. How do you think the female component added to the film?
We had a core female team (Writers, Director, Lead Actor & Producer, Editor and Composer) but many of our other crew members were male. This core definitely gave the film a strong female gaze. I would say each woman brought something fresh and deeply felt to the table: editor Amy Adair's empathy struck me off the bat - she is feeling right along side the protagonist, composer Herdís Stefánsdóttir had such great restraint and ability to pull back and listen, and Director/Writer Francesca Mirabella gave the film it's inner poetry and outer sensuality. This, combined with the rest of the team, I think creates a rich layer of feeling within the film and an invite to lean in and really listen to a narrative that doesn't follow formula.