INTERVIEW WITH JENNNIFER REEDER, ‘A MILLION MILES AWAY’

Last year experimental film-maker Jennifer Reeder took the 'Brief Grand Prix' at Encounters, and in doing so established her project 'A Million Miles Away' as a heavily respected exploration of young womanhood, one of which she has powerfully described as, 'a lullaby to the fourteen year old me'. Here we get to ask the questions about her Encounters experience, the all important project and her forward plans for this year.

Firstly, thank you for taking some time to talk to us!

So let’s get straight into it, ‘A Million Miles Away’ picked up the Brief Grand Prix at last year’s Encounters, you must be extremely proud?

Winning the Brief Grand Prix at Encounters was indeed thrilling. An award of this importance is very validating and it brought a lot of attention to this film in the UK where I had previously not shown very extensively. Of course the money attached to this prize makes it even sweeter and I put it directly into the next film I made. Funding for short films can be tricky. Investors like to see a return and so often with a short film, even an award winning one, the return never comes. Short Filmmakers rely on creative funding models. I am so thankful that this prize insured that I would make more films which is a hugely impactful outcome in addition to the prestige of winning the prize at all.

As I mentioned, this prize win is very validating – it means without question that I have made a good film. This vote of confidence is also a motivation to make more films and not negotiate my creative vision. I am very much attempting some innovation in terms of narrative forms and its encouraging to understand that audiences are receptive. I make weird little films and people like them so I will keep making weird little films.

This award qualified the film for Oscar nomination consideration, which instantly brought it a lot of attention especially in the UK and Europe. I appreciate so much the sincere embrace I receive from audiences, writers, curators and festival programmers outside the US. In fact, I am shooting a new film in Germany in this next year with production support from Germany, France and perhaps the UK. This marks an exciting new way of making films for me that I attribute directly to winning awards like the Brief Grand Prix.

You’ve portrayed the complexities of young womanhood very poignantly in the film, would you say you have a vested interest in the youth culture of today?

I have said previously that this film (and other recent ones of mine with related themes) is a lullaby I give back to the fourteen year old me—a sense of understanding of my adolescence that I can only now fully realize as an adult woman. Teenage girls are extremely special. They are beautiful, smart and brave. They are acutely aware of the fallible adult world around them but they are not trusted enough by said adults to contribute culturally or intellectually. Girls, across the globe are inundated with media images that are intended to both reflect and prescribe their interests. I hope my films, and in particular A MILLION MILES AWAY, reach and engage the young women who do not feel appropriately represented by mainstream/commercial teen films. So often these later films reduce girls down to petulant, boy-crazy meanies. This is simply not true and in opinion is a harmful image to perpetuate. I make these films for the girls themselves – they are my audience. It is primarily important that the girls themselves feel accurately portrayed and honored. So far, that has been their response and I am thrilled, of course, that the fans of A MILLION MILES AWAY include audiences much wider than teen girls.

Does the movie touch on any themes from your childhood?

I wish I could say that the chorale singing was something I experienced directly from my youth, but I cannot sing at all – I have no music talent what-so-ever. In A MILLION MILES AWAY and my other related films, there are many autobiographical elements. For instance, I did and still do love Madonna.

Many people have commented on the mixture of teenage actors and seasoned professionals, did this pose any difficulty while making the film?

This combination is ideal in my opinion. The girls have some performing experience so they are not entirely amateurs and the adults are indeed quite accomplished actors of both stage and screen. Audiences engage with the girls on a very meaningful level – they fully feel their authenticity. It was very important to me and my producer that we cast actual teenagers to play teenagers. The professional adult actors bring a tightness to the performances of the less experienced teenagers and the teenagers bring out genuine responses in the adults. I have been asked often if the actors are improvising and I imagine this is because the performances/interactions seem very naturalistic even though the overall sense of the film (AMMA) is quite stylized.

Besides the focal choir point, there seems to be a lot of musical references, vinyl’s, record players, backing music. Was this a conscious effort?

Perhaps this is the part which is most autobiographical. When I was a teenager (and even no to some degree), music was my religion. Like so many of my friends (and I suspect the contemporary girls I portray in my films) I spent endless hours in my room listening to music—shutting out the world just on the other side of the door and welcoming in the world portrayed by my favorite bands. Music is transporting and validating which is exactly the remedy for adolescence. I was a young teenager in the 80s, so the music I use tends to be from that era as a way to inject my own non-fiction into the fiction. The film is about US not, just THEM.

What’s happening for you at the moment?
Do you have lots on?
Any up coming projects?

I just finished another short film about teenagers called BLOOD BELOW THE SKIN, which world premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival. I am shooting another short film this summer – a very short narrative called CRYSTAL LAKE about a group of Islamic teen girls who take over skate parks in the middle of the night to skate with no boys around. I have also confirmed producers for two longer narratives. One called ALL SMALL BODIES, which will be a European co-production (production and post in Germany). All Small Bodies is a feminist speculative fictional take on Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel. The other is a feature length narrative about a group of girls dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy in rural Kentucky (US), called AS WITH KNIVES AND SKIN. This film is being partially funded by a US-based award from the Creative Capital Foundation.

CALL FOR ENTRIES!

Reminder that our call for entries is now open!

Final Deadline 5 June 2015 – for works completed in 2015

Short films and animations of any genre (fiction, documentary, experimental, music video) under 30 minutes are eligible. Encounters festival does not have a premiere policy.

Online submissions are powered by Reelport. There are discounts for multiple submissions

Full entry guidelines and online submission at www.encounters-festival.org.uk/call-to-submit/