I caught up again with a female creative whom I have great admiration for: in her creative ability, affability, and very solid work ethic — Julia Campanelli, whom we spoke to in 2017 about her role on Richard LeMay’s take on Coppola’s Dementia 13 — see my first interview with Julia here.
Julia returns to The 405 to chat about women in film, creative influences, film-making, and her new multi-award winning short film 116, inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnet 116, with Julia’s one-of-a-kind artistic eye and profound sense of narrative purpose giving the film an incredible flavor all its own:
“Gender politics ~ no bed of roses.
A woman (Julia Campanelli) wakes up in a hotel room with a younger man (Sean Yves Lessard) at her side. She insists he leave, he resists, and the struggle begins. Is it the power of love, or the love of power that bring them together, repeating the same, bizarre ritual, over and over again? The answer can only be found in Room 116.”
116 is certainly very effective in its exploration of these issues. Julia supplied us with her director’s statement on the film:
“116 is a power struggle disguised as a romance. It was written in 2015 in response the lack of agency women have in the film industry, the dearth of complex roles available to women over 40, and the complicated power dynamics of relationships. But appearances can be deceiving. It is also a comedy.
Love is complicated at any age. With 116 my intent is to show an intimate aspect of a complex, mature woman, without restrictions. I take the audience inside her relationship in the hope they will see something of themselves, examine their own feelings of recognition or discomfort, and confront the biases they may have towards women, sex, age, power, and gender.
This film is also about role play, the personas we assume while navigating life. By employing the use of role play, using Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 about ideal love, I ask the questions: can love exist without equality? Have relationships changed in 400 years? Is love really love, or is it power over someone? How far will one go to maintain that power?
Placing the story in a hotel room was an intentional choice. I have always been fascinated with hotel rooms and their appearance of privacy. Hotel guests willingly assume this appearance of privacy, a type of role play. In 116, I make the audience voyeurs, allowing them to judge the couples’ relationship and at the same time reflect on their own experiences.”
Julia really was effective on all fronts with 116. One thing that struck me was the sumptuous cinematography — Julia and her Director of Photography Lauretta Prevost show a very deft and alert hand in their implementation and use of an alternating color and monochrome palette amid very ethereal, sublimely dream-like cinematography, which — when coupled with the film’s esoteric Shakespearean dialogue — reminds one of a profound and hypnotizing fugue state. Their purposes and thought-processes are discussed in the interview below.
All these aesthetic elements give a brilliant foundation to 116 and allow the audience to explore those complex questions of gender, power, sex, romance and love in an atmosphere that captivates as a feast for the senses — therein lies the film’s brilliance, especially in this post-Harvey Weinstein world, where hopefully now more will see the relevancy of the questions 116 powerfully and bravely asks.
116 is a film not to be missed from a driven and capable creative. Check it out on Facebook and Instagram, and Julia’s Shelter Film here and on Twitter here to see the great things she and other capable female creatives in the film industry are doing to elevate the art form and secure more opportunities for women in film.
Welcome Julia again to The 405!
So Julia, we’ve had you here as an actress before but not as a film-maker (until now). What is the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of writing, shooting, and starring in your own film?
[Laughs] it’s wearing many hats as you can imagine. As an actress, I get to write something that as an actress I would want to be in, in an industry where I don’t find a whole lot of interesting roles for women my age.
I get to direct something with a clearly female gaze in a way that I perhaps don’t always get to see. What was the last one? Producing?
You actually covered them all (writing, starring in, shooting).
With the writing, I wrote it 2 years ago, we’re talking about 116, my short film. I wrote it 2 years ago in response to the lack of interesting roles for women over the age of 45 — I didn’t myself — as a part of this demographic — really represented on screen, the big screen of cinema, not television.
Once actresses reach the age of 45, they are relegated to what are essentially “grandma roles” [Laughs]
So, I think 116 is clearly not your grandma’s film, if you know what I mean…
It certainly isn’t your grandma’s film… [Laughs]
I don’t see older women having these complex lives on screen — they’re either relegated to the role of grandma, or a mother, or they are just there to make the male lead look better or to be rescued…
There wasn’t a lot of representation, so I wanted to try and fill in the gap there. A lot of people, after seeing the film, have come up to me and said, “yeah, these are really the women that I know”. These are the women that at my age I know, they are not the shrinking violet or the stay at home grandma with the white hair.
There really aren’t a lot of roles for an actress once you’ve gotten past the 18 to 39 rule for casting…
You then have a sort of grey area of 39 to 45 where you are still kind of considered hot enough to play someone desired or desirable by the male lead but, you know, you’re getting up in years. After that, like I said, it’s grandmother territory.
Even when the industry is looking to cast someone in the grandma role, you know they’re looking for white hair, someone in their 70’s. Yet, there’s such a big gap between 45 and 70. 116 was my attempt to fill in that gap and put women up on the screen who were real women — with a complex, complicated, intriguing sex life, women who are still sexually vibrant.
It isn’t just about the sex though. I wanted to show an intimate relationship too. I asked the audience to take a look at this, and if it makes you feel uncomfortable, why do you feel uncomfortable? I ask the audience to ask themselves that, if you feel uncomfortable, is it perhaps because you are not used to seeing this? And if you are not used to seeing this, why not?
Why don’t we see women like this? We see plenty of men playing romantic leads when they are in their 70’s. I just watched the Hitchcock film Rear Window last night and James Stewart, I think, was 46 and Grace Kelly 23.
And she was begging him to marry her [Laughs] … it’s like c’mon? So, what I did with 116 was reversed those gender roles. I reversed the role of male / female, making the woman older the man younger. The woman is in a power position and the man isn’t.
It’s the struggle, the story of 116 is this constant struggle to gain the power or to get the power or surrender the power in the game that they play.
Favorite films? Favorite directors?
Wow. That’s a tough question, Wess. That’s like asking a kid what their favorite candy is. I mean, I love film, I love film.
Favorite directors? I think we’ve gotten to the point now where you have to categorize it: favorite male directors and favorite female directors. I think as much as we like to be equal, we’re very different.
So, I think Jane Campion is probably my favorite female director. The Piano and really any of her works, any of her films. I think The Piano is one of the most horrific films ever made. I believe it won the Oscar for best picture, best script, and all the best actor awards but she didn’t win best director — which I just thought — what was it, 15 years ago? — c’mon! You’ve gotta be kidding me. When are you going to give an Oscar to a woman? Which wasn’t until Katherine Bigelow won it for a feature film.
Certainly, I think my little film, 116, is a reaction to that, a reaction to an entire industry shutting women out, or trying to shut women out. So…
But yeah, favorite films? There’s so many and having to choose just one is like having to kill your darlings.
Pulling out the William Faulkner quotes. I like it.
He’s a favorite writer of mine.
But yes, what you said reminded me of my interview with Marc Forster where his answer to that question was that it’s like having to pick out a favorite child.
Yeah. Yeah, its like Sophie’s Choice. Like yeah, you can take my daughter but I’m going to regret that the rest of my life. [Laughs]
Most certainly. What makes a truly great film?
I think what makes a truly great film is one that engages the audience at all possible levels, and has as many types of people in the audience as possible — a very wide audience. If people can seem themselves represented on film in a truthful way and an honest way — if they can identify with the characters in an honest way — then I think that is a great film because art is a reflection of life — or at least should be.
I think now people are asking for that. People are demanding it — women certainly are. I think minorities are — they’re seeing the art and saying, “wait. This entire world — my world — isn’t entitled white male”. Unfortunately, that’s part of the zeitgeist right now — everything is part of the patriarchy.
So, I apologize. I have this habit of not speaking in grammatically correct sentences. But I do know what I’m saying, so feel free to edit. [Laughs]
Nothing to apologize for, Julia. I have no doubt you know your subject…
…and I prefer keeping these conversational in tone anyway.
But yeah, that’s what I think a great film is: that you as a member of the audience can identify with it and recognize everything that’s being represented on screen that a film has succeeded on so many levels.
I also think one that leaves you with hope no matter how devastating the story is, that there’s still some hope and humanity left in it.
I think that’s what makes a great film.
I agree with that summation. It’s a good one. I think that kind of recognition is pivotal in much of art.
Getting deeper into 116. What inspired you to go with Shakespeare’s sonnet as the basis for your film?
I love Shakespeare. He has inspired a lot of the work that I do. I do a lot of theater, and 116 — this particular story — was originally going to be an immersive theater piece.
Oh. I could see that.
Someone approached me and said, “I want to do this immersive theater piece and I want you to direct something and choose a sonnet.” I said, “I’ve never made a movie but my favorite sonnet is 116.”
So, she said, “where would you do it?” And I said, “in a hotel room.” I’m fascinated by hotel rooms.
So I wrote it but then the project kind of stalled. I had written the script and its so cinematic — I’d love to shoot it. So, I did.
I think anytime you can put Shakespeare on film — it’s really wonderful. I mean, I don’t think there’s enough Shakespeare in the world.
[Laughs] I would agree with that too.
Poetry. There’s just not enough poetry in people’s lives, I think.
Agreed again. That quote is a great segue into my next question as well. It’s on the visual poetry of 116.
I was really attracted to the cinematography of 116. The judicious use of monochrome and selective coloring especially in conjunction with the Shakespearean speech gave it a very ethereal, dream-like quality to me. I’m wondering if we could get an insight into the decision-making process that helped you arrive at that.
Yes, it did. The black and white represented the flashbacks the woman was having of the immediate past, of the prior evening. So, that’s how I separated the past from the present. The scenes that were in color were the real-time.
That gave us a lot of fun things to work with — with my cinematographer Lauretta Prevost. I think the cinematography is beautiful. I think she did a gorgeous job.
I agree. I think “sumptuous” was the perfect adjective for it — it is elegant, beautiful, and really a feast for the eyes. I think what really stood out for me on that front — as a creative with a background in photography — was the selective coloring with the blue flower petals…
Yes. The petals, yes. We came up with that together. The fading of the color on the petals. That was really a nice effect — an effect that was hard to get. My editor did that, she had to bring that up — Dina Alexander, my fabulous editor.
We just had an industry screening of it last night and a lot of the crew who were independents, and all of the cast was there — it was just such a happy reunion to see everybody and it reminded me of how much I miss everybody… [Laughs]
But yes the cinematography. Considering the film is and depicts a relatively short period of time, the flashbacks make it appear longer. That cinematography also differentiates between the recent past and the present — the black and white and the color.
Also, the sort of bleeding through of the color sort of gave it a very dream-like quality.
Certainly. Very elegant as well, I thought.
[Laughs] well thank you.
I’d like to also get into what you do with Shelter Films. Have people begun to realize the need for what you do there more in the wake of all the shake ups in Hollywood post-Harvey Weinstein? I would really like to get your take on that too.
Absolutely. Like I said, it’s certainly in the zeitgeist — I mean, Shelter — I’ve been doing this for a long time and have experienced what everyone is talking about, coming forward and #MeToo and I mean, I experienced it as well as an actress. All actresses do. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. I don’t know any woman who hasn’t.
The fact that women are speaking up now is wonderful — the floodgates have been opened. I don’t think they’re going to be closed again — which is great, but hearing all these stories, it’s just horrifying. Absolutely horrifying.
I started a theater company, Shelter Theater Group, in the ’90s for this very reason — there were no good roles being written for women that were representative of the women I knew.
So, I saw there was a huge gap that needed to be filled. That’s when I started Shelter Theater Group and I ran that for about 6 years but then I decided that what I really love to do is film.
So, I shut the theater company down, I went back to school — film school — so that’s how I really came to start Shelter Film because I left acting for about 10 years while I was going to school and I was pretty used to directing theater for that reason but also because I didn’t like the roles that were available. You know, it was the 18 to 39 rule and the roles that I was being offered were sort of arm candy, or hookers [Laughs] you know?
…and not the women I know, so… All the work that was being done was written by men, directed by men, it was being produced by men — it all had a male gaze and it was all very stereotypical — typically not me or anything that I thought of myself, or any other women that I knew.
So there was this breakdown between reality and what was represented in media. I hope and think that that is finally starting to change for the better. I think there are a lot of women in charge now — certainly a lot more women running television shows, like Shonda Rhymes, Jill Solloway, Ava Duvernay doing her films, and I think it’s wonderful. I think its great. It’s like finally. Finally!
Finally! This is what we have been waiting for! I don’t think it’s going to stop or slow down. I think its going to take off but still there’s that imbalance of power in Hollywood.
It’s going to be a long struggle. It’s going to take a long time. But, there’s just so much good work being done. The really interesting work being done on television is being done by women I think.
It’s sad that struggle has to be so protracted. I have nothing but faith in it though because its incredible women like you leading it Julia. Where can our readers see 116 and what is next for you and for Shelter?
Thank you! Well, its on the festival circuit through September 2018. My plan was to keep it on the circuit for a year to get some notice and then possibly sell it for distribution. It might be streaming somewhere.
Then I’m also developing a feature film.
Nice. I know it’ll be good considering the caliber of 116.
It’s female-centric. I don’t know if I’m going to direct it yet. I would like to be in it and its… without giving too much away, it has to do with the occult. It has to do with a very famous witch trial in Europe — something that I’m very close to [Laughs]
It was directly influenced by the Salem Witch Trials. It was quite quite famous. I have a very personal connection to it. [Laughs] but that would give it away.
After seeing the success of The Witch, I thought “well. This is absolutely a story that is based on facts. It’s documented and no one has made a film about it.”
I’m well into that script now.
The Witch was a brilliant piece of horror, I thought.
It was wonderful. I loved it.
I did too.
I really loved what they did with it. Just the tone and atmosphere were remarkable.
Thank you Julia!