Films by women come into focus at Sundance
05:00 AM, Jan 20, 2013
PARK CITY, Utah Two films written and directed by women made an early splash at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival this weekend.
May in the Summer premiered on opening night with writer-director Cherien Dabis making her debut as a film’s star. And Austenland, directed by Napoleon Dynamite co-writer Jerusha Hess, offered a well-received vehicle for stars Keri Russell, Jane Seymour, Bret McKenzie and Jennifer Coolidge.
May is the story of a bride-to-be (Dabis in the title role) who returns to her home country of Jordan to re-unite with her family and finds much dysfunction.
Although the film is not autobiographical, Dabis says some of the interchanges between May and her two sisters were inspired by her interactions with her own four sisters.
“Everything is inspired by my family,” Dabis said. “They’re always fodder.”
And she shot the film, which she said was made for “under $2 million,” in her mother’s apartment in Jordan, despite 114-degree temperatures outside.
Dabis says that when she first came to Sundance with Amreeka in 2009, her mother said, ” ‘Congratulations. That is so wonderful. What is Sunny Dance?’ “
“This project had been in the works for a long time, then she (Dabis) called and asked ‘Can you get on a plane to Jordan in like a week?’” says Alia Shawkat (TV’s Arrested Development), who plays May’s sister. ” I said ‘Sure!’ “
Bill Pullman, who plays May’s father, says he communicated with Dabis via Skype for a while when he was in Montana. “There’s a hot dry place in Montana called Jordan, but I realized she meant another Jordan altogether.”
Austenland shot in less extreme conditions in a manor house in Henley-on-Thames, England, about 40 miles west of London. However, Russell had her own delicate condition to consider.
“Keri was a little bit pregnant during that movie,” Hess says. “So she was not allowed to ride horses.”
The film, in which Russell plays a single thirtysomething obsessed with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, contains numerous scenes with characters riding horses. The premise is that Russell’s character Jane Hayes goes to a British resort called Austenland, in which the late-18th century/early-19th century Austen era is re-created.
Shot over 39 days for a budget “under that of The Hobbit,” according to Hess, Austenland is based on a book by Shannon Hale and produced by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.
Seymour says she has been a huge Austen fan herself. “My obsession with Jane Austen goes way back. I actually bought a large country estate in Bath because of it.”