Opening day of the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival the festival office is buzzing with excitement. Tucked away behind closed doors I sat down with one of the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival protégés, Canadian film director, Camille Hollett-French along with her film's 2nd Assistant Director, Anthony Ecclissi, to talk about their short-film entered in the festivals Episodic category. The two were eager to share their journey, so I allowed that to transpire with open arms. My pre-interview questions were many, but upon my first encounter with the two happy, transparent, chatty young filmmakers, I knew it would be best to push my notes aside and just let them expound with very few inquiries from me. My time with Camille and Anthony was delightful, fun and energy driven. It was a privilege to be a captive listener to their unique story.
In 2018, Canadian filmmaker Camille Hollett-French finishes an Episodic short-film series, HER STORY (IN THREE PARTS). Camille gains acceptance into the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival EPISODES category. Camille screens one of the shorts in the series running twenty-four minutes long, No.#3: IN THE ABSENCE OF ANGELS. This festival allows her the opportunity to showcase her project on the silver screen and to engage with the Slamdance Festival Film audience for a Q & A session about her filmmaking journey.
I screened No.#3 (synopsis below) prior to my interview with Camille and found that the storyline was queasily compelling. True to Camille's style of filmmaking her desire to draw on one to feel something; I can attest that it spiked my feeling barometer big-time to which I had even more questions. The subject matter stuck with me for days. If the storyline in the shorts No.#1 and No.#2, in the series, have an equivalent shock value then Camille definitely has made an impact with her directorial debut in HER STORY (IN THREE PARTS).
Karen Pecota (KP): How do you feel about being at the festival?
Camille Hollett-French (CHF): I was advised at one of the Slamdance meetings to relax, have a good time and enjoy it, but I am a bit nervous. This is my first big festival. I've been apart of a couple other festivals from afar with one of the parts of my series, No.#2 - Hush Little Baby, even winning a prestigious film award called The Craghoppers Film Prize of £20,000. The Craghoppers Film Prize is awarded as part of The Discover Film Awards celebrating the very best of student and established short filmmakers.
In her exuberant commanding voice, Camille says, "I still can't comprehend the win yet...it's insane." She continues, "I just thought of myself as a girl who'd love to sit and watch movies and now I'm directing and entering my wares in festivals." Adding, "I had this epiphany that when I recall memories of my past, I'd see my life like I was looking through a camera lens. It's now a reality.
CHF: Paul, my partner, is a 25-year veteran executive-chef and while we have different careers we have a great symbiotic way of encouraging each other. Paul asked me once I was finished writing the shorts, who was going to direct my films. I told him I didn't know and he suggested I direct. So, up for the challenge, I fell into being the director. I knew I could do it. So, I did!
Camille Hollett-French is a name you will want to keep on your radar in regard to the film industry. She's been in the business, so to speak, since she was a little girl as a lover of movies, sitting and watching them for hours on end. As a child, screening a film was Camille's happy place because that is where she felt 'at home' while literally being at home enjoying this past-time.
Camille learned to get-in-touch with her feelings at an early age from her upbringing and the exposure to a variety of film genre and that knowledge transcends still into her adulthood. Camille is an artist by nature and ended up being an actor but that road has been challenging. Camille explains, "I've never fit into the category of the typical feminine starlet. I've struggled with my self-image...what people tell me I'm supposed to look like...struggled with my weight...but even though I struggled, I continued to be an actress. I see that my persistence in that area paved the way for me to be confident to try film directing."
Camille isn't only an actor but has other creative talents: writing, journalism, art, writing music, playing the guitar and singing, only to name a few. Her special eye for detail and a sixth sense for content continues to be a guide that helps with her creativity in filmmaking, now as a director. Camille notes, "I think now my journey has come full circle...I was always meant to be in movies...than is why I craved them growing up."
CHF: Film to me is the relationship of all the art coming together from inside of me and that is why I have felt confident stepping into the role as director. Don't get me wrong...there is a lot of fear involved and asking, "Am I Crazy? When dealing with the difficulties in the industry but perseverance has paid off in my case."
Camille believes that we (the audience) need to feel when we watch film. And, this needs to be developed. The barometer to which we share emotions that stem from feelings helps us grow as people, to understand those different from ourselves and to identify, as well as, empathize with the world around us. Camille believes it is important to be a participant in the world we live in and not be a bystander. In doing so we address our feelings and grow in relationships.
My impression while talking to Camille about her filmmaking journey is that she is advanced beyond her years and her narratives on the silver screen will be experiential and then share feelings and thought in reference to the story. Camille says that one of the biggest compliments to receive would be someone telling her, "Oh my, we saw your movie and then we argued about it afterward". She chuckles! I think this will be a goal with any story she attaches her name to in the industry and maybe a Signature-Mark in her storytelling.
KP: You mentioned that there was a deliberate style you were after in creating your trailer. Can you explain?CHF: Sure, I think trailers should be used as a film in and of itself. Just to throw up a few images and sound bites to give people a sense of the film isn't all too engaging. I think instead of pursuing what you want the audience to know about the film to go see it; it should present what you want people to feel so the will go see the film. We are meant to feel...and often we are told not to feel certain things but we are feeling creatures. We are meant to feel and feelings are a part of developing relationships."
Camille and Anthony enjoyed talking about their collaboration and how they met and the initial anxiety whether they would be the right fit to work together. The two were so complimentary of each other, their work and the cast and crew, including Chef Paul and assistant director, Emily Lee. Their next steps are underway as they are already moving-on to new projects with great enthusiasm. To be sure of one thing, Camille Hollet-French is now a name to remember. (Karen Pecota)
For reference, here below are the names of the episodes in the series from filmmaker, Camille Hollett-French of HER STORY (IN THREE PARTS):
No.#1 - A SIMPLE ACT
Synopsis: Shot in Vancover, Canada - 24 minutes in length
This is a story about a woman and her boyfriend who end up in the ER after she has an abortion. During the waiting hours in the hospital, the woman is placed in an emotional environment in which she must navigate with or without the proper connections she needs.
No.#2 - HUSH LITTLE BABY
Synopsis: Shot in Toronto, Canada - 24 minutes in length
This story is about a woman who visits her father in prison who is doing time for pedophile behavior (luring children for sexual favors). The narrative is a visual of their conversation and relationship.
No.#3 - IN THE ABSENCE OF ANGELS
Synopsis: Shot in Montreal, Canada - 24 minutes in length
This story is about a woman who is raped in broad daylight within the neighborhood she holds a volunteer job as a community worker and the impact of her experience. It's a 'Life-in-a-day' timeframe with overwhelming shock value. Directors note: The choice to film the rape in broad daylight was on purpose. It's often we think that certain tragedies will not happen to us and more than not in real life it does. Life has no guarantees and tragic things can happen to good people at any time of the day of night.