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Davis Journal

Wright, Hall lead list of women directors at SFF

Feb 08, 2021 09:51AM ● By Tom Haraldsen

Robin Wright and Rebecca Hall are no strangers to the Sundance Film Festival or to moviegoers around the world. This year, they both premiered their directorial debuts at the festival.

Wright’s film “Land” had its first showing on Sunday afternoon, and is already headed for theaters around the country starting Feb. 12. Wright also stars in the film as Edee, a fractured woman who loses the ability, and the desire, to connect with the world and those she once knew. Armed with a need to be independent and alone for reasons revealed as the film ends, she retreats to a cabin in the Rocky Mountains with minimal supplies but the yearning to stay away from everyone and everything for a time.

“I received the script about the time when all of these random shootings were happening around the country,” Wright said in an interview. “It was like they were becoming the norm. I wondered, ‘How do these people who’ve lost their loved ones to these tragedies get through them?’ ‘What were the ways people dealt with these events and the effect they were having on their cellular makeup?’ I knew this was a movie that needed to be made.”

Hall came to Sundance as director of “Passing,” a story based in 1920s New York City and shot in black and white. Tessa Thompson stars as a refined upper-class woman who finds refuge from a hot summer day in the tearoom of a New York City hotel, where she meets Ruth Negga, her former high school classmate who can both “pass” as white, even though both are African American women. Hall relates to the characters because she is certain that her mother’s father was African American, but was “white passing” as well.

“I wrote the first draft of this script about 15 years ago,” Hall said in an interview. “I wanted to make this movie, but I knew there would be a lot of components and I thought I must be out of my mind if I wanted this to be my first film.”

In both cases, these directors had to be persistent to find support and the financial backing to make these movies. Wright said she and her team went to the Cannes Film Festival, where producers and production companies hear pitches from many would be filmmakers.

“We’d been there three days, and literally Focus Features was the very last group we were going to meet with,” she recalled. “They immediately got it. They saw this was a story about human kindness and resilience and hope, something the world needs to be reminded of right now. They wanted to make the film for the same reason.”
Wright said she got “the director’s bug” from her time on the TV series “House of Cards,” when she directed one episode. She had 29 days to shoot the film in Alberta, Canada, where the story of Edee spans four seasons over three years. “We were blessed with 14 straight days of snowfall in October, which never happens up there, so we were able to continuously work to get this film done with all the seasons represented.”

Hall also felt the desire to direct after watching the directors she’d worked with for years, and wanting the script developed in her own way.

“I found myself quietly masquerading on film sets as just an actor while I was spying on everyone I worked with,” she said with a laugh. “I knew there was this problem of prejudice among us, and I couldn’t understand why this story wasn’t a film already.”

Like Wright, getting the finances together to make the movie “was a game of endurance. I wanted to shoot this in black and white for a number of reasons, but some potential backers balked. I was persistent, and it paid off.” The film opened to very positive reviews on Saturday night.

The very essence of Sundance, from its beginning when actor Robert Redford first helmed it, was to give filmmakers a venue for their talents. With Wright and Hall, two veteran actors who’ve built solid careers in front of the lens, the festival this year gives them a chance to blossom behind them. Both films have achieved that.