Short Film Corner 2022
May 21, 2022
Based on a true story in World War II Poland, a young Jewish woman struggles to survive after her family is murdered. Refusing to give up, she joins the Soviet resistance, and realises that through photography she can remember the past while documenting for the future.
NOTE: Cannes Screening, AMERICAN PAVILION, May 23, 09:00
Hi Caroline, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening?
I am so glad that Cannes is in person this year, and we will have the opportunity to gather and watch films together. That’s something we can’t take for granted, and definitely something to celebrate!
You have had an amazing festival run with Under Darkness winning the Horizon Award at Sundance, did you imagine you would get this type of reaction for your film?
It’s really been a blur- and I’m so grateful for the entire experience! While we were making the movie, my sole focus was doing justice to this incredible true story. All the success and accolades this project has received I credit to the real life inspiration of Under Darkness, Faye Schulman.
What does it mean for you to be in the Cannes Short Film Corner and part of the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase with Under Darkness and what do you hope to take away from this experience?
There are so many ups and downs in this industry. To be recognised at Cannes is really special and an honour I will use as fuel in hard moments. I am looking forward to connecting with fellow filmmakers and expanding my creative network.
How vital are platforms like Cannes SFC in championing and supporting the short film format?
I’m a huge supporter of short films. They showcase the future filmmakers of the industry, and also can be incredibly nuanced, creative, and emotional standalone pieces. Most short filmmakers have to be extra inventive as they are working with financial, time, and logistical restraints. In a world that doesn’t have many avenues to showcase short films, SFC is a great platform because it enables us to share our work with audiences and connect with each other.
Can you tell me how Under Darkness came about, when did you discover this true story and what inspired you to want to make this into a short film?
I’m a big history buff, and one day I came across a self-portrait that Faye Schulman took of herself during WWII. In this photo, Faye is wearing an iconic leopard print coat, standing in the snow, and pointing a rifle. I was taken aback because I hadn’t seen images of women fighting in WWII like this before, so I immediately dove into research. This was a young woman in her early 20s, who not only escaped the Nazis and joined the soviet army, but took a camera with her and relentlessly developed & preserved photographs. The more I learned the more I was inspired to create a short film.
What was the message you wanted to share with this film?
The struggle for hope in the midst of suffering and persecution is universal. Few, though, have the courage to act in the darkest moments. Faye Schulman is one such brave person who risked everything to capture, develop, and preserve photographs that remain an undeniable record and memory.
My hope is that this film amplifies the work that Faye started and brings her incredible and inspirational story to modern audiences. Her powerful statement provides hope to us all.
Once you started shooting did you give yourself much flexibility with your screenplay?
There was a lot of flexibility before we started shooting. Making a period film on a student budget is challenging, and I had to be open to changing big aspects of the script constantly: locations, number of characters, time of day, etc. There were many changes throughout pre-production, but once we locked locations, costumes were set, characters were cast, and rehearsals happened, there weren’t too many adjustments to the screenplay. I definitely encourage an open relationship with the actors on set, and if something didn’t feel right to their characters or the world, we did work through it until it felt right. Throughout the entire screenplay process I remained focused on servicing Faye’s character and making sure her arc and relationship with photography remained the primary theme throughout.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making Under Darkness and what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you have take from this experience?
Probably the biggest challenge was the pressure of telling a true story about a real person. I wanted to make the movie as good as it could possibly be; especially after meeting Faye and knowing how much she wanted her story to be told. However, all that pressure was worth it because it’s made the film all the more satisfying to screen and share. Despite the challenges I definitely want to make more projects based on real people and events in the future.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes! It’s crazy because I didn’t grow up in an area with the film industry. But I remember at age 5 asking for my first camera, and then begging my Mom to let me borrow the family camcorder. I made my first “movie” in 2nd grade. It’s really been an ongoing passion of mine, and over the years my films have gotten bigger. I still have so much to learn but I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.
How different was your approach to Under Darkness compared to your earlier films?
Under Darkness was generously funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This was my first time working with a little bit of a bigger budget, so I was able to invest in production design, costumes, and cinematography on a whole other level. I spent a lot of time doing visual research of the time period to as accurately as possible represent the WWII era. It was really exciting to have more resources to draw from to make the world come to life.
Is there any advice or tips you can now offer anyone thinking about making their debut film?
Think about what you want to say with the film, and then find other collaborators who believe in your vision. No movie is made alone, and it is so important to have a team to tackle challenges together. Their input will be valuable to the creative process as well.
"I hope that this film continues her legacy and inspires others to look up what she experienced."
You are currently working on your debut feature film, can you tell me a little bit about this?
Yes - I have a feature script I wrote during the first COVID lockdown. It captures a lot of the uncertainty the world was experiencing then, and it takes place in rural Texas (where I was quarantining the time). I have a great producing team working with me on developing the script, and hopefully we will get to move into pre-production in the next year.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from Under Darkness?
Look up the partisan and jewish partisans in Eastern Europe during World War II. This is an entire area of the war I had never heard about before - and there are so many incredible stories of heroism and survival. When I met with Faye, she was so excited that a young person was interested in her story. I hope that this film continues her legacy and inspires others to look up what she experienced.