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Thursday, June 20, 2013

BAMcinemaFest 2013: Q&A with Eliza Hittman

by Andrew Chan

This year's BAMcinemaFest lineup features an incredibly strong selection of films about adolescence, each told from its own unique perspective. Eliza Hittman's South Brooklyn-set debut feature, It Felt Like Love, has already earned praise from The New Yorker for its "incisive and surprising dialogue... quietly vulnerable performances, and well-conceived and emotionally demanding way with the camera." Bringing to the American indie an emotional intensity reminiscent of great European filmmakers like Maurice Pialat and Catherine Breillat, the film burrows into the subjective experience of its young heroine, fearlessly evoking the turmoil of adolescent sexuality. In this Q&A, Hittman discusses her experience as a first-time filmmaker and the challenges of depicting such sensitive subject matter.

It Felt Like Love screens in BAMcinemaFest on Friday, June 21.

1. When and how did you come to know you wanted to make movies?

I started out working in theater, directing small, unconventional plays in New York. I knew I had an interest and passion for directing, but my enthusiasm for theater died. I always loved American independent film. I used to cut classes in high school and see movies by myself at the Angelika. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was exposed to a few Columbia student short films. I was really tempted to make something, but I was intimidated by the technical side of filmmaking. I had also never written anything before. I decided to go to graduate school at CalArts, to challenge myself and see if I could make films.

2. What would you be doing if you weren't a filmmaker?

It’s not a very sustainable profession. I wrestle with this question every day and have trouble coming up with an answer.

3. What are some of the challenges you faced while making your film, both artistic and logistical?

Casting! I had a really hard time casting the main role because the film deals with sexual themes. I really wanted to cast someone who was actually young, not someone over 18 playing a 14 year old. When Gina auditioned for the role, she hadn’t read the script. She only had a general idea about what the film was about. When she auditioned, I immediately felt that she had a lot of amazing qualities. She was natural and vulnerable.

I spoke with her mother at the audition and outlined what the film was about. I could tell they were uncomfortable with the idea of it. Her mom read the script and felt Gina couldn’t do the project. I didn’t know what to do, and I was in dire straits as the shoot date loomed. We were afraid we would have to push back another year, but thankfully the script lingered with her mother. Weeks later they asked for another opportunity to audition. Gina had lots of questions and concerns, which I respected. There were back and forth emails and questions about how things would be executed. It took a really long time to establish trust and build a relationship.

4. Talk about your favorite movie of the past two or three years.

I just saw Child’s Pose, which won the Golden Bear at Berlin. The Romanian New Wave directors set the bar pretty high! It's about a pathological yet very common relationship between a mother and her grown son. They are from an upper class family, a former elite class, and she is doing everything in her power to get him out of legal trouble after a tragic car accident. He’s pretty helpless and resents her help, but it’s also clear his life depends on it. Their dynamic is fascinating, familiar, and explored in a way I’ve never seen before.

5. Are you working on a new project now?

Yes, but its too early to discuss.

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