Interview with Filmmaker Hadley Hendon (BLESSING)

BLESSING was the winner of BEST FILM at the November 2019 Documentary Short Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Hadley Hendon: I found Al Nour through a program I went to Morocco with, Actuality Media. They do preliminary research into a few organizations and the filmmakers get to pick from there. I chose Al Nour because they focus on helping the lives of women, which I feel very connected to. Al Nour is also a community. All of these women make a product together, travel to and from work together, eat lunch together and generally support each other. Showcasing a strong community is important in the times we’re living in where everyday feels more and more like we’re focusing on the needs of the individual and forgetting we’re a part of a larger community.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It took us one month to get a solid rough cut which we screened in Morocco for the women of Al Nour, that cut ran about 12 min long. After we left Morocco my team and I continued to work on it, our DP and editor Erica Moon was able to cut it down to 6 min. From when we left to our final edit was two years later.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Inspiring women.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

My biggest obstacle was working through the guilt I felt interviewing these women. I come from an extreme place of privilege. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, went to college in Chicago and on top of that I am an able bodied woman. I saw the pain in their eyes and heard it in their voices as I asked them tough questions, it doesn’t feel good to make someone to talk about their pain. I also felt like I was being exploitative, using these incredible stories for my own personal gain. It was a tough thing to face. I had moments where I thought, “I’m not cut out for this”. What I had to realize was talking through trauma and pain helps us release, helps us move on. I feel incredibly lucky that these women put their trust in me to tell their stories, to talk through the pain with me.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Honestly, I was shocked at how well received it was. I was expecting harsher critique. I had multiple people come up to me after the screening and tell me that Najat’s story inspired them. It made them feel something and they thanked me for sharing her story. That’s all I want as a filmmaker. All the discomfort I felt during the filmmaking process was worth it.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

As previously stated, I didn’t actually find Al Nour or say to myself “I want to make a film about physically disabled women in Morocco.” In fact if you told me I’d ever make something like this, I would’ve called you crazy. What I will say though is my team and I did a first round of preliminary interviews with all the women of Al Nour, we really wanted to pinpoint a strong story and have that guide us through all the good work Al Nour does. Najat, even with her shy demeanor, really stuck out to us. You can feel this strong spirit inside her just bursting with life. From there we knew we wanted to follow her.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Embarrassingly, I’m pretty sure it’s the 2007 Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore work of art “Because I Said So”. But if you’re looking for a more cinematic answer I’ll tell you my favorite film is “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, flawless storytelling.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

FilmFreeway is an incredible resource. Not only is it extremely easy to upload and submit but it’s also a fantastic research tool! Finding fests to attend, networking and submitting has never been easier.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line. I love the drama of it.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I’m currently working on producing/directing my first feature film. I also have a few feature length scripts I’m developing! All of these projects are scripted fiction but let me tell you, I am on the edge of my seat waiting for an incredible story to make my next documentary about.

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