Interview with Filmmaker Jane Stephens Rosenthal (THE HIDEAWAY)

THE HIDEAWAY was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the April 2021 FEMALE Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

As an artist, I am always interested in the internal, the moments where deep change happens, but we don’t always know how to put words to it, I am always fascinated by the idea of growing up, and by womanhood. This was our thesis film for The American Film Institute and it came about when I heard my friend Anthony tell a story about a young boy and his mother, and when I heard it I thought it was such a great premise to actually fully explore what it feels like to be a girl turning into a woman, a type of film I haven’t seen too many of – at least American films – the subtle small moments, the longing to be looked at in a certain way and then the fear of it. So often the external body begins to change before the internal is caught up and I think there is something really potent there and I saw an opportunity to begin to explore this in the Hideaway. The longing, the need for acceptance, the desire to be a woman, the shock of it. I also wanted to highlight this radical moment in one’s life where one realizes their parent is not some sort of God but just human.

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

I began working on the film in June of 2019. I spent several months writing it and getting feedback from my graduate program, we shot the film in November of 2019 and did a few pick ups in January 2020 and finished everything in August and then immediately got into the 16th Annual Hollyshorts Film Festival a month after which was really exciting. So from conception to finish, the film took about a year!

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

(The) razor’s edge.

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

I think the intense feedback process of grad school was one of the biggest challenges for me. I am someone who loves to collaborate, I love hearing everyone’s ideas and I value everyone’s opinions, but because this was made in a graduate school setting everyone had ideas and it was a really important moment in my creative life to really hone in on listening to what worked for me and my film and discard the rest. I tell this story a lot, but I think it’s important for other creatives to hear, especially ones starting out – how two of my favorite scenes in the movie were not necessarily understood at the script stage: Nika’s shaving and the silence between mother and daughter at the end of the film. People couldn’t figure out how they connected, or people wanted words to sum up the movie (and as a filmmaker I believe much more in the experience of a film and the audience’s experience than words) At certain points I began to doubt how powerful I knew these two scene would be on the screen, and how instrumental to the characters they were. In the end, I’m glad I stuck to my instincts because these two moments in the film continually and consistently are the ones that we hear back about as being the most moving to people. As a director, it’s important to remember that only you hold the whole meaning of the world of the film in your head, and sometimes you have to say “Here’s how it’s going to go and you will see it on the screen” because after all, a script is just a blueprint.

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

Well first of all one of the hardest things of this year and COVID has been not being able to experience the film in the theater with other people! Not being able to hear the gasps or the claps or the cheers of a live audience in the dark and not being able to talk about it afterwards and hear other people’s experiences, so this was really nice! I also think the film can be very divisive for people and it was really wonderful to hear that people related to the growing up aspect of the film and the silence of the film and the subtleties of the film. I definitely think it’s a film that can be viewed more than once and should be viewed on the big screen! But it was a thrill as the filmmaker to hear that what I was hoping would come across definitely did. And, of course, I love when people acknowledge the acting, I was so lucky with my amazing talent!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. When did you first realize that you wanted to make films?

I think I’ve always been a filmmaker but I didn’t know it until about four years ago. I devoured and loved film growing up and as a teenager. I went to college for poetry in upstate New York, but often came into New York City depending on what was playing at the Film Forum. At some point I moved back to Los Angeles and I was acting and writing poems and the way I wrote poems made me believe that if I did anything in film it would be to be a film editor because I love the breaks and the building of a world and how one cut can change the meaning of something completely. Then in 2016 I started writing a project for myself to act in called No One Ever Said They Wanted To Be A Heroin Addict When They Grew Up that I thought I was only going to act in, but as the preproduction process went on, I had an amazing producer – Gabrielle Nadig – who at one point said to me “Are you sure you don’t want to direct this?” And eventually I did direct the project and suddenly it was like this door to heaven was opened up to me and everything made sense. Here was a way to connect all the things I love, being human, and music, and poetry, and photography, and sound, and the body – and not only could I connect them I could also conduct them! It was revelatory and I continue to be the happiest when I am working on set or in the editing room.

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

Oh! This question! It’s often a tease with me because everyone says “Jane’s favorite is everything” and it’s true, I love cinema so much (and art and music) but I would have to say my most watched film is The Panic In Needle Park. I return to it over and over because it is also a movie filled with silence. A movie of these tiny moments that lead to immersing ourselves in these characters lives. And also the performances are just so good. I’ll never forget seeing the opening scene of Kitty Winn on the subway and there is nothing but her and you already know she’s in trouble, and you already love her because she’s clearly trying to hold it together, and nothing has to be said, no music even has to be played. It’s a masterful piece of filmmaking. (I also watch Antonioni’s The Passenger and Godard’s Breathless all the time when I’m feeling stuck.)

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

It’s always terrifying for me to put my work out there, but I think so often about all the artists that have changed my life by sharing their work, and I just hope that I send this film out and it resonates with other people, and I get to meet people and continue to make more films! I always want people to be able pause in my work and feel like they’ve been seen and heard, and the only way to do that is to submit!

9. What is your favorite meal?

A good mushroom risotto at any time of day!

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

Right now I am reading scripts and beginning to write a feature film – also about longing and coming of age and growing up and sexuality and belonging. These seem to be my themes, and I hated being a teenager so it’s funny to find myself working in this realm (And I am always trying to find the time to put a poetry book together!)

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