Kristin Peterson subverts the family holiday comedy with “Ringolevio”

Filmmaker Kristin Peterson Photo Credit: Nick Collura

It was a pleasure to interview Kristin Peterson about her debut “Ringolevio”, a film that touches on the truths of what it is like to meet your significant others family for the first time, and how you act within that environment. There are hints of the tropes from family holiday comedies like “The Family Stone”, but I would put the film in its own category because of the vulnerability you feel through the main character Ada, and the complicated relationship she has with her free-spirited girlfriend Marissa. Ada struggles to fit in when she travels to meet Marissa’s family in this funny, lacerating, and tender look at how we connect. “Ringolevio” will be screening on September 3rd, at 5:30 PM PT at the Dances with Films Film Festival (learn more here).

What brought you to this project?

While it’s hazy for me where the project started in my brain, it’s clear to me this film is me grappling with how I’ve felt in masculine spaces.  I’ve either been the Ada or the Marissa.  Ada’s the one who, while not necessarily playing along, fails to advocate for her own comfort in all these microaggressions. And Marissa’s the one that is absolutely playing along but she loses something(s) along the way.  I’ve been a part of large friend groups, of primarily guys, who have, whether they knew it or not, made me feel ashamed for how I act, think, or react.  I’ve felt ashamed for not establishing and reinforcing boundaries.  I’ve been made to feel like I was “too” everything: chatty, needy, girly, and emotional.  And I’m not “too” anything, it’s just my way of being wasn’t going with their grain.
While making a film about so many unspoken parts of being a woman in a male-dominated space, especially a domestic one, is a difficult task, I feel like the tone of anxiety is there.  I’m especially happy with how the character of Ada feels to the audience.  She’s unfun in many ways, but we also completely understand why she doesn’t feel like having fun with the brothers at all.  And, all of this bleeds into straining the one relationship Ada cares about, that with her girlfriend Marissa.

Marissa (Meredith Johnston) reassures her girlfriend.

Why no parents? Why all brothers?

For the character of Marissa to make the most sense to me, I didn’t want her to have a mother as a role model.  I wanted the Faber siblings to be essentially orphans who have bonded in both healthy and unhealthy ways despite being abandoned.  The eldest brother Ozzie acts as both mother and father to his younger siblings.  “Ringolevio” is a family holiday movie, but I didn’t want it to look like what a family is “supposed” to look like.  

And, they’re all brothers because I wanted to use each brother character to show how men react to a woman that doesn’t fit their expectations of behavior.  Ozzie is baffled by how Ada is unaffected.  Wren struggles with how she is buttoned up.  And, Arthur acts like the one on her side until near the end where he chides her for not accepting their kindnesses.  There was no question about the genders of Marissa’s siblings.  It would be a completely different story if Marissa had a sister.

Marissa (Meredith Johnston) after shower.

In the press notes you mention your film influences being movies like “The Family Stone”, and “The Royal Tenenbaums”. Not sure if you also were influenced by films like “Persona”, and “3 Women” too, but I was reminded of them because of the different sides we see of Ada and Marissa, both in their relationship and with the brothers. Could you comment on that and about the scene with Ada looking in the mirror at the motel? 

It’s so interesting that you bring these two films up as comparisons.  I honestly had not thought about “Ringolevio” being similar to “Persona” or “3 Women”, but all three of these films have a much more internal narrative to them.  There’s the dread, the anxiety, the unconscious discomfort.  All three have this quality of tacit complicity.  “3 Women’ in particular has this feeling . . . it’s almost the feeling of being gaslit.  The newcomer has to accept how things are done in this environment, and it’s better to just go along with it and try to blend in.

My intention with the mirror scene in the motel was to show how Ada’s play-acting to fit in, or at least trying to fit in, and that she felt the need to rehearse playfulness, or sexiness, or something that wasn’t coming across previously in the weekend’s interactions.  She’s aware the way she is isn’t working.  She’s the “too” much I mentioned before.

Marissa (Meredith Johnston) listening to the instructions for the children’s yard game
“ringolevio”

Ringolevio, I hate games like that because of all the mean spiritedness and competitiveness that isolates you from groups. I could see why that was a game you used for the film. Can you talk about the importance of that game to the plot of the film?

I like how a children’s game can be so warlike without actually being violent.  To me, the symbolism of the two teams trying to “catch” the other players in their jails is loaded with the idea that the game isn’t won until everyone from the other side is caught.  And, also the symbolism of bug catching fits this idea: that a beautiful and interesting thing must be collected and kept in one spot for the pleasure of the catcher.

Marissa (Meredith Johnston) makes a simple request. Ozzie (Joshua Koopman) and Ada
(Nicole Velasco Lockard) are frozen.

I love this film because it shakes up the stereotypical family holiday oriented films. Two women, who are in a relationship, are the protagonists of the film, and feel like real people. A lesbian relationship is portrayed in a real way you don’t see onscreen that often. Can you talk about what you were trying to bring to the screen with queer characters, and a queer relationship, in a family holiday setting?

Watching queer cinema in all its forms has been a way for me to process my own experiences.  But, I felt there weren’t many stories that showed how two people, in love, drift apart and lose what brought them together in the beginning.  I was less interested in showing how two women fall in love and experience their desire.  I wanted to show how two people fail to connect later on in the relationship.  And, I wanted to show how a relationship can end with all the subtleties that my real life relationships have gone through.  In the end, no one person in the relationship was wrong or cruel, they just didn’t fit together.  It becomes clear to them that they both come from very different worlds, and have very different expectations for themselves and their partners.  Most of my “parting ways” experiences were unclear and full of doubt.

Ada (Nicole Velasco Lockard) shows her bug collection to her girlfriend’s brothers Arthur
(Cory Hardin) and Ozzie (Joshua Koopman).

The last scene seemed open-ended to me, and I like how Ada brought out her bug collection at the end. Like, “this is me, and I’m not going to pretend any different with you”. She becomes very vulnerable doing this, and it almost feels like she’s transferring other parts of herself into this reveal, like it’s not just about the bugs, but also being in a relationship with the brothers’ sister. What are your thoughts on that?

This is Ada’s last ditch effort.  In the previous scene, we watch Marissa gloss over a past relationship while on a live radio show, and how she wrote a song about them, how they didn’t fit with her.  Ada’s internalizing this, she’s afraid that if she doesn’t connect with Marissa’s family in a real way, she will lose Marissa.  Up until this point, Ada’s been passively going along with the activities and traditions of the weekend.  But, in this moment, she’s leveling with the two older brothers.  She’s showing them what she holds dearest, and she talks about a previous Easter weekend where she chose to travel alone instead of spend time with her family, where she didn’t want to pretend in front of anymore.  And the brothers Ozzie and Arthur are picking up that she’s sharing her most private feelings.  She’s certainly vulnerable for the first time.  She’s trying to tell them that Marissa means so much to her and that she’ll bear a weekend of loneliness, isolation to prove to her and her brothers that she wants to stick around.  But, after this scene, the brothers shatter her vulnerability with subtle mocking, and an interruption from the youngest brother who literally grabs from Ada her “show and tell” props.

Any advice for emerging female filmmakers, specifically for non-binary and LGBTQ filmmakers?

Make the movies you wanted to see when you were younger.  If your confidence is shaken, remember that no one ever knows what they’re making while they’re making it.  Just lean into your intuition and trust that you’re making the movie you wish you saw when you were younger. 

Final still of the film, praying mantis set free.

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