(L-R) Destinee Stewart, Sylvia Ray, T.L. Quach, Kristine Gerola, Rebecca Louisell, Jessica Liu, Luisa Novo

“Through the Blinds” is a collection of seven intimate stories that take place under one roof – from the birth of the 50’s housewife to today’s career-focused millennial and everything in between – tying together the history & transformation of women’s experiences in the American suburban home. Cinema Femme had the opportunity to interview the talented women behind this project. Learn more about these filmmakers and support their project on the Seed&Spark platform.

What brought you into filmmaking?

T. L. Quach (Tina): As a young child, I learned the power of filmmaking and its ability to educate and bring empathy among the masses. Sometimes words aren’t enough – maybe there’s a language barrier – but to show emotions and struggles, it further helps connect us as people and find understanding. I chose this visual language to not only make an emotional influence but also to share the fun of an emotional rollercoaster. I love psychological thrillers as it’s a confrontational platform that challenges the status quo without holding anything back which leaves the audience with something to think about, and maybe even change the way they view things.

Rebecca Louisell (Becca): I came to filmmaking in a roundabout way. As a kid and teenager, I loved writing and making art. In college, I studied Studio Art, mostly still photography and mixed media. I make a video as I was graduating, and kind of thought, hm, this is cool. Then I worked in nonprofits for several years, and got back into making art later. Through my nonprofit work, I got an idea of the types of stories I wanted to tell. I was making films and working full time, and applied to film school so I could immerse myself in learning the craft. So I was coming at it from two ways, love of art and writing and music, but also experience working with people and knowing that representation of women, LGBTQIA+, communities of color, and other underrepresented groups is very important to me. 

Kristine Gerolaga (Kristine): I started out as an actor around 2008 and very quickly learned that opportunities were lacking, especially for women of color. A few years into hardcore scene study at Beverly Hills Playhouse in San Francisco, my teacher Robert Zimmerman challenged our class to write our own short films that would give each of us a chance to star in a project. He pushed us to create our own opportunities instead of waiting around for someone else to hire us. I ended up directing and starring in the short film that I wrote. I fell in love with the filmmaking process and haven’t stopped writing and directing projects since.

Jessica Liu (Jessica): I’ve always been really into reading novels and found myself to be very introspectively invested in human-centric stories. I love finding out what makes people tick and asking ‘why?’ I fell into filmmaking when majoring in Feminist Studies and Film. I was frustrated with the paper-thin portrayals of women and BIPOC people at the time. After creating my first super guerilla short film while studying abroad in Singapore I fell in love with the challenging yet thrilling process. 

Luisa Novo (Luisa): As a kid and teenager, I used to rent like 5 dvds at the video store to watch on a weekend. I was always inclined to choose a career in the communication field, and my Mom was the one that suggested I go to film school, because the University my brother studied at had just opened up the course a year before. In Brazil, you have to take a test for each university you want to apply to, where you already choose the course and compete with only the people that also chose that course. I got accepted into a Marketing course and a Cinema course, and chose Cinema. That started my path, and I’m still at it.

Destinee Stewart (Destinee): I received the filmmaking bug after I became a frustrated actor. When I first started acting in Dallas, TX, there weren’t many opportunities, especially for women of color. The industry there made me feel unseen. Even in my acting class, I would receive scenes where I felt very little challenge. I felt forgotten & unseen, which prompted me to make people see me. I began transcribing scenes for class. After a few months, I started writing my own. One day, I decided to give myself the opportunity I had been waiting for others to give me and I shot my first short film. 

Jessica shared with me some of your past short films. How did these shorts or your past work influence this project?

Sylvia Ray (Sylvia): For the last couple of years I’ve directed work that was written by other writers. However, the short I feel most connected to was my film “A Period Piece” which was written by me and based off of my past experiences growing up in Barstow, CA. “Through The Blinds” felt like a wonderful opportunity for me to tell a heightened version of a chapter in my life and try to get as personal as possible. Writing personal stories feels vulnerable to me but embracing that aspect of my filmmaking makes me feel like I am growing as an artist. 

Luisa: I’ve always written about feelings and insecurities I have had. Every time I put pen to paper, these stories about women going through a seminal moment in their life and overcoming it pour out of me. My short in the anthology, “Homecoming”, was the same. Many current feelings of homesickness, fear of the mortality of my loved ones, and the relentlessness of the passing of time, guided this story. 

Tina: My main focus as a filmmaker is exploring the ideas around desperation and survival so it was easy to fall on this path involving the meaning of home. My short film, “My Good Boy”, is probably the biggest influence in my anthology segment, “Lost or Stolen”. In “My Good Boy”, I explore a single mother’s worries about her deranged son with layers of Asian cultural influence. With “Through The Blinds”, I am diving deeper into women’s fears and what their interpretations may be as I am able to display bigger, realistic stakes such as being a homeowner, being a single mother, being a domestic abuse survivor, being a woman, and being a woman of color all-in-one. 

Kristine: I’m currently fascinated with telling stories about flawed, complex, and “unlikeable” female characters and I think it’s a reaction to anyone who argues that we need to have more positive representation of women and marginalized people on screen. I’m more interested in real representation because I think any box we put ourselves in, even a positive one, is ultimately limiting and doesn’t contribute to the equality of representation we seek, which is being seen as full human beings. I’m interested in exploring why we make certain choices as human beings. And honestly, I’ve been angry for the last decade so I’ve noticed that I’m expressing that anger in my writing and filmmaking with satire, comedy, and horror. 

Jessica: The saying that all writing is autobiographical really seems to be true in my experience. Aside from utilizing storytelling to ponder questions within my own life, I often find themes of female desire popping up, especially within atypical young characters. My previous film “Prom Time!” allowed me to explore an element of repressed sexuality and opened me up to pushing what I can explore as a filmmaker. In “Special Someone”, I explore the death drive tied with a neuro-diverse teenager’s budding sexual desire. I love the heightened emotional world of adolescence and look forward to melding it within a thriller setting. 

Becca: For “The Trip”, I was maybe rebelling against my previous work in that I wanted to explore a straight woman’s perspective – I tend to write LGBTQIA+ characters! And no one wants to be typecast. I knew I wanted to create something that paid homage to the many strong woman role models I grew up with, and how they influenced me. I guess this is still in line with my goal of telling stories of underrepresented groups – women, regardless of sexual and/or gender identity, are still underrepresented in front of and behind the camera. 

How far along are you in this project, how did you assemble a team?

Jessica: Five of us met at a Alliance of Women directors directing actors workshop. Upon a reunion dinner, we shared our dreams and struggles and realized we had the same hurdle of making our first feature. Becca had this idea of collaborating in an anthology, in effort to support each other in this difficult filmmaking journey as marginalized women.

Becca: I had seen this horror Anthology by women directors at Sundance 2017, and it was an interesting film. I thought it was a cool concept to do an Anthology feature film together with some other emerging and/or early to mid career filmmakers. I soft pitched it to a few different people who weren’t that interested. As we were talking and eating and commiserating, I thought, well maybe this is the right group. I tossed out the idea and everyone was into it. Finally, I found the right people to take ourselves seriously (but not too seriously!). From there, it became a full group project immediately. We brainstormed ideas about having many stories in the same house focusing on women’s fears in America; and from there, we formed the group and started writing. We searched for two more collaborators for the 50s and 60s decades, and we all suggested filmmakers we knew and thought would be a good fit for the project.

This way Kristine and Destinee came on board. We collaborated all throughout the pandemic, meeting virtually and giving notes on each others’ scripts. It was a really great environment, and our stories evolved a lot. At the beginning of 2021 we set out to find producers to join us. We found Alexandra Renzo and Kay Tuxford, who make a great team and have a deep understanding of our stories and what we are trying to accomplish. We now have a solid draft of the feature that we are happy with, and are moving to looking for financing.

Talk to me about your chronicle and the importance of bringing diverse stories, specifically your story, to the screen?

Tina: My chronicle is about a single mother who is trying to keep it together, on top of keeping her family safe after their house was broken into. I am purposely casting her as Southeast Asian to display the many cultural and societal pressures that women of color may unintentionally carry, especially under a high-stress situation. I feel many women of color may feel unsafe – within society, within their neighborhood, sometimes within their own family, and in this case, even within their home. I feel it’s important to showcase this character and her stresses in hope to build empathy and maybe the audience can find a way to take a load off of one another, even if it’s as simple as limiting microaggressions. 

Kristine: I was brought on board to step in for a filmmaker who was originally telling a story about a white housewife in the 1950s. It’s been such a fun and exciting challenge so far because I think we’ve already seen so many stories from the perspective of a white housewife from this time period. Instead of focusing on the liberation of the housewife, I wanted to take the opportunity to examine how my main character upholds her own oppression and contributes to the oppression of others. She’s holding on so tightly to her idea of the “American dream” even as the world is rapidly changing around her and we’re definitely seeing those parallels today. 

Jessica: Set in the 80’s, my portion is about the deteriorating relationship between two teen sisters, set amongst a background of a potential serial killer at large in their neighborhood. As mentioned, one of the sisters is neuro-diverse and much of the focus is on the budding sexuality of young teenage girls. There were a plethora of sex-comedies in the 80’s that basically only focused on teen males in white suburbia. I want to explore a POC family of the 80s, which is especially interesting to me since my parents immigrated here during the time. I think the 80’s were a mini 1950s in terms of the ‘golden age’ of US media – but what about Americans who weren’t showcased during this time? I find it highly fascinating and necessary to create visuals of BIPOC people in the 80’s as everyday Americans. 

Luisa: I am the only one in the group who was not born in the US. I moved here a decade ago, and grew up watching American films, but I think the foreign in me permeates a little in my stories, even if they take place here. My story shares characters from Tina’s short that comes before mine in the timeline, so the family is Southeast Asian. It’s not my ethnicity, but I can lean on our group to guide me. I am a believer in the power of representation and that a gamut of diverse stories need to exist. I view the themes of my story as very universal, and in the present day, the many different communities of this country could have gone through the experience I am portraying, so I’m glad to show that.

Becca: So I started  thinking about the differences and similarities between my mom and my dad’s sisters, whom I’ve always been close to. What was it like coming of age in the 70’s? My mom got married at 21 and had me at 24. My aunts lived in communes and ran away on motorcycles. So there were some differences there. But they were all feminist in certain ways. The 70’s was a time of change, something of a disillusionment of the American Dream coming out of the tumult of the late 60’s, and a time when women became more free, at least on the national level in terms of Roe v. Wade, etc. But how did all of that political turmoil translate to individual women’s lives? What was it like to try and find your own path? How did they pave the way for us to find our own paths, now? I like to think about all of these things, and the 70’s music, hair, clothes, etc. will be a lot of fun! I’ve always wanted to do a period piece.

Destinee: “River”, is set in the 60s and it happens to be the decade that I looked to when I was lost, angry, and in pain. I found healing through many of the Civil Rights Activists and was inspired by how much they stood up to the injustices to Black Americans. I wanted to honor this decade and share the healing I received, especially in this time of so many tensions. I also believe that it is of utmost importance to talk about issues affecting women, particularly BIPOC women. Their stories are often overlooked and there are so many varied stories that live in them. This is one of them.

What do you hope people see in this anthology and in your particular chronicle? 

Sylvia: I feel strongly that our anthology will showcase us all as individual artists and in turn will showcase the support we have for one another. Embracing collaboration and our support system has been incredibly rewarding and I know that will be felt throughout our film. I want other filmmakers to know that it isn’t a feast or famine or a competition and that we all have something to offer. For my film, I want people to remember and process their formative childhood relationships. I want to honor the experience I had through an adult lens and release any confusion or uncertainty I had during that chapter in my life. 

Luisa: This anthology has many different perspectives, but the one thing in common is that we are all women who are acutely aware of how society treats us. Choosing to tell stories that span decades, we want people to see how the role of the women in society has changed through time and how much further we still have to go. We are also showcasing many different lifestyles and hopes and dreams, as varied as we are. My story is the last one taking place in 2019. A lot of contemporary themes of loneliness and how a predominantly digital world has shaped our lives. I hope people can see themselves in it and examine how they have been shaped by the circumstances, and inquire where they want to go from here.

Tina: I hope people see how women matter and that we aren’t a monolith. Though there are some overlaps in themes and experiences, our differences are what makes us still human and interconnected.  Society has ignored women and marginalized women for so long, I want people to see us and strive for cultural and systematic change. My character in my chronicle is just an example of how much damage has been done to a woman – and also how much strength a woman must need to survive in America. I would like people to start questioning how to help and take a load off for each other. 

Kristine: I hope other people are inspired to create and tell their own stories even when people refuse to give them the opportunity to do so. And I hope that the people with the power to hire people uplift more marginalized voices. I hope my segment challenges people to look within and see what ways they might be oppressing themselves and others. 

Jessica: It’s an anthology that will begin to fill in the gaps of untold stories of various “Americans” – from women to BIPOC people. I think it will be a drop in the bucket to preserve unsung histories that were excluded from mainstream media at the time. Outside of the creative, I think it is telling that every filmmaker on this team banned together to greenlit our own project. We are a team of diverse filmmakers and we have a ton of value and should be supported to continue our work. 

Becca: My hope is that we find funding, collaborators, a broad audience and that our audience is introduced to each of us individually and collectively. I think it’s very symbolic that we are women directors banding together and showing what can be done if we believe in ourselves and each other. I hope that people respond to that. The stories are very authentic to each of us, and I think our audiences will respond to that. We aren’t peddling “more of the same”, we are deeply invested and I think that will show in our final product. 

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