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Vanessa McMahon


Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)

 


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Interview with Daphne Schmon for "All of Me" @ Cannes 2017.

 

Interview with Daphne Schmon

American director, editor and actor Daphne Schmon's short film “All of Me” premiered at the 2017 Cannes Marché du Film, which was selected “Best of Cannes shorts to screen” by Creative Market Group. Made by an all female team, “All of Me” is the story of a talented, genderqueer musician named Viv (played by British actress Chereen Buckley). Director Schmon, writer Emily Carlton, producer Jemma Moore and editor Philippa Carson were in attendance for its Cannes premiere.

All of Me” is Daphne Schmon’s narrative directorial debut. Her previous documentary feature “Children of the Wind” won seven awards at festivals, including “Best Documentary” and “Best Emerging Filmmaker” at the world’s premiere action sports film festival X-Dance, as well as a nomination for the “CNN Best Documentary Award” at the American Black Film Festival.

 

I interviewed Daphne about her film and experience at Cannes. Here is what she had to say:

 

Did you always know you wanted to be a director? And who were your greatest role models on that path?

DAPHNE: Yes, I have always loved telling stories. My father is a stage actor, so I grew up watching him perform in the theatre. I would hide in my room after watching his shows for days, only to emerge having created my own character and storyline. I felt an instinct to record these stories, first on audio cassette and then on a small DV camera my dad gifted me. At 15, I discovered Adobe Premiere Pro and made my first film the weekend after September 11, 2001 — recording fellow high school students at Ground Zero helping the firefightersI became addicted to the ways in which film could be used to take others on an emotional journey. One of the most influential films for me has been “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001). Director Alfonso Cuaron went on to make some of the biggest budget Hollywood films of all time — HARRY POTTER (2004) GRAVITY (2013) — but this first film feels so pure; a true expression of his heart. I watched it for the first time when I was 18, and found myself in total awe of the on-screen chemistry between Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. The two actors were real-life best friends, and apparently Cuaron encouraged improvisation throughout filming. The scenes felt so raw and real. This film taught me so much, but mostly the importance of casting — I believe a film is made in the casting. It was also a great lesson of how you don’t need a big budget or complicated plot to draw audiences in; you need honest and compelling characters that share electric moments together. Every so often, I watch Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN again to return to this simple and pure instinct; to remind myself that less is often more.

 

Are the events in “All of Me” based on a true story?

DAPHNE: I have always been fascinated by how people cope with difficult transitions in life — sometimes shutting out those they love most. ALL OF ME is loosely based on a mutual friend of both Emily Carlton (writer) and mine who is a brilliant creative living in London, but has disconnected from his family up North. As I got to know him, I became curious as to what led to this divide and what would happen if he was forced to confront them. From this curiosity, the character of Viv was born. Emily and I knew we wanted to write a strong female lead with a unique identity — a mixed race, genderqueer, artist — all of which inform who she is but do not drive the story. Ultimately, this is a film about grief, denial, and reconciliation. It was a very tough role to cast, as the actor had to embody Viv’s gender ambiguity but also appear physically ill with Leukemia. When Chereen Buckley walked into the audition room, I knew she was our Viv before she even sat down. She is a phenomenal and fierce talent. She took on Viv with such brave dedication, all whilst being 11 weeks pregnant!

 

How was your experience premiering the film in Cannes? And what have been audience reactions?

DAPHNE: Cannes was a life-changing experience for us. Joining me at the festival were Emily Carlton (writer), Jemma Moore (producer), Philippa Carson (editor) and myself. To be premiering our film on the world stage at such a young age, alongside such inspiring filmmakers, was surreal. Thanks to our PR reps at Cloud 21, we were able to navigate our way around despite it being our first time and met a lot of interesting people. There was a palpable energy in the town. Cannes is an industry event, so audiences are very passionate but also brutally honest. ALL OF ME was chosen to be apart of the Creative Mind Group screening on a Friday night in a 225 seat theatre. The film was received very well. We were humbled by the applause and positive reactions afterward.

 

Your first film “Children of the Wind” gained a lot of attention in the documentary world. Can you speak about that film and the journey of making it?

DAPHNE: Children of the Wind was my first feature and an epic journey; it took us 3 years to make. I didn't plan on making documentaries, but this story was very close to my heart. My dad and I are both windsurfers and had been traveling to the Caribbean island of Bonaire since I was 12. We became intrigued by how the local kids from this tiny island, with almost no resources, had become the best freestyle windsurfers in the world. What we didn't realize back then was how remarkable their story actually was -- one of the top Bonaire pros at the time had sold drugs on the street for his step-father when he was 7 years old. Now gracing the cover of magazines, he changed not only his island but the face of the sport worldwide. The project took off when my dad invited close friend and windsurfer Peter Robertson to Bonaire. Pete happened to be a talented cinematographer as well; he had just finished A-camera on Atonement which was nominated for an Academy Award and soon after received British Camera Operator of the year for his steadicam work in Anna Karenina. With Pete's interest, we were able get the film moving. I came on as director and my dad as producer. We raised money through sponsors, the local tourism office, and a Kickstarter campaign. It felt very rewarding to see the film do so well in festivals, because initially no one believed in us; how could a windsurfing film have widespread appeal? But there we were beating out million dollar Red Bull films at X-Dance, the Sundance of action-sports festivals, where we won "Best Documentary," "Best Emerging Filmmaker" and "Best Original Score." The film gained four more awards internationally and was nominated for the CNN "Best Documentary" award at the American Black Film Festival. As a team, we were shocked at the reception. As Empire magazine said: "you don't need to know the difference between couch-surfing and windsurfing to enjoy this movie." Essentially, windsurfing is just a metaphor for the powerful affect a sport can have in a kid's life. At its core our film is a human story about will power and determination.

 

You have led teams in Kenya and Venezuela directing documentaries. Can you tell us about that?

DAPHNE: The doc in Kenya is called Shifting Ground and follows three women across three generations living in Africa's largest slum -- Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. My close friend is actually from the slum and remarkably made it out and graduated University with me at Wesleyan. He has dedicated his life to starting an organization called Shining Hope For Communities (SHOFCO) in Kibera which combats gender inequality and extreme poverty by linking a tuition free school for girls to holistic social services. I wanted to work with him and profile one of the girls at his school. Two other filmmaker friends of mine joined and directed the stories of a teenage mother and elderly HIV+ woman. We plan to follow up after three years and again after six years which will be in 2020. It is a long term project, but hopefully one that exposes how the experiences of women living in the slum is evolving. The doc in Venezuela, Down To Earth, follows skydiver Ernesto Gainza on his journey to set a Guinness world record with the smallest and fastest parachute in history. Again, this film focuses on the human story; Ernesto's father died days before he was born in Venezuela, leaving his mother to raise him and his sister alone. In his late teens, he left his family and immigrated to the UK. He endured many hardships until finally becoming a professional skydiver. I think these difficulties and sacrifices prepared him for the challenge of setting a world record. As a non-skydiver myself, I approached the edit in a way that would appeal to audiences outside of the sport. We are thrilled that Down To Earth was recently released worldwide across 6 digital platforms.

 

Will keep directing docs or are you making the transition into features for good?

DAPHNE: I am attracted to powerful stories, rather than a particular genre of filmmaking. With narrative, I enjoy the ability to craft a story from start to finish, having ultimate creative control over every aspect, from lighting to camera to sound. Whereas with docs, the appeal lies in the 'unknown' -- anything can happen -- and this is exciting! Truth can be stranger than fiction; you learn to adapt and move quickly, piecing together each piece of the puzzle as it unfolds. The different approaches have their own way of drawing me in. Ultimately, I want to always work on projects that I am passionate about; to tell stories from my heart.

 

You also act. Will you continue acting while directing?

DAPHNE: I will always be passionate acting, but plan to focus my efforts behind the camera for the time being. However, my experience as an actor greatly informs my ability as a director. I have such respect for actors and the difficult process they go through. I value rehearsal and work a lot with the cast to develop each scene. 


 

What is the next project you will be working on?

DAPHNE: My writing partner Emily and I are working on a feature film set in Corfu, the Greek island where my mom is from. The film is called Mati and will be my first feature-length narrative. We actually made it to the finals of "The Pitch" competition in Cannes with this idea, which proved it has potential. We are currently in development, with plans to shoot in 2018.

See the film's site here: https://allofmeshortfilm.com

 

"All of Me" stills of 'Viv', played by British actress Chereen Buckley.

Interview with Daphne Schmon for "All of Me" (2017)

Interview with Daphne Schmon for "All of Me" (2017)

Interview with Daphne Schmon for "All of Me" (2017)

Interview with Daphne Schmon for "All of Me" (2017)

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon; posted June 5, 2017

 

 

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