HollyShorts 2021 Day 3 (Sept. 25th) Highlights + Q&A with Emily Lerer

We’re on to day 3, and with it comes another packed schedule full of creative and visionary films for us to take a look at. These films are all incredible and those who make them should be very proud of their work. Additionally, we have another installment of our “5 Questions With” series, this time with Emily Lerer, director of Punch Drunk, a film that focuses on a woman who is attempting to navigate life while suffering from not only a traumatic past, but a challenging present.

Punch Drunk – Lerer’s film is a challenging watch at points, but one that is very important. Not only is it quite a good film, but it’s one that consists of women in leadership roles, but also makes an attempt to deal with something that faces so many women; subjects such as sexual trauma, cervical cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and more in a way that is both dark but reverent to the topics at hand.

Under The Heavens (Seiva Bruta) – Gustavo Milan’s film about a Venezuelan mother who bonds with a young woman and her new child while they immigrate to Brazil is one of strong emotional threads, built by a common goal and the want to help one another. The ability for one mother to breastfeed attaches her forever with this young woman, in a way that is both touching and heartbreaking. The entire cast is excellent, and it’s well worth watching this fantastic film.

A Matter Of Time – A film by Lizzy Liu Yang, this is a realistic and heartbreaking tale of the reconstruction of a small Chinese Town, a turmoil felt by the community at large, but also by Ying, an older Chinese woman suffering form Alzheimer’s as she comes to terms with a relocation to a nursing home. It’s poignant, touching and heartfelt, with a lot of effort given to the voice of those living in small towns just like this one that are going through similar efforts. It was a fascinating watch.

I Would Never – This was a impressive and important film, especially when it comes to romantic communication, as two friends move into unexplored romantic territory during a study session, and their relationship is changed forever. Consent is the most important part of any romantic entanglement, and sometimes, unclear communication can make things even more complicated when it comes to consensual acts, something this film explores to great degree.

Trouble – A great film about the lasting legacy of slavery, the horrors of the past are brought back to life as a pianist comes into town for a wedding, being placed in an old slave quarters to prepare. That site leads to the reminders of the building’s former purpose. This film does a great job of letting most of its runtime be about the lead up, giving it an excellent payoff.

Director Emily Lerer (taken from her website)

It’s now time to continue out “5 Questions With” series, this time with Punch Drunk’s Emily Lerer:

Q: Tell us more about your film.  How did it come to be?
Punch Drunk is the most vulnerable and personal story I’ve ever told on screen. Days after I underwent a LEEP surgery on my cervix, where a wire hoop heated by electrical current burned away precancerous flesh from my body, I found myself bleeding out onto the reality TV control room chair where I worked. Stuck inside this dark place for hours deciding whether to ask someone to cover for me and pondering, “how much blood loss is ‘too much?’”, I eventually stepped away to our unisex workplace restroom and noticed the urinals kept triggering me.

For reasons I couldn’t place at the time, I discovered this feeling was directly related to another traumatic event I experienced in a men’s bathroom during college. The sexual trauma from my past, presumably dealt with long ago, was slowly resurfacing as a side effect of such an invasive surgery. This phenomenon had never been discussed with me before, yet a quick glance at any number of female support groups online showed countless other women feeling similarly.

Setting out with the goal of documenting this moment of emotional and physical perseverance from inside our male-dominated world, where survival is a win, my writing partner Cason Weiss and I sat down and penned Nora’s story, which is really my own story reimagined in a beer-soaked bar on an evening of hilarious deflection and raw humanity.

Q: What was your budget?
We raised a little over $10k on IndieGoGo, thanks to the love and support of our friends, family, and lots of blood, sweat and tears.

Q: What was the biggest takeaway from making the film?
The most personal stories – ones that only you can tell – inevitably find an audience who can also relate. If done right, the emotional journey you portray on screen connects with theirs, and lets them know they aren’t alone. For those unfamiliar with these experiences, it’s also your job to leave an audience changed for the better and able to empathize with a new perspective.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?
As the director and creator, my job is to tell our story in the most authentic, grounded and cinematic way possible while pushing to get this project to the finish line.

Thanks to the creatives on board and generosity of folks willing to pitch in for the love of storytelling, we shot our film 6 days before the world shut down due to Covid-19, but ran into challenges from day one. Our fantastic dive bar location, ripe with leftover smoke and older carpet, exacerbated our cinematographer’s intense allergies which meant we had to hunt down fans, air-purifiers and masks long before they were hard to find. One particular scene took place inside a tiny bathroom and required several camera positioning adjustments for the space.

Due to Covid-19, everything after the shoot went remote: ADR took place in closets, mixes occurred over Zoom, and color had to be completed without a calibrated monitor until the final pass. When I saw it all come together it moved me; I’m stoked to share it with the world.

Q:  What is next for you?
Right now I’m finishing up the Alliance of Women Directors’ “Directing the Actor” Lab, polishing a feature film script For Helen about three generations of Jewish women spreading their loved one’s ashes across Nashville, and my feature film Other Half, a dramedy about the blurred lines of codependency in female friendships, is currently showcasing a teaser short film on the festival circuit. I’m looking to partner with a production company to get both films off the ground, attaching myself as director. Cason and I are also in the early stages of turning Punch Drunk into a feature script.

Thanks to all the filmmakers for their work! You can get tickets for all of the screenings for today, as well as any other blocks for the festival through BitPix and HollyShorts.

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