Directors Spotlight presented by waitress

Talia Lugacy, Descent

Rosario Dawson in Descent, co-written and directed by Talia Lugacy (Photo: City Lights Entertainment)

By Jennifer Merin

JM: You and Rosario Dawson go back a ways. How did you connect? How important is that connection to you work?

TL: It’s phenomenally important. We go back to when we were acting students at the Strasburg Institute in NYC, where we both grew up. She was 16, I was 15. I was there because I knew I wanted to direct. We hit it off immediately and had dreams of making films together as early as that. Since then, we’ve made short films of all genres -- at that time and through my film school days. The reason Descent exists is because she and I wanted to make a film together that she would act in and produce, and I would co-produce and direct.

JM: What made this script the one to go with?

TL: We were determined to do films that matter to us about things we passionately care about, no matter how difficult it would be to make them. Also, we love films that are older -- I have a passion for films from the '60s and '70s -- that allow you to explore topics rather than tell you how to feel about them, that contain different genres and tones within themselves, that change within themselves without explaining themselves. There’s a lot of qualities of films we love that we wanted to imbue our first feature with, and we were able to do that with this script.

JM: Descent is about rape -- is the story personal, do you see this as a women’s subject, or...

TL: In a way, it’s a woman’s subject but the film’s no more a woman’s film than a man’s. We wrote this script for Rosario, so naturally there’s a female perspective. But neither of us were shaking our fists in the air and being feminists about a subject that’s so complex. As you see at the end of the film, none of these characters is the good one, the hero -- you don’t know if they’re good or bad. That’s why it’s difficult for me to put the film in a gender category, and I wouldn‘t want audiences to think of it in that way. Rosario had a very good comment when we were talking about this issue yesterday. She said, “We’re not feminists,” we’re humanists.” That’s what we hope this film will be seen as.

JM: What does the title mean?

TL: Several things, and that’s why we chose it. There’s the idea of falling into one’s self, taking a downwards spiral. Another meaning has to do with origin. What is your descent? Where are you from? That reflects the nature of identity. To us, that’s what the film is concerned with. What makes you who you are? Things that happen to you? Or the things you do?

JM: Or things in your heritage?

TL: Exactly. And, how you use those things to identify yourself, or how other people use them to identify you. We want to put questions out about these things, not to tell people what to think. That’s the premise for the way we structured the story. Every step of the way, you see the journey Rosario’s character is on. You see her identify herself and re-identify herself, trying continuously to grapple with who she thinks she is, who she thought she was and who she’s becoming. Is revenge a way to find or redefine identity? The end is definitely ambiguous as to all those questions -- the answers are up to you. To us, that’s the thrill of seeing a film in a theater -- a good film provokes you. You walk out of it talking with people you came with who have different views on what you’ve seen. That’s what makes it alive.

JM: When you wrote the character, how much did you base her on personal knowledge of Rosario?

TL: It’s interesting, because knowing Rosario enabled us to know what she could do, and there were things we thought would be really cool to see her do because she hadn’t been seen doing them before. We definitely had that in mind while writing. We knew the character would be a very intelligent, a loner -- I’ve never seen Rosario play anyone as subdued as this character. In other films Rosario’s been next to the main character, the love interest -- but here, she is the main character. She is the film. Watching her character evolve is what the film’s about. She begins as a grounded person -- more so than her characters in other films -- and we give her opportunities to change her looks, her behaviors. We wanted to do that for Rosario -- because these things were good for the story, but also because we’ve not seen that in her work before and wanted to give her that opportunity.

JM: Did Rosario participate in writing the script?

TL: No. I wrote it with my cousin, Brian (Priest), over the course of a year. Basically, we didn’t start writing until Rosario said she’d do it -- because the story is so extreme, so dark, so heavy, we didn’t want to consider it until Rosario knew what she’d be getting in to and she was OK with what we want to do. I told her about it, and it was so much fun, because she got more and more excited, and when I was done, she said, “Absolutely, we’re going to make this movie.” That made all the difference in the world in getting us to follow through.

JM: The rape shown in the film is brutal, harrowing. Was it difficult to film?

TL: Extremely. As much as you prepare yourself, it’s extraordinarily difficult. None of us had ever done anything like that before. We didn’t have time to rehearse and build up for it, so with all our plans and preparation in our heads, we literally had to take the leap and execute this thing -- and it didn’t feel the way any of us expected it to. It was much more extreme and emotional than we could have anticipated.

JM: You, Rosario and, I assume, your cousin Brian are from New York. Do you bring a New York sensibility to filmmaking? If so, how would you describe it?

TL: I’d like to think there’s a New York filmmaking sensibility -- my favorite filmmakers actually come from New York, like Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. But it seems that nowadays that‘s a less definable thing than it used to be -- because things feel more global than they used to. For me, personally, I wouldn’t know how to define myself in those terms either because I have a range of films I love that have inspired me that are not necessarily American, let alone New York -- so I don’t know. I’ve been told by people that my films seem very New York, and that I have a very New York attitude. When I lived in LA, everyone could pick me out for a New Yorker -- and I guess there’s some sort of opinionatedness or upfrontness and other qualities like that, but it’s hard to see them in yourself when you don’t know yourself to be anything other than what you are.

Posted at April 29, 2007 6:56 AM

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