(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)
THE REELER: We've talked a little bit about Man before, but can you start out by putting the story in your own words?
MYNA JOSEPH: The film is about Maggie and her sister, who form an unusual bond during an encounter with a young man in the woods. Maggie realizes that her sister may be involved with something on the Internet and follows her into the woods and finds her with this strange boy she's never met, and she wants to get involved.
R: What drew you to the story originally? Hadn't you had the idea for a while?
MJ: The girls came out of a feature I wrote, and they sort of lived with me for a long time. I tried to write about many other things but them, but they kept coming back to me. I realized I could write something about female adolescent sexuality that rang true to me in terms of how these girls are perpetrators of their own fate. That was when I knew I had to write this. It suddenly flipped from "I don't want to write about teenagers" to "No, I absolutely have to write this story."
R: You came from the Columbia graduate film program, which has been all over the place the last few years at Sundance. What is it about that program, and what parts of that guided you on Man?
MJ: Ten percent of the shorts last year were Columbia films, and I was worried when I was making my film that there would be a backlash. And there was. We just happened to get lucky; there were two of us this year and one person from undergrad. It was sort of frightening. But every single person who's in a key position on my film is from Columbia -- except for the actors, and even the lead actress is now an undergrad there. I went to find collaborators and to work on developing material and developing as a filmmaker, and that's exactly what happened there. My directing professors were absolutely crucial to pushing me to grow as a filmmaker, and beyond that, my peers have almost replaced them; we have a very close-knit group of filmmakers who are constantly talking and collaborating on projects.
R: Yet before Man, you worked on those projects in pretty much every capacity except directing, right?
MJ: Everybody needs people to work on their shoots; your personality and your skill set sort of push you in directions. So I always end up AD-ing and producing. Ultimately, when you're on a set and things aren't going well you say, "Well, I'll just do it." But one of the huge reasons I came to film school was that I was working with a documentary filmmaker; I could have stayed with her and continued on a producing track, but I knew I didn't want to do that. I needed to learn how to direct. That was really important to me. Luckily I had an adviser who sat me down and said, "I noticed you've been producing a lot of the boys' projects. I want you to stop." But I learned so much from producing those projects, and it made me a better director, for sure.
R: You're screening in the program that also features Kirsten Dunst's directorial debut. How are feeling about that?
MJ: When the press release came out, it was like: "The shorts slate is up! Oh, and Kirsten Dunst's directorial debut is showing." That was everywhere, and I thought: "Oh great -- all these nobodies, and I happen to be in her program. Yes!" I think it's going to be a good thing, though I am worried about people walking out on my short if it plays after hers. But I'm looking forward to seeing it.
R: I'm sure it'll all work out. What else are you looking forward to at Sundance? How are feeling about the experience as a whole?
MJ: Just getting into Sundance was a tremendous amount of relief. It just makes things easier; the pressure is off. I've gotten into more festivals since then, and this has totally helped.
R: Any nerves or apprehensions?
MJ: My parents are coming, which could be great, especially if I give them postcards and send them out. I'm sure they'll meet people. But I don’t really have any apprehensions; hopefully it'll have the biggest audiences I've shown in front of, so that'll be good. I'm just excited to get there so I can stop preparing for it -- and also to stop working on this film. I've been at it for so long; half of the reward is that now I have a finished film that I get to show to the rest of the world.
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