Jenny Deller on “Future Weather”

Perla Haney-Jardine stars in Jenny Deller’s “Future Weather.” Courtesy of Virgil Films.

Perla Haney-Jardine stars in Jenny Deller’s “Future Weather.” Courtesy of Virgil Films.

Lauduree is the sort of young heroine Hollywood doesn’t have the guts to portray. She’s not addicted to drugs or fawning over a vampire. As played by the sublime Perla Haney-Jardine (who memorably made her film debut as The Bride’s beloved daughter in “Kill Bill”) in writer/director Jenny Deller’s superb feature debut, “Future Weather,” Lauduree is a self-sufficient 13-year-old who channels her anxiety about global warming into a life of impassioned environmentalism.

Abandoned by her L.A.-bound mother (Marin Ireland), the girl must rely on her wits and spunk to survive, though she luckily has two decent role models: a devoted grandmother (Amy Madigan) and an inspirational science teacher (Lili Taylor). Resisting sentiment and clichés at every turn, Deller’s film is a deftly nuanced and touching portrait of human resilience during the most troubling of transitions (it would make a great double bill with Sally Potter’s “Ginger & Rosa”).

In this exclusive interview, Deller spoke with Indie Outlook about the evolution of her script, tips for an eco-friendly film set and the short film that marked her first collaboration with Perla.

Q: What made you decide to become a filmmaker?

A: I made that decision a long time ago. I’ve always been interested in writing, and I started out writing short stories. My first love was short fiction, and as I grew older, I got into drama and directed a play. It was actually in Chicago where I had some great formative cinematic experiences. I went to the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, and I would take the train into the city and go to the [Fine Arts Theater] that used to be on Michigan Avenue. I just became enamored with the world of film and what you could create by synthesizing all these different art forms into a visual language.

I was really torn for a while between theatre and film. There was something about sitting in the dark with an [audience] and being transported to another time and place that I found really special. At a certain point, I decided that film was the route I was going to take in my professional creative pursuits. I specifically recall an editing class that I took in Portland, Oregon. We edited on those old Steenbeck machines, and it was such a magical experience. I felt like it completed the whole creative process for me. Not only did I write something and shoot it and go on location—which I find to be a really integral part of the process—but while editing it, I was able to live inside this fictional world that I had created. That was the moment of synthesis for me.

Q: What steps did you take to create an environmentally sustainable set, and did that include shooting on the RED camera?

A: The RED allows you to record footage to [data cards] that can be reused, as opposed to film, which requires a lot of long-spooled plastic. It was also a financial decision for us [laughs]. We tried to keep it really simple because we were so low-budget, and not only did we not have a lot of money, we also didn’t have a lot of resources. We couldn’t afford to have someone who was just overseeing the sustainable stuff onset, although I think that would be a great idea if film sets could afford that. We had to implement things that were simple, and one of the things that had aways bothered me on film sets was the overuse of plastic water bottles. We went back to the idea of everyone having their own canteen that they could bring day after day or that they could leave onset. They could put their name on it and fill it up with ice water—usually from a hose [laughs] or the tap—and then we’d have our PAs run and refill them as needed. So that eliminated plastic water bottles from the set. We also worked with local businesses such as Philly Compost, which provided us with composting bins for biodegradable [food scraps].

Q: Your film is a great showcase for Perla, who previously astonished me in Michael Winterbottom’s film, “A Summer in Genoa.”

A: I had that same experience when I saw her in “Summer in Genoa.” I felt like I was watching a real kid, not some groomed Hollywood actor. She’s an old soul, so she has an otherworldly maturity about her, but she’s also a regular kid. She doesn’t live in Hollywood, she lives in North Carolina and does normal kid things like have sleepovers and go to the mall. She told me that when she was younger, she would run around outside and catch lizards. That was the sort of childhood that I wanted to represent in “Future Weather.”

In a sense, it was a nostalgia for my own childhood, which was free of cell phones and Facebook and all of that. I like that she still lives a pretty innocent childhood. And she’s also incredibly smart. She’s incredibly intelligent, and that came across in an early phone call that I had with her. I don’t remember if it was her agent or her parents who told me that she doesn’t just do any project. She does things that interest her, and this script interested her, and the character seemed challenging to her. I thought that was a good sign. Not only would she be easier to work with, but she also reminded me of Lauduree. She’s very independent and knows what she wants.

Q: Prior to filming “Future Weather,” you made a wonderful short featuring Perla as Lauduree. How did that project come about?

A: It was a great period of time where all of these things started happening at once. It was 2009, and I had been developing this script for about three years. We met Perla’s agent and watched her work, but hadn’t met her in person. We found out that the film was selected to participate in a contest sponsored by Netflix and Film Independent for first-time directors. You had to submit a three-minute short that could also be a trailer for your film. They would post it online and for 30 days, the public could vote on the project.

It was a huge opportunity and we had 30 days to do something. We thought, ‘Why do a trailer or do a scene? Why not make something short and punchy that’s going to get people’s attention on the Internet?’ We also thought that this would be a great opportunity to meet Perla and work with her. Luckily, her family was game, and we came up with a little script. Our goal was to introduce the character of Lauduree and her life, but not be limited in tone. I thought it shouldn’t have the same tone as the film at all, and that was kind of fun. We went to Asheville, North Carolina, which is where she lives, and we worked with her family to make this short. We had a great time.

Q: What message did you want this film to convey about global warming? 

A: The overarching idea was to change people’s perceptions on global warming. It cannot be cordoned off and labeled as an “environmental issue.” It’s a human issue and I think more specifically, it’s a family issue because it will effect all generations that will come after us. If a person can’t link that to themselves or their kids, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do anything about it. … There’s a spirit of survival in the film. I wanted to tell a story about a kid who taps into the survivor inside of herself to get through a really difficult crisis. I wasn’t thinking about global warming in the beginning. I was just thinking about that resilience and that sense of self that a person has to have in order to not become damaged. Humans are survivors, and things may not look the same when disasters occur, but that doesn’t mean we can’t survive in some form, or that the things we love can’t survive in some form.

Q: You’ve said in past interviews that you felt the same “tightness” in your chest that Lauduree feels when she learns about global warming.

A: Yeah, I felt very overwhelmed and anxious, and I also felt really angry [laughs], and then I started to realize that my character Lauduree was feeling the same way about her own life. I already had the abandonment story in mind when I started reading about global warming, and I realized how related those two emotional experiences really were. A lot of people want to jump right away to saying, “Okay, it’s bad news, and we may be too late to reverse it, but we have to look on the positive side.” That’s true to a degree, but I also think that it’s important to go through despair, to go through the emotions that arise from your circumstances. Having this young girl go through a very personal crisis was a great way to trace that emotional arc that has parallels to global warming. She goes through the whole spectrum of anxiety and anger and ultimately leaves with a sense of hope and an openness to change.

“Future Weather” will be available on DVD and various online platforms on April 16th. It will also be the opening night selection at the Sloan Science on Film Festival in Provincetown, MA on April 19th (with Deller in attendance). For more information, visit the film’s official site and its excellent blog.

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