Fort Tilden Writer/Director Sarah-Violet Bliss Is Indie Cinema's Next Big Thing
This time last year, Fort Tilden was just in its beginning stages. Not the popular beach on the Rockaways -- the film that won the Grand Jury Prize at South by Southwest this past March. (Fun fact: Lena Dunham also won the SXSW Grand Jury Prize in 2010, and look where she is now). Written and directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, the movie follows two twentysomething Brooklyn gals trekking to Fort Tilden beach and hitting chaos at every turn. A satire, the film opens a discussion about millennial stereotypes and issues of class and privilege.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Bliss attended film school at NYU and has produced well-received shorts starring the likes of James Franco, who appeared in the segment Still Life from the movie Tar, which premiered at the Rome Film Festival. Bliss sat down with us to talk about spoiled millennials, "hipster films," and the lack of female directors in Hollywood.
How did the process of making Fort Tilden begin?
Last summer, Charles [Rodgers] and I were talking about making a webseries. One of the episode ideas we came up with was about two girls who go to Fort Tilden and we just kept having more ideas about what could happen. Everyone I know who's tried to get to Fort Tilden has some kind of story -- it shouldn't be that hard, it's right there, but somehow you mess it up. We were just like, 'this could be a feature,' but we kind of chucked that idea out. But eventually we were like, 'this could be a feature!' And [making features] is really what we wanted to be doing, anyway. So we really committed to the idea that day and the next day it was our full-time job.
How has winning the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW affected you so far?
It's changed my life. Both Charles and I signed with an agent and manager and they're awesome. We went to L.A. and had a lot of meetings. And at all these meetings and lunches people were like, 'so you won South by Southwest!' First of all, people are interested in seeing the movie that won; and then you'll have meetings with executives who will watch it just because it won. And that's why now I'm moving to L.A. People will pay attention to you a little bit more now.
Clare McNulty and Bridey Elliott as Allie and Harper in a scene from Fort Tilden
Fort Tilden has been grouped in with a genre called "hipster film." How do you feel about that?
I guess my initial reaction is, "is that okay?" [I'm] not really feeling bad or good about that. I would never be like, "that's not true!" But I think people say that with a negative bent.
But it makes complete sense that they say that. It's a satire... [The characters] are fun to make fun of. I don't want to say easy to make fun of because I think there's something we delve into that's important to talk about. The way we approach that at first seems sort of surface-y, but the film does have a lot more layers than you expect it to have.
Was that the goal in the first place, to comment on the behavior of millennial hipsters?
Yes. They're a combination of people who are my friends, people who are not my friends, and ourselves. Fort Tilden tries to very subtly hint that it's a little more complicated than just 'Millenials are spoiled.' I don't think all millennials are spoiled. I think every generation has its spoiled brats and I think millenials get a 'they're all spoiled brats' theme, and this movie does nothing to say anything different. There is a glimmer of hope at the end of the film, though.
In terms of the movie, we're certainly not glorifying [this behavior]. The characters got this far but they're not going to get where they want to go because both of them are lost and their privileges handicap them. They're getting in their own way. In Fort Tilden, this day reveals a little bit of that to them.
Fort Tilden official teaser
The film industry has been called out for an under-representation of women behind the camera. What has your experience been as a female filmmaker?
I've felt lucky because I never felt like I wasn't being respected on set. But I'll go to film festivals and I'll be like, 'oh, I am one of the only women here.' I went to one and someone asked me if I was an actress. It was interesting that that was their go-to. They didn't say, 'oh, what are you up to?' It was just, 'oh, are you an actress?' No...
It's a mystery to me in a lot of way, though. Whenever I've had any sort of setback, it's never occurred to me that it was because I was a woman. I feel I have some advantages because there's so much support for women filmmakers. For me, it's never been a handicap, but then the numbers [of women filmmakers] are so low, I don't really know what that's about.
What projects do you have on the horizon?
I'm writing a feature right now by myself, and then in July, in a couple weeks, Charles and I are coming back together to try to work on a television show and we'll try to pitch that. I'm also still doing festival stuff with Fort Tilden, getting ready to move [to L.A.]. Ultimately, the dream is to make work with people who I really respect.
Fort Tilden screens tonight at 9:45pm at Nitehawk Cinema as part of the Northside Film Festival