“Fantasy doesn’t tell you what to think, but makes you think by taking you on an adventure.” – Rebekah Fieschi
I’ve always loved fantasy. If you had asked me as a young girl what my favourite movies were, while there definitely would have been some Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast in there, I would have named movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, or Lord of the Rings. Fantasy has always been an exciting outlet for me, for many people. And that’s why the quote above really spoke to me. Fantasy is subtle. It lets you come to real world realizations on your own, sometimes without even consciously knowing it.
So, who is Rebekah Fieschi? She’s a writer and director, among other things, who is currently working on a fantasy short film called Sylphvania Grove. I had the pleasure of talking with her about the upcoming film, the fantasy genre, and the industry itself. I was really quite stunned at how insightful each of her answers were, and believe me when I say that this is a woman you’ll want to keep your eye on. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of her.
Sylphvania Grove currently has a campaign running over on Seed&Spark, and they have already surpassed their initial goal. Their minimum was $6,000. In less than thirty days, they have raised just over $11,000, not only exceeding their original but also their stretch goals! This money is going to good use, upping the production quality. It’ll also allow them to reach a larger audience. But what is Sylphvania Grove about? Fieschi explains it best.
“Sylphvania Grove is the story of young girl who doesn’t fit in at school and feels like she’s a disappointment to her parents, she’s very alone and lives in a fantasy world. It’s about a struggle we all deal with, to stay true to ourselves and yet still find a way to participate in the often malevolent world around us.”
I was immediately reminded of Pan’s Labyrinth, a 2006 Guillermo Del Toro fantasy which also features a female lead. In some ways, it’s a children’s film, but it definitely has elements of darker fantasy in it. That adventure isn’t all fun and games, and Sylphvania Grove is the same. Fieschi is the first to admit that it is, in fact, a little influenced by Del Toro’s work.
“It’s about childhood but it’s not just for children. Very often a film considered a kid’s movie is something parents/adults don’t want to watch. I hope that a ten year old can take something positive from it but my intention is to make a film that will transcend mere children’s fantasy.”
Fantasy has always been a passion and love of Fieschi’s. And she said something about the genre, and herself, that really struck home. That when she was younger, she often wished she were a boy, because they were always the ones getting to go on adventures.
This is something I personally relate to. I have never been confused about my gender, but I often looked up to and wished I was male characters, because that was really all I had to look up to. And on the rare instance a powerful female did come along (Elizabeth Swann, Hermione Granger), I latched on and never let go. Sylphvania Grove works to break this mold. It features a young, strong female lead, but it’s taken it a step further. Five of the six characters are female.
Let me repeat that for you.
Five of the six characters are female.
This caught my eye right away. I had to ask Fieschi if this was a happy coincidence or a conscious choice. And as a writer, her answer really made me think.
‘I didn’t set out to write a story with mainly female characters, it was very important to me that the lead was a young girl, but the rest just sort of happened naturally…Usually when I start writing a story I don’t make conscious choices on my character’s gender, but, especially in features (in which there are more characters) I try to challenge myself to double check that I’m not unconsciously creating more male characters than female because of what I’m used to seeing on the screen. I know I have been guilty of that before.”
We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘write what you know’. It’s something I try not to live by, as I’m a firm believer it is one’s imagination, not just experiences, that makes a writer tick. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how guilty of this many of us are! When we are bombarded with more male characters, particularly leads, than female, it subtly teaches us that this is the natural order. It makes me question if my personal works, and works I love, could have a more equal balance of gender. It’s something I’m going to work on being more conscious of in the future.
Not only does Sylphvania Grove have a strong female presence on screen, but behind the camera as well. Fieschi strongly believes that diversity is one of the key components to a healthy dynamic on set. And women working together is something she encourages.
“It was very important to me to have female voices behind the camera because a film set has a tendency to be a boy’s club, which I never really took notice of before…I also really love it when women support one another, as women have a reputation of always being in a competition with each other.”
I feel like every day I see a new female feud in the media. Many reality shows are based on this simplistic, old school idea that women should be, or naturally are, in competition with each other. We should be raising each other up, not tearing each other down. Again, it really comes down to making a conscious effort. Sometimes it’s hard not to compare ourselves to others, but it is important to work towards a place of admiration and inspiration, rather than competition and jealousy.
I’d like to believe that the entertainment industry is a place of equality, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Not yet, at least. And so I had to ask Fieschi if she had any advice for aspiring female writers and directors. Her answer was unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been. In fact, it may have been the perfect response.
“I never thought of myself as a female filmmaker, I’m just a filmmaker who happens to be a woman, and I think that’s the only way you can see yourself. Your gender doesn’t dictate what you can or cannot do other than on a very basic biological level, don’t compromise your vision to try to fit in. Right now I’m feeling really encouraged by the tremendous amount of support I’m getting through crowdfunding, but a lot of the time being an independent filmmaker means having to push through when you are alone and all you have is the story you want to tell. I think believing in yourself is the key, I’m only a filmmaker because I decide everyday to be one and work hard at it. I often think of J.K. Rowling’s situation when she first began writing Harry Potter, she was alone, she was a new mother, she had nothing else but her story. If she hadn’t written Harry Potter, nobody else would have, I think this is true of everyone who has a story to tell.”
It’s insightful and inspirational thoughts like Fieschi’s that are really working towards changing the way the industry works. That are motivating to those of us wanting to break into the industry. Supporting women, lifting each other up, but understanding that we are not female filmmakers. We are filmmakers. And that should be all there is.
This idea of overcoming obstacles, this inner strength, is something we can expect to see in Sylphvania Grove. “The fantasy genre allows you to deal with internal conflicts in a powerful way without being heavy handed and shoving your point down people’s throat,” says Fieschi. “It’s like ‘visual subtext.'” And I’m honestly very excited to see what happens with this story. Fieschi’s passion and dedication, along with that of her entire cast and crew, leaves no doubt in my mind that Sylphvania Grove is going to be a success. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.
If you want to see this female-driven fantasy come to life, there are many ways you can support. Simply sharing this article or their Seed&Spark page, which can be found here, is a wonderful contribution. You never know who might see it! Or you can contribute cash directly on their page!
I’d like to thank Rebekah again for reaching out and taking the time to chat with me. It’s been incredibly insightful, and my deepest pleasure.