It is a great honor for me to receive this Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women's International Film & Television Showcase, it only saddens me that my husband, Tony Blanco, cannot be with me to share this moment, as he would be as honored and proud as I am.
I congratulate you on the beautiful initiative to support and celebrate the dedication, passion and integrity of women in film everywhere, and I thank TheWIFTS Board for considering me worthy of this precious award. I am very sorry to be unable to receive it in person. Thank you!
THE WOMEN'S INTERNATIONAL FILM & TELEVISION SHOWCASE
JULY 2nd 2016
Passion & Integrity Commerce & Creativity Equality Not Hierarchy
Anna Rose Holmer - United States
The Best Director Award - The Fits
Anna Rose Holmer
Director - Writer - Producer
Anna Rose Holmer is the recipient of TheWIFTS Best Director Award 2016. Holmer's directorial debut, The Fits, is unique and at times psychologically disturbing, with its references to the power of the 'need to belong' when on the cusp of puberty and establishing individuality. What sets her direction of the film apart is the ability by focusing on the main character and the starkness of the location to convey a sense of a magical and transcendent 'beauty of being' that is embedded throughout the film.
Anna Rose Holmer grew up in Pawling, New York and graduated in 2007 from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Undergraduate Film & Television program with a concentration in cinematography. Her directorial debut, The Fits, was first shown at the Venice International Film Festival 2015, and was a selection of the Venice Biennale Cinema College 2014/2015 and the Sundance Institute Editing Intensive Fellowship. The Fits is a psychological portrait of 11-year-old Toni—a tomboy assimilating to a tight-knit dance team in Cincinnati's West End. Enamored by the power and confidence of this strong community of girls, Toni eagerly absorbs routines, masters drills, and even pierces her own ears to fit in. When a mysterious outbreak of fainting spells plagues the team, Toni's desire for acceptance is twisted.
On directing, Anna Rose Holmer says.
"I think the director definitely sets the emotional tone on set, but collaboration is what makes cinema such a beautiful art form and it's the director's role to take responsibility for synthesizing those collaborative conversations into a singular experience. It's also your responsibility to create a safe space where your collaborators can experiment and fail, and I don't mean that in a negative way. Failure's a really positive part of growth, and [as a director] you can take the responsibility off of them — that failure will not end up on screen — and they trust you in that way. It's quite emotionally demanding to direct. It's not a top-down [experience], it's about gathering and amplifying the voice of your collaborators.
On what inspired the theme of The Fits.
"I was doing research, and one of the stories that came up was about a more recent case. I started to think back on historical cases, like the dancing disease. As I researched, a pattern emerged. It was not exclusively female or adolescent, but that was the trend. I started to think about why. The dancing disease was in the Middle Ages, I think in mainland Europe. Hundreds of people were struck by this mania. It was really fascinating to think about dancing, which is such a powerful intentional release, being something uncontrollable, from this other area of consciousness. I think that the dancing disease may have actually been poisoning. But some people who weren't poisoned also came down with symptoms, because of how we look to each other. It's why we smile when we see someone else smiling. We want to belong. There's something really powerful and simple in that."
On what inspired the eeriness of horror element in the film.
"We're saying that there is power in collective identity. And it should not be conflated with conformity. There is that fear, though, and it's real. What Toni is struggling with is fear of herself. Not knowing her own body, desires, insecurities, limits. That's what adolescence is about. It's pretty scary. The entire film is really about putting the audience in Toni's headspace and physical bodily space, and that's fraught with anxiety and tension. That's where the nod to horror comes from. There was this unseeable monster which manifests itself in the fits. But I think it's also brewing quietly in Toni. When you see that monster it might not be what you feared. It could be this beautiful, transformative, graceful thing. The not knowing is what's so scary. I co-wrote The Fits with two other women: Saela Davis, my editor, and Lisa Kjerulff, my producer. The three of us really share that experience of being a tomboy, and starting to grapple with groups of adolescent girls, having to negotiate in that in-between space. One of the things that we wanted to highlight: No one is bullying Toni or kicking her out or telling her she's ugly or telling her she's no good. There's a little bit of that pressure, but for the most part, she's self-isolating."
On what inspired the film's unique tone.
"If you're always afraid of what the worst might be, then you'll never achieve anything. We were always like fixated on the best-case scenario — when it's elegant and working together — but the blend of genres comes from putting the audience in the experience of this young girl. When you're 11, that's how it feels, to me at least, and working with my two co-writers, Saela Davis, who's my editor, and Lisa Kjerulff, my producer, we were just talking about shared experiences [where] there are these moments of hyper-reality and then those memories start to lift and you almost can't remember if it was a dream or if it really happened. We were trying to get to that place."
Anna produced Jody Lee Lipes's Ballet 422 (Tribeca Film Festival 2014, Magnolia Pictures) and Mike Plunkett's Salero (IDFA 2015). With filmmaker Matt Wolf, Anna co-directed and produced A Ballet In Sneakers: Jerome Robbins And Opus Jazz, a companion documentary to NY Export: Opus Jazz, (SXSW 2010 Emerging Visions Audience Award) which aired on the PBS Great Performances/Dance in America Series. Anna's first documentary feature, Twelve Ways To Sunday, was one of ten films to participate in IFP's 2009 Documentary Filmmaker Lab and premiered with Rooftop Films in 2010. Anna Rose Holmer was listed as one of Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2015. She currently lives in New York.
THE FITS was developed and produced through the 2014/15 Edition of the Venice Biennale Cinema College program, a micro-budget and micro-timeline initiative for first and second time directors from around the world. The film premiered at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival as part of the Venice Biennale Cinema College showcase. It had its US premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. US based Oscilloscope Laboratories acquired the film for distribution, and Mongrel International headed by Charlotte Mackie are the international distributors.
The Venice Biennale College-Cinema is an initiative to support teams of directors and producers to make their first or second micro-budget audio-visual work. The Biennale College – Cinema is a community of filmmakers, selected from around the world, to work alongside an invited team of international experts and tutors to explore the aesthetics of micro-budget filmmaking and the new integrated models of production, which engage with an audience from the outset.
Sundance Institute Editing Intensive Fellowship, a week-long program, takes place during the June Directors Lab, where the director and editor team of two films will work with a dedicated Editing Advisor and the other Creative Advisors at the Lab on their picture edit. The program is most valuable to a project that has completed a first cut but still has significant time allotted in the schedule before picture lock. Inaugurated in the Editing Intensive Fellowship were Anna Rose Holmer (co-writer/director) and Saela Davis (co-writer/editor) with their first feature, The Fits.