Filmmaker Inteview with Emi Bell

by Amy Gillman


Who (specifically or generally) serves as the inspiration for Mia?

I drew a lot of inspiration for ‘Mia,’ particularly for the title character, from my own high school experience. Though the events of ‘Mia’ are entirely fictionalized, a lot of the character quirks are incredibly personal. I was a very artistic-minded teen—the kind who always toted around a camera, was a total music snob, and avoided chain stores and new clothes like the plague. In fact, I even wrote an essay in an English class once about the proper steps one must take to become a successful “thrifter”(ridiculous, I know, but I was just so obsessed with questionable floral frocks from Good Will). Sometimes this made me feel like a bit of an outsider or a “weird kid,” which in turn led me to become even more absorbed in the things I loved. I spent hours listening to vinyl records and looked up to indie musicians like they were gods. Mia definitely does too, as indicated by her obsession with Lisette Dahlia from the fictionalized indie pop band ‘Evening Primrose.’ She is also totally influenced by the whole vintage-loving, vinyl-listening, tumblr-posting thing. She’s definitely a modern “indie girl.”
 The film’s message is a sweet, simple and powerful message of true friendship. Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Though I was confident in my interests in high school, I was certainly not confident in my social skills. I didn’t have very many friends, but I had a small group of great friends. I think I learned the importance of friendship quality over quantity in high school. It didn’t matter that I didn’t get invited to parties, or that my crush didn’t know who I was, or that I was kind of a wallflower, because my friends didn’t care and they loved me for who I was. But I definitely didn’t always feel that way at the time—hindsight is 20/20, as they say. When you’re in the midst of it, sometimes high school plainly… sucks. There’s no better word for it. Mia is definitely in the midst of the “high school sucks” phase but she’s also slowly learning the power of a close friend—high school sucks so much less when there’s someone to share the struggle with. I think one of the most important lessons of high school is learning to understand what kind of people make you feel good about yourself and encourage you the be the best version of yourself. Those people are not always the people we want them to be, but usually end up being the people we should have realized they would be all along.
What directors or filmmakers influence you the most?
For this film specifically, I drew a lot of influence from John Hughes, Richard Ayoade, and Wes Anderson. More broadly as a filmmaker, I am very influenced by the French New Wave, particularly the partnership of Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina. I also have a deep love for ‘80s teen dramedys starring the Brat Pack (re: John Hughes). Two very different genres of course, but I’m convinced I can combine influences from both. In terms of modern directors, I love the work of Ayoade and Anderson, as mentioned before, as well as Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze. There are also so many incredible independent filmmakers out there who do not get the widespread credit they are due. Shane Carruth and Xavier Dolan are two major influences for me right now. They are so impressive—they both do basically everything, from writing to directing to acting to production design to editing! True auteurs in an age when that is not so common. Pretty cool. I hope to follow in their footsteps. I also have to give a shout out and a thank you to all of the female directors out there; people like to pretend that things have changed and that it is no longer harder to make it as a female director than as a male director. I beg to differ. Every single female director inspires me simply by refusing to let the gender inequalities of Hollywood stop them from making art.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
This is a hard question. There are the obvious elements, like mastery of the technical sides of film. Amazing writing, directing, performance, cinematography, lighting, production design, costume design, sound, etc. (The latter of which is far too often unacknowledged for its importance; bad sound completely destroys a film for me, it is so distracting!) But I don’t think having all those things in place is enough on its own. For me, a film is only genuinely great when it is brimming with passion. Certainly a difficult thing to quantify, but you can tell when a film was made with the deepest passion and 150% commitment from all involved parties because it feels authentic. Authenticity is the most beautiful thing in film. It creates a sort of mirror of life by revealing truths that audiences recognize, understand, and relate to. As Bruno Forestier so brilliantly suggests in Godard’s ‘Le petit soldat,’ “Photography is truth, and cinema is truth 24 times per second.” And truly, it shouldn’t be any other way.
Who would you like to work with in the future?
Gina! She was amazing to work with and we really connected over the Mia character. I know she is bound for amazing things, she is so talented! It would be really great to collaborate on another project in the future.

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Screening: Sunday August 10th at 12pm (CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS)

© 2014 Chain NYC Film Festival