13 year old Lauduree is already running her own experiment in an attempt to find ways to combat global warming. Living with her rather less grounded mother Tanya pretty much in the middle of nowhere, several miles from town, Lauduree is smart, independent, and determined. When Tanya takes off to pursue her dream of becoming make-up artist to the stars, Lauduree decides to go it alone. Not the wisest of choices, perhaps, but she is just 13 years old. Enter her hard-as-nails hard-drinking Grandmother Greta, just as determined to do what’s right.
Jenny Deller’s debut feature Future Weather takes an honest look Lauduree (Perla Haney-Jardine) and Greta (Amy Madigan) as they cope with the disappointments and disasters in their lives, figuring out how to envision a future when everything seems to be falling apart. Imbued with warmth, humor and strong performances, it’s an independent film that follows its own path all the way, much like the film’s writer/director Jenny Deller. Deller attended the film’s Israeli premiere at the Haifa International Film Festival and talked with Midnight East about film-making, science and the future.
“I had kind of a non-traditional path into filmmaking,” said Deller, “I knew I wanted to make films pretty early on… but I didn’t go to film school, I was in a liberal arts college when I decided I was interested in film so I luckily was able to design my own major there where I could incorporate film, because they didn’t have a film major. I learned how to edit on the old fashioned flatbed editors which was kind of my gateway drug I think. Editing was like magic to me and it also pulled me into the story world completely.”
Pursuing an acting career in New York City after college, Deller made short films as well, always knowing that her “real dream” was to make a feature. It took seven years to make the dream a reality, the script for Future Weather was first written in 2006. Although the film discusses environmental issues and global warming, it’s very much about character and story, originating in Deller’s “desire to see women depicted onscreen more truthfully and authentically.”
“It’s very daunting as a young woman to start out on that path because you’re instantly faced by the fact that you’re being judged by your appearance all the time and that you have a very short window in which to make it happen. Hollywood considers you an old woman by the time you’re 40 – that’s ridiculous! It creates a lot of pressure, and if you have some sense of truth in you and as an actor, most women do, that’s why they go into it, you feel in your gut that that’s not right.”
Future Weather is Lauduree’s story, but as it developed, Deller said, “this character Greta her grandmother came to be and I think it was kind of a rebellious impulse. She’s in her 50s or 60s and she’s strong and she’s funny and she’s not always likeable, she’s not a cuddly grandma, and she’s still sexy. I thought: that’s an exciting part, that’s something I don’t get to see very often.”
In the process of working on the film and trying to raise the money for it, Deller made a very striking short in 2009 called Saving the Future, reflecting the film’s themes. When I noted that Lauduree (Perla) appears much younger in the short as compared to the film, Deller laughed, “She grew up! It was actually a kind of thing I try to embrace in film-making, this x factor. It could be with an actor, it could be with a location – something happens unexpectedly that you didn’t actually plan for but you have to embrace it and let it into your story rather than try to mold it. I met her in 2009 and we did the short and I realized she’s fantastic! She was 12 at the time. We didn’t know when we’d get the money, we thought we might even get it that summer…and it took us really another year… It’s such a blessing to capture a kid at the age that you write them. In many bigger Hollywood productions if you have a 13 year old they’ll try to cast a 16 or 17 or 18 year old to play them. That kind of defeats the purpose of film which is about capturing something in the here and now, and we had that and I thought that’s magic and let’s go with it.”
It’s rare to see the practice of science depicted in a film as such a part of everyday life, especially when the practitioner is a young girl. Deller drew on her own experiences to create a character with a love of science and nature.
“I went to a math and science high school,” she said, “and it’s a very unique high school, Illinois Math and Science Academy, it’s run by the State of Illinois as a lab for math and science education. At the time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, at the age of 14 or 15, and it seemed like an exciting place to learn and I wasn’t going to be labeled a nerd for liking to study… I realized it wasn’t quite my path and I really loved the arts, but I loved being there and soaking it all in and it was a place where I learned a lot of independence and I developed an appreciation for math and science. Lauduree could have had any interest I suppose, but I knew this character was connected to nature and environment and I just thought it would be interesting to see this young girl who’s good at math and science. She’s good at it she doesn’t apologize for it and she’s too young to even be self-conscious about it or think twice about it.”
“The global warming component came in after I was envisioning her and I read an article in the New Yorker, this is before An Inconvenient Truth came out and it wasn’t really talked very much at all in the US. I’ve always been drawn to environmental issues so after I real this article I was completely overcome with anxiety and anger and all of these emotions – why is nobody talking about this? Why is nobody doing anything about it? And realized this whole storm of emotions I was having is completely parallel to the character in my film who has just been abandoned and this light bulb went off: oh! And she’s interested in biology and the environment, she would know about this, and then all these connections started to happen and I realized I have to do my homework and figure out an experiment that a 13 year old really might conceive of.”
“As I was writing and getting interested in this topic I realized how much science was being kind of vilified in the US as well by a lot of right wing groups, and began to see the film as a way to champion science as a discipline, not just for professionals, that we all can take part in and we all can have curiosity and portray science in a slightly different way [as a discipline] that requires imagination and creativity.”
“The other thing that I found interesting was this division, the wall that scientists are supposed to build up where they do experiments that are unbiased, they have no agenda, and somehow that means somehow that they’re not allowed to be spokespeople or have political views, and science has been very politicized through this issue of global warming and I thought that’s terrible, and so you have a scientist like James Hansen who was the head of NASA realizing ‘I’ve seen the data, this is a serious issue and as an expert I’m going to talk about it’ but somehow then his position as an scientist is discredited because he’s stepped into the realm of activism, and I think that’s a really interesting gray area.”
I couldn’t resist asking Deller: What does the future mean to you?
“Oh man… well the film in a lot of ways was a way for me to confront my own habits of anxiety and worrying about the future and in a way it allows me to kind of let go a bit…and not fixate on it. We can’t predict the future but I’ll tell you … it’s hard: on the one hand I see so many positive things, really through getting to take the film out there and meet kids and get people to talk about this topic of global warming, and I’m encouraged by the work that a lot of people are doing in the fields of science and technology. I do think that science holds a lot of possibilities for us to maybe come up with some sort of work-around, do you know what I mean?”
“But on the other hand I get very discouraged because I think that our systems of power are so beyond people’s control in a way and are so corrupt and so entrenched in a way of doing things that has nothing to do with problem-solving that I get discouraged about what the future holds in terms of how we’ll be able to live in our habitat and live on this planet.”
There will be a second screening of Future Weather at the Haifa International Film Festival on Friday, September 27, 2013 at 19:30. Tickets and additional information may be found on the festival website.
Future Weather (USA, 2012, 100 min, English with Hebrew subtitles)
Written and directed by Jenny Deller; producers: Jenny Deller, Kristin Fairweather; DP: Zak Mulligan; Editor: Shelby Siegel; Music: Eric Friedlander; Cast: Amy Madigan, Lili Taylor, Perla Haney-Jardine, William Sadler, Marin Ireland, Anubhav Jain.