This week at the New York International Short Film Festival, Juli S. Kobayashi and her creative partner, Celiné Justice, will see their short film, ONE PAST, on the big screen at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City. The duo are working hard on the festival circuit, realising their dream and promoting a film that had its world premiere at the Urbanworld Film Festival in September 2014.
I am fortunate to have seen and enjoyed the 20 minute film. The acting is professional, the editing impressive, the script taut and playful, and visually it is a moving blend of art and sisterhood. If you live in New York I highly recommend buying a ticket to the NY Films Shorts next week. Here is the trailer on YouTube:
Juli took time from her busy schedule to talk via Skype about her debut as a director and screenwriter. This is her first screenplay made into a film since graduating with a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, although Juli has worked steadily in the industry. The film, co-produced and co-written with Celiné, is a collaborative effort and one that Juli says she is sure will happen again.
I just want to make films over and over again for the rest of my life.
Telling Stories as a Film Maker
What is your backstory?
From about age 14 I knew I wanted to make films. From an early age, I used to write little stories, illustrate books, I was always drawn to story telling in general. I went to NYU film school, focusing on production. After graduation I took whatever job I could get, mostly in TV—office management, production coordination/management, reality TV casting, editing, post supervising—and I was able to work in almost every capacity. It gave me a good grounding, which helped me as a first time director on ONE PAST. Since May 2008, I’ve been at the documentary production company, Fork Films. I helped distribute Gini Reticker and Abigail Disney‘s Pray the Devil Back to Hell and have stayed on as the Director of Operations.
For me, narrative story telling has always been my main passion, although I have a great respect for documentaries. I hope I have the opportunity to make a couple in my lifetime.
Do you think women tell stories differently?
I am not sure you can discern major differences in the type or quality of work based on gender. The most important thing is that the work stands for itself, as Kathryn Bigelow says in her response regarding the ACLU gender discrimination inquiry.
I think the best thing about film-making in general is it’s so collaborative. I don’t think any one person can take credit for an entire film, two heads are better than one, and 20 heads are even better. I had a great team on ONE PAST, and in terms of telling the story visually, I was blessed to find another wonderful creative partner in my director of photography, Henrik A. Meyer.
Do you enjoy the collaborative aspect of writing?
Yes, very much. I had more experience writing screenplays than Celiné so I did some more legwork with the story structure, but in terms of developing the character and the story lines, it was 50/50 from the beginning. I think the main character [Charlie] is equal parts Celiné and me. We have very different personalities, but experienced similar life issues, which is why we initially bonded before we decided to collaborate on the project. We were also able to spend a long time developing the story; we went through countless drafts to try to figure out the emotional journey of this character in such a short time frame and make it believable. I think it paid off.
Diversity Takes Time and Requires Attention
At the Tribeca Film Festival in April I saw a panel with one of my heroes, Ava DuVernay [Selma director and a high profile woman in pictures]. I live tweeted a quote (which was the most retweeted and favorited to date!) [source]:
If the woman filmmaker does not take special care of the woman character, nobody else will — Ava DuVernay
DuVernay also said this [applies to] people of colour, and I agree. In my opinion, the overarching problem is the lack of equal demographics, where a variety of voices need to be represented. I believe that a woman could make an action film just as well as a man. But at the same time I think that a woman can write certain kinds of women characters better, and vice versa with men. That’s not to say that women cannot write a believable male character —for example, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, and James Cameron writes strong female characters.
What is great about Fork Films [Juli’s day job] is that we create and support media that promotes a culture of peace, with a particular emphasis on stories that bring women’s voices to the forefront, as well as on diverse perspectives (not just from women) that may not easily make it to the mainstream. So the company’s mission is very much aligned with my own, so I feel lucky to have found a good fit there.
Any other projects you are working on?
I am working on two feature length screenplays, and I hope to secure an agent. I plan to direct another short film before I venture into bigger projects. I have an outline for the next short film, but the thought of fundraising again is quite daunting…
Celiné is also writing a few projects in addition to her acting. I’m sure she and I will work together again. We are going to see ONE PAST through the film fest circuit to the end of 2015 and if we can afford it (there is a license for a song featured in the film), we’ll release it online for free in 2016. But otherwise, we’ll focus on the next projects, either together or apart.
Do you watch a lot of TV?
I watch more movies but there is great content on TV that I’ve been impressed with such as Dexter, The Killing, and Game of Thrones. It seems that some filmmakers, such as Steven Soderbergh [The Knick], swore off film and are turning to TV because they have more creative freedom. I would love to work in TV.
Do you think the involvement of more women at the helm of TV programs (e.g. Tatiana Maslany, Jenji Kohan, Lena Dunham) helps change how women are represented in TV?
I think it is wonderful that there are more women working, but hopefully the number will increase. From simple stories to the epic films, the most resonating stories are about a universal journey that every single person in the world could identify with. It speaks to the point that it is essential that varied perspectives are represented in media, that having as much equality as possible, both for gender and for different ethnic backgrounds, creates richer material representing our entire human experience.
- Juli Kobayashi on Twitter @jskobayashi
- One Past official website: onepastmovie.com
- Tickets for the NY Shorts Festival: http://bit.ly/ONEPASTNYSF
- Celiné Justice www.celinejustice.com
Note. All images courtesy of ONE PAST (http://www.onepastmovie.com/#!press/c1as7)
This interview is part of a series, currently related to my own script and a required research course. I have had such positive response to my request for interviews that I plan to keep going well after the project deadline of June 19.
Update July 1, 2015
The industry analysis is published: Why are there fewer female scriptwriters in the film industry? and Erica Tremblay’s interview.