Emily Avila’s second short film, Fitting, takes us inside a lingerie fitting room for a powerful interaction between two strangers. A intimate and delicately moving experience, the film cements Emily’s place as one of the brightest emerging filmmakers around.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with the Australian director to chat about Fitting, emotional responses to the film, working in 16mm, and much more.
Q: ‘Fitting’ is a much more contained and intimate experience than your first short film, ‘A Cane Field’. What drew you to this story?
A: While I was making In A Cane Field, I remember wishing I had included some longer dramatic scenes. Whilst I loved the sprawling, non-linear poetic nature of that film, I was keen to tackle something more classical for my second short.
I like working with rules and I wanted to find a space that imposed certain limitations upon me creatively. A tiny dressing room with only four walls and a mirror certainly did that! Whilst it was frustrating at times to be so confined, it was a great challenge for me in building a drama with the bare essentials.
Q: Deborah Leiser-Moore and Clementine Anderson are superb. How did you work with them to tap into the subject and the delicate interaction at play in the film?
A: The physical proximity of the characters and the way their bodies unknowingly respond to that intimacy was an important part of the narrative and difficult to choreograph without becoming too obvious.
During rehearsals, Deborah and Clementine were boxed into a corner of the room and were almost like dancers in terms of understanding how to move at what moment. I was trying to depict something very subtle – the surprising comfort of closeness to a stranger, and in a particularly feminine way.
As a breast cancer survivor and a physical theatre actor, Deborah had a very intimate understanding of the physical and psychological effects of undergoing a mastectomy. We talked in depth about what she wanted to confront through the film, and I know it was a very important and deeply personal role for her to take on. Clementine was cast very late in the process and she brought such an innate sensitivity with her, I knew she would be able to do it from the first test.
Q: Just as your magnificent debut film, ‘In A Cane Field’, you chose to film on 16mm. Can you tell us more about this choice and what you feel it adds to your films?
A: On both my films, I’ve worked with Adric Watson as cinematographer and editor and I could not ask for a more wonderful creative collaborator. Adric owns an Aaton XTR Prod 16mm film camera which is what we shot both films on (also the same camera used to shoot Palme d’Or winner All These Creatures).
We both love the look and feel of film, but also the process it demands in pre and on set. You need to know what you’re after and there is a different energy when you begin recording. It also gives you beautiful surprises through the organic celluloid process – the final shot from In A Cane Field was given to us when the film jammed in the mag, something we could not have planned.
On Fitting, it was a no-brainer because we were shooting so much skin in a typically sterile setting – film gave us more tenderness, made it look lush.
Q: ‘Fitting’ screened at the BFI London Film Festival and Palm Springs International ShortFest. I imagine this is a film that would touch many people personally, have you had any notable responses to the film?
A: There have definitely been strong emotional reactions. Lots of tears, lots of requests for links to show loved ones. If this is something you have experienced or been close to, seeing it play out on screen is a cathartic experience.
Fitting also reveals a very secret space and is confronting especially for older women. An overwhelming amount of the strong responses I’ve had have been from women. This is why I made the film – because I have seen the women in my own life go through things with such a quiet strength and I wanted to pay special tribute to that.
Q: ‘In A Cane Field’ is a remarkable film, especially considering it was your debut. How do you reflect on the project and the success it has had?
A: In A Cane Field took me many years to realise. I learnt so much over the course of making that film and I also changed as a person over the time it took to make. But the feeling I wanted to transmit came from such a deep place that I always felt I had a well to draw from – something true buried in there somewhere.
I am humbled that it broke through to so many people who saw something in it. It taught me the values of hard work, patience and instinct. And, when it got tough, to lean on good friends and whisky!
Q: You have worked as an assistant to Oscar-winning producer Emile Sherman (‘Lion’, ‘Candy’, ‘The King’s Speech’) in the past. What did you learn from your time with Emile?
A: Emile is an incredible producer. He is completely focussed on the quality of the project and that begins with an excellent script, a strong creative team and sky’s-the-limit thinking. He was also kind and intelligent. As a boss, you cannot ask for much more.
I learnt so much from Emile and the See-Saw way of doing things, it has left a strong imprint on me.
Q: What originally led you get into the film industry?
A: I made a documentary when I was in high school about homelessness in my hometown of Brisbane. I was a very political teenager, very engaged with social justice. I interviewed so many people on the streets, from homeless people, to service providers, even the deputy mayor. We screened the film to 200 school students and there was so much engagement and discussion afterwards.
It made me see film as a way to get through to people’s hearts – and maybe really have an impact in a way that mattered. Those noble ideals have shifted slightly as I get older, but it is still what makes me love film. The way it lets you into another psyche, open your mind, all through the senses.
Q: What is next for you?
A: I am excited to be working on a feature film script set primarily in Brazil and Mexico, whilst also developing a couple of other longform projects. I am also working on a collaboration with Icelandic artist JFDR (whose track White Sun plays over the closing credits of Fitting) – new and exciting territory for me!
Watch ‘Fitting’ on Vimeo