Director Isabel del Rosal joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about her new film, Walk With Me.
Walk With Me follows the emotional journey of a young mother who leaves her husband to find her footing in the world. As she finds her way, she stumbles into unexpected love with another woman.
Walk With Me is your first feature film. Can you tell us about the story and what you wanted to explore?
What initiated the writing on Walk With Me was that I really needed a love story in my life. I believe that love (platonic and romantic) has the power to transform and heal us in ways that we can’t imagine and that love expressed in its purest form is the most powerful and beautiful thing there is.
I wanted to create an honest and intimate story where, in this case Amber’s internal world, is the storyline we follow. It felt like a real risk to make a film where the stakes aren’t typical ‘movie stakes’ and instead are real life stakes. Will my friends, family… world still love and respect me? I wanted to look at those elements from some of the many angles of womanhood – a daughter, a mother, a colleague/professional, a lover and more.
Walk With Me was filmed in four one-week intervals and with a micro budget. Can you talk about these challenges and how you made this film happen?
Yes, we had $80,000 US dollars to get this film made, and that was the deciding factor in shooting in four separate blocks of time. Once that decision was made, I thought that since the story takes place over the course of a year that it would be interesting to spread production out over the course of a year. That didn’t feel like a challenge, in fact we had the time to digest the story, our cast had time to really sink into their characters and because our intimate team really started to connect on both a professional and personal level, it was actually a treat to be able to keep coming back to the film and one another!
Another positive that came from it was that the people that attached themselves to the project, weren’t doing it for the money! They came on because they believed in the story and believed in the team, and the beautiful thing was, that feeling only grew! I know I myself was just so grateful to be getting this off the ground, so grateful for the incredible cast and crew dedicating their time and talent, that it didn’t feel like a challenge. It was hands down one of the best experiences of my life.
But if you really want me to get nit-picky, the one thing that was difficult was our limited time at most of our locations. Since we could’t pay location fees, the incredible people of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, opened their doors to us before hours of operation and we typically had a five hour window to get in, light, block, shoot and wrap-out of each location. That was stressful! And perhaps magical!
As well as yourself, I’ve seen a lot of praise for the cast. What was your collaboration like with Devin, Bridget and the rest of the cast?
I have to say that my favorite thing about directing is working with actors. Like deep, deep down it brings me so much joy! Working with Devin and Bridget and the entire cast was a dream. Everyone was so dedicated, so present and inspired and they brought such intimacy and vulnerability and risk to every thought and emotion and word. It was breathtaking to watch, and such a wonderful journey to delve deep into the intricacies of their characters.
They are also very smart and intuitive so there was a lot of collaboration and suggestions and dialogue edits on set that came 100% from them and made the film stronger and more true to life and itself. I will be forever grateful for the connection and trust that they showed me, and the friendship that has sprung from this film.
I had worked with Devin doing comedy prior to this, so it was our first time doing drama and when I cast her, I had never seen her do drama. In fact Devin has a musical theater background and no film/TV training. In getting to know her as the beautiful, intelligent and intuitive human that she is, I knew without a doubt that she had the acting chops and the emotional depth to do what she needed to do. She is also a dramaturge, director and writer so her input and guidance with the screenplay was priceless.
I had never worked with Bridget before, but during my casting process hers was the fourth reel I watched for the character of Logan and I stopped watching after that. Instead I auditioned her, and only her for that part as I knew she was perfect for the role and I just wanted to know if she and I clicked and if she and Devin had chemistry. The rest is history! She is a stunning artist, so raw and real and strong —and such a force (and wonderful human to boot!).
Every cast member was just incredible and I am so grateful for their dedication and professionalism and for showing us all secret parts of themselves through their performances.
The film includes original music and soundtrack by Amanda Walther. Can you tell us about getting Amanda involved and what she brings to the film?
Singer/songwriter Amanda Walther wrote 16 original songs for Walk With Me… including the pop/dance song, Sweet Heat, that plays in the bar scene and is performed by her DALA bandmate Sheila Carabine. Four of the songs Amanda wrote were performed live on set by Bridget Barkan and the rest of the soundtrack is Amanda – the entire body of work is just stunning.
I only became familiar with Amanda’s music (her folk duo DALA) at the moment that I was sitting to write the first draft of Walk With Me, and I fell in love. Their music really spoke to me and I in turn listened to their music through the entire writing of the screenplay (every draft). Their music was the emotional conduit to get to the deep feeling places this story was asking for. When I finished the first draft, I reached out to Amanda and she agreed to come on board as a solo artist.
I like to say that Walk With Me is a music forward film, Devin describes it as a natural musical. Regardless of the descriptors, the film cannot exist without the music, or at least would not exist the same way. Amanda brings a timeless beauty and emotion that is woven deeply into the emotional fiber of the film. She was a part of the process of the film from the beginning. Amanda and I had several conversations about who Logan was, her intricate backstory and what her vulnerabilities and strengths were. She needed to write from Logan’s perspective for the songs Logan would be singing and so in many ways she informed Bridget’s performance and understanding of Logan.
Prior to filming Amanda flew to NYC to sit with Bridget and jam with her, and I would send Amanda behind the scenes videos from set and cuts of the film as I was editing. Amanda lived in the film for a few years and I think you can feel that with every lyric and note. I am in awe of her and this incredible body of work.
The film has had an incredible festival run, including a recent screening at BFI Flare. How have you found that experience? Have you had any notable responses to the film?
We have had a very exciting festival run, yes! Most of it was virtual and we were able to connect with audiences around the world through virtual Q&As which was much appreciated during such a trying time. Our only in person screenings that we attended were in NYC but it being right when things were temporarily opened up in 2021, there wasn’t a lot of confidence in getting out and sitting in enclosed spaces.
That being said, being able to attend BFI Flare in-person was as exciting as it was meaningful. Sitting in a theater with hundreds of people — experiencing the film with them, was incredible. BFI Flare is an exceptional festival that is both large and bustling yet intimate and personal at the same time. We are so grateful for that experience and for the team at Mischon de Reya who sponsored Walk With Me.
I think the most notable responses to me, are the quiet, intimate ones. I have received so many messages online from people who watched the film and have been moved and inspired and impacted. One that comes to mind is someone who wrote me saying that she felt like she had learned how to love through the viewing of the film and for the first time in her life felt like maybe she did believe in love.
What is incredible is that these deep responses to the film came even before we started production. During our casting process, I experienced many women that were being seen for the role of Grace, Amber’s mother, that shared with me how the screenplay had opened up something in them, had expressed something they hadn’t been able to until that point in their lives.
These moments were and are so powerful and beautiful, and the idea that everything we poured into this film, all of the love and dedication to the story and the craft of telling it, is touching people and impacting lives – that is very humbling.
Walk With Me is now available on demand. What will audiences get out of this film?
I keep hearing that this film has something for everyone. I know that can’t be true of any one thing, but I think that Walk With Me is simply a human story with universal elements that can resonate deeply if you’re open to them. It’s a film that looks at the struggles that we face when we bump up against the reality that we aren’t living in our power or being true to ourself.
I think that because of the tender, raw and natural performances by our cast – feeling grief and loss, love and laughter, tenderness and inspired vulnerability are amongst the things people might feel. What they might walk away with is a renewed feeling of love, and the sense that it’s never too late to step into your life, never too late for self-transformation whatever that might look like.
Now that the film is out there, how do you reflect on this whole journey to make Walk With Me? Any standout memories to share?
I love this question! When I think back on this journey, on the process of bringing together this incredible team, on coming together and working together with respect and joy and professionalism, my heart melts. From start to finish Walk With Me has been a moving and transformational experience for me. During the writing of the script I was so moved by the characters and story that I would walk down the street feeling like I had met someone and was falling in love!
Devin and I had been working on Smile for the Camera doing sketch comedy for a few years prior and bringing her on to Walk With Me was incredible. Our friendship deepened in the making of the film and it was a relief and joy having a friend on set and to connect deeply with Bridget and start the beginning of a beautiful friendship! Our core crew topped off at nine people and working with them, seeing how much talent and intelligence and laughter they could bring all at once was so much fun. There was so much respect on set, so much hard work and such cohesion it was really, very special. I know these connections will move me into my future on a professional and personal level.
We were a team of very badass, mostly female cast and crew and our producer and leader at the helm, Panita was integral to the top down culture on set. It was really hard work, and every moment of it was awesome. Panita has a way of keeping everything moving and organized and on point, and also relaxed. She’s a true powerhouse.
Lastly, what are your plans and ambitions for the future?
Well, I’m hoping to land international distribution for Walk With Me and I will continue to promote it and book it in theaters in North America. Currently we are booking at Pride events, L-Plus organizations and art house/independent movie theaters all over the US and Canada.
I have written my next feature SEEN. It’s in most ways a huge departure from Walk With Me in that it is a supernatural drama, but it has the same kind of intimacy and emotional truth to it. I’m looking to hopefully be in production during the fall of 2023!