by Rich Moreland, March 2017
Over the last year I’ve developed an interest in the films of Amy Hesketh, an independent producer, director, and actor, whose work is gaining notice.
Until recently, finding an opportunity to talk with this artistically innovative thirty-something was elusive. Not only is Amy making movies, she is also pursuing her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) and teaching as an adjunct professor of film.
Needless to say, I’m grateful for the time she extended to me.
This is the first of two posts about our conversation.
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Before we get into her film, Barbazul, I ask Amy how she selects the topics for her productions.
With a chuckle, she tells me it’s whatever she finds interesting.
“Sirwinakuy, the first film I directed, was a story I started writing about fourteen years ago. I was living in Paris at the time and kind of pieced it together from a bunch of different people and relationships I observed.”
The film centers on a young woman (Veronica Paintoux) who develops a dominant/submissive relationship with an older man (Jac Avila).
Amy imagines her stories “as a Jungian dream in the sense that I am all of the characters,” she explains, much like children who “play act and envision different kinds of scenarios.” In other words, role-playing teaches children about relationships.
Drama serves the same purpose.
She is “intrigued” by certain types of human interaction, especially “power play relationships, dispossession versus repossession, things like that,” Amy says.
These scenarios are the underpinnings of her film adaptations of literature and her original screenplays.
Of course, power play interactions are the traditional erotic foundation BDSM relationships and I suggest that because her films have a BDSM component, they can be defined as erotic horror. Amy is not so sure.
“A lot of people tend to emphasize the erotic element in my films but they are not about that,” she insists. “They’re a visual metaphor for power play and vulnerability because I feel like erotic horror is privileging the erotic over anything else.”
To support her assertion, Amy notes that Sirwinakuy can be interpreted different ways. It may be seen as “a romantic comedy or a drama” and also as “psychological horror.”
Terrifying and Sexy
I bring up Ollala and Barbazul.
“They are both about power play relationships, the pain of individuality in the face of society” though each film explores the theme “in different ways,” she mentions.
There’s a certain shift in perspective in the film that I wanted play around with,” Amy begins. “I wanted it to be a mirror for the audience to project their emotions onto Barbazul (Bluebeard) and think, ‘This guy’s a psychopath,” while simultaneously empathizing with him.
“I want people [to] take stock of how they actually react to situations of rejection [and] the idea of putting one’s own needs before that of the relationship,” Amy explains.
She recalls reading Charles Perrault’s story as a child.
“It was terribly exciting and terrifying and sexy so I wanted that to come out in the film as well.”
The Extra Dress
Looking further into Barbazul, I’m wondering why Amy kills off Soledad (played by Mila Joya), who was destined to become Bluebeard’s next wife.
“She needed to die,” Amy says, and that happens at “the hands of the sister, assisted by Barbazul.”
The story examines the rivalry that can emerge between women, in this case, “mother and daughter when the daughter reaches maturity. They become rivals in a sense that puts a strain on the relationship.” Amy explains.
In the Barbazul adaptation, Soledad helps to raise her sister, in effect taking the place of their mother. Conflicts develop and the psychological aspect of the story steps forward. Soledad’s sister pushes Soledad aside and wins the affections of Bluebeard.
“The sister takes Soledad into herself by replacing her. She sees Soledad as someone who will never actually become something. Her [Soledad’s] concerns are not for the self, they’re for making decisions based on the expectations and obligations of society that are more than what she wants. Who knows what she wants in life.”
In Perrault’s original narrative, Bluebeard accumulates the carcasses of his dead wives in a secret, locked room. Bodies didn’t work for Amy’s cinematic tastes. Instead she settled on the symbolic representation of dresses hung on a rack in Barbazul’s plantation office.
“I’m terribly logic based so I figured a room of bloody corpses would be absolutely disgusting, smelly, and I felt like Walter [Barbazul’s fastidious butler] would have a problem with it.”
Also, there is Barbzul himself, who is a very precise guy.
Amy continues. “I felt like he would have a representation of [his murdered wives] because Barbazul was someone who took care of things. When he put them [the bodies] in the ground he was burying [his] frustration.”
Amy mentions that her modern interpretation of the story focuses on the psychological, something Perrault intuitively understood in an age that predated the social sciences.
“Yes, he would keep a trophy like many psychopaths do. Barbazul is someone who wants to suppress that frustration and rejection and move on with a clean slate every time with a new woman.”
I comment that in the office there is an extra dress, guessing it is the one that is set aside for Soledad.
Amy liked that explanation, but the truth is much more revealing.
“The real story is there was another actress” slated to play one of the Barbazul’s women, she says.
Unfortunately the performer had “diva” problems.
“She was quite abusive. She threw a tirade at me. I tried a couple of times to talk to her about it, calmly.” Amy remembers, but things didn’t work out. The frustrated director had no alternative but to write the girl out of the film.
The Erotic Writer
So, one actress was dropped while another role, that of Jane, one of Barbazul’s victims, remained vacant.
Amy decided to put herself in front of the camera this time because she didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone to take on Jane’s part.
Here’s the story accentuated with an amusing prelim.
“She [Jane] is supposed to be this sexually aggressive character. I wanted to have [her] smoke.”
Amy aesthetically appreciates the iconoclastic French new wave films of decades ago and the “clouds of smoke” that permeate them. From her filmmaker’s perspective smoking comes across as “pretty and sexy” when the lighting sets the tone of the scene. It fit Jane’s mood perfectly.
“I’m giving signifiers to her subtext because she writes erotic literature.”
That makes sense, but Amy had a problem.
“I don’t smoke so it was awful,” she laughs. “It made me sick but it looks really cool on film.”
Understandable, but what persuaded Amy to be her own last-minute recruit wasn’t the cigarettes, or more precisely, cigarillos.
“I never actually intended to play that character. I didn’t want to.” Her intention was only to direct the film, but the best laid plans can get gummed up.
There was a problem. The script required Jane’s corpse to be buried.
“I realized it would be very difficult to ask someone to be out in the cold, naked, rolled up into plastic like a burrito. I don’t feel confident asking someone to do that. I did kind of shop around a little bit but none of the actresses I knew were willing to do it.”
That’s understandable, so director became actress.
“When I was rolled up in plastic, I couldn’t actually breathe. I realized that it was a really a good idea not to ask someone to do this because I would be sued.”
Her efforts paid off and Barbazul became a notable and beautifully shot film.
Next we’ll ask Amy about the nudity and the use of color in her productions.
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For the Barbazul trailer from Vermeerworks, the distributor of the film, click here.
For the YouTube trailer, click here.