When I first heard about Dragonfly about a year and a half ago, I was immediately intrigued by the fact that it’s a female-led feature and that it’s filmed in the Twin Cities. This is a debut feature for both Maribeth Romslo and Cara Green Epstein (who also wrote AND acted in the film).
I was thrilled that I got the chance to visit the set in early Fall of 2014, at the Public Functionary art gallery in Northeast Minneapolis. It was my first time visiting a film set in Minnesota, so it was so exciting to see the creative minds hard at work making their dreams a reality. Amidst their hectic schedule, both of them greeted me warmly and I had a chat with Cara during filming break.
Fast forward a year and a half later, Dragonfly is one of the indie films that will make its regional premiere at 2016 Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival (MSPIFF). It’s one of the films in competition in the Minnesota Made Narrative Feature category.
The story of Dragonfly is about homecoming and healing for a Midwestern family divided by divorce and illness.
Struggling artist Anna Larsen’s mother has never understood her. When her mom is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, Anna returns home to help but brings years of family baggage with her. As she unpacks her past, Anna rediscovers a mysterious mailbox from her childhood and embarks on a search to solve its mystery. What she learns along the way may just be the key to rekindling her own magic.
Check out the trailer below:
Unfortunately, my conversation with Cara that I taped got corrupted somehow, but the three creators of the film were gracious enough to still grant me an interview via email.
Q: What’s the inspiration for the story of Dragonfly?
Cara: We were interested in exploring the ideas of magic and discovery – how each of us can create magic in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, as well as how much there is to discover about ourselves and those around us. The idea that each of us has our own truth, and that truth is not absolute. In Dragonfly, we are exploring a moment in time when perspective changes profoundly for several characters and each of them is suddenly made aware that their truth is not the only truth and they are able to see each other more clearly and with greater generosity and care.
Q: How long did it take all of you from conception to finally getting the project off the ground?
Cara: I posted on FB on November 17, 2013 that I wanted to film something. Maribeth replied a few minutes later that she “knew a girl who could help. ;)” and I asked Mim about a month later if she wanted to produce this short film I was going to write and act in, so that was late 2013. I actually started writing the script in February 2014 and we finished the entire film on November 5, 2015.
Q: I know Cara, you reside in Chicago whilst Mim and Maribeth lives here in town, but what’s the reason behind filming the movie in the Twin Cities?
Cara: Making a movie takes a village and this is where our village is. It’s where Mim and I grew up and it’s where Maribeth is raising her family and where Mim has always lived. Many of the most important people in our lives live here and we knew (hoped) that they would support us in this endeavor. That said, the generosity and support that we have received, and continue to receive from the MN community has blown us away. The Minnesota arts and production community is brimming with talent. There is no doubt about that. But other cities in the country also have people with talent and skills. However, in Minnesota, the extremely talented and skilled arts, film, and commercial community is also exceedingly dedicated, supportive, adventurous, generous, and kind. It is an absolute joy to work here. From pre production through post, Minnesota lived up to the hype and proved itself to be the nicest state in the country to make a film.
Maribeth: Making our film in Minnesota totally spoiled us. It will be hard to make a film elsewhere after the positive experience we had making Dragonfly in Minnesota. At every step and on every level, Minnesota proved itself to be the nicest place ever to make a film.
We received incredible support from the Minnesota Film Board and the Snowbate Program. We were energized by the everyday kindness and excitement of our locations and supportive community. We were blown away by our 528 donors who made the film possible on Kickstarter. Our film was possible because of the open arms and support we found at every turn in Minnesota.
Mim: Working as an advertising broadcast producer in the Twin Cities I have such a respect for the amazing talent in film that we have locally. It was extremely important to us to tap into this fantastic film community and give the opportunity for many people to work on a feature film.
In addition to majority of the cast and crew of Dragonfly being from MN, the soundtrack exclusively showcases MN artists and bands like Cloud Cult, Caroline Smith, John Hermanson and The Ericksons. This film was really a love letter to Minnesota.
Q: Cara, I know you are a writer, actress and director, as some would say you’re a triple threat. Which of the three do you enjoy most and which you find most challenging? I reckon all of you had to wear multiple hats while filming?
Cara: I’m glad that I wore all three hats on this film because I learned SO MUCH. That said, I wouldn’t do it again because I would want to be able to focus more specifically on each role. I could not have co-directed this film without our director Maribeth. I learned so much about how the camera moves and how to frame a shot and how to use a camera to tell the story from her.
I think that acting is so FUN, especially when you’re not also the writer and a director and a producer ;). I had a great time acting and it was so fun to share the screen with incredible talents like Jennifer Blagen, Terry Hempleman, Matt Biedel, and of course, David Greene. But it was also really challenging to put the blinders on and just focus on being Anna when I was so aware of everything else that was going on in production at the same time.
I’d have to say that my favorite part was and is the writing. I loved creating a world and making up characters and breathing life into them. I really loved telling this story.
Maribeth: Independent film is like pushing a boulder up a hill. It’s making the impossible somehow possible. With no time, and with very little money. Given the crazy challenge of it all, wearing many hats is vital. Everyone from the director to a newbie production assistant all have to make smart and quick decisions to keep the production moving forward.
I’d be curious to know how many texts have been sent between Cara, Mim and myself over the last 2 years. I’m sure the number is staggering. One favorite that I’ll always remember is in the thick of production on the film, Mim texted a photo of the cover of the Dr. Seuss book The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. It perfectly captured what making an indie film is. Wearing all the hats to get that boulder up the hill.
Q: Tell us one of the most memorable experiences making this film.
Cara: Oh, there are so many! The last day that we shot with a full crew was the day that you came to set at Public Functionary. That night, at like 1am, we had this hilarious – well, now it’s hilarious but at the time it was incredibly frustrating moment – where we had multiple opinions about how to shoot a small piece of the scene. The shot should have taken 20 minutes, tops, and instead it took like an hour and twenty.
At one point, Maribeth actually stamped her foot in frustration, which, for Maribeth, is like screaming “F*&$!” at the top of your lungs, but she would never do that on set. But then we went back inside and shot this great little improv scene at the bar and then we were done. And I will always remember looking at Mim and Maribeth in disbelief and falling into a group hug with them and just whispering “We did it. I can’t believe we did it. Can you believe we did it?”
Of course, at the time, we didn’t realize that it would be another 13 months before the film was finished. But that was just a completely magical moment. We had taken on this insane challenge, and we had killed it with the help of an absolutely incredible cast and crew.
Maribeth: So hard to pick one, there are so many from production. Shooting at sunrise at the bottom of Minnehaha Falls, a 18 hour day at an art gallery with 40 extras, constantly “holding for plane” because our main location was in a busy flight path to MSP Airport.
But I think the most memorable experience of the whole process was the private screening of the newly finished film that we hosted in November at Riverview Theater. We rented the theater to share the film with our Dragonfly community (cast, crew, family and production supporters) before we shared it with film festivals and the world. Because making an indie film really takes a village, this meant we filled every spot in the 700-seat theater. It was such a beautiful celebration of all of the creative collaboration and hard work, to experience viewing the film for the first time on a big screen with our community.
Mim: There’s so many but let me tell you about one of the earlier experiences. Originally I came on board to this project thinking this was going to be a short film. We’d shoot a few weekends and we’d be done in a matter of months. Little did I know right? After the first round of creative concepting we realized the story we were telling was much more robust than a short film would allow. And I’ll never forget driving home with Cara, looking out in front of us, and she says blankly “Well…it looks like we’re making a feature” and I said with a gulp “I guess so.” It was so clear that this project had just gotten astronomically bigger in one afternoon but also that this was a daunting adventure that we were ready to embark on. It was the start of everything.
Q: Given that the gender disparity in Hollywood is such a hot topic these days, would you comment a bit about your own experience as a female filmmaker working on your feature debut?
Cara: It’s totally normal to me. I mean, it’s my debut feature so this is what I know. What I will say is that we created a really lovely community of people who care about each other, celebrate each other, and have continued to work together. I’m probably the most proud of that, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we are community builders and care takers. The relationships on screen and off are important to us. It was also really important to us that everyone – every single person who worked on the film – felt valued. I don’t know how much of that had to do with our being women, or the fact that 50% of our cast and crew were women, but I do think that when different types of people work together, we are all better for it.
I will also say that I was shocked to discover just how bad the numbers are for women in Hollywood and the amount of sexism that exists there. It’s crazy and I’m glad that we were able to create a reality where that was not the case. And to prove that you can make a kick ass film in the process.
Maribeth: I have 4 brothers, so I’m not one to be uncomfortable in settings where I’m the only girl. But I’ve found as a filmmaker it happens so often. I once went to a lighting workshop where in a room of 100 filmmakers, I was one of 3 women. And while I’m happy to hang with the guys, it’s an issue because of perspective. More specifically the lack of diversity in the perspectives of storytellers.
I look forward to the day when things become more balanced and I’m just a “filmmaker”, not a “female filmmaker”. But that’s not possible right now, because only 7% of top Hollywood films are directed by women. And that means that the conversation must continue so we can all work together towards more equality and diversity in the perspectives in our storytellers.
Because the stories we tell and experience shape us.
Mim: It was shocking to us when we realized just how rare it was to see women working in Hollywood. As we worked to build Dragonfly’s cast and crew we so often looked for the best person for the job…who more than 50% of the time ended up being a woman. Cara, Maribeth and myself didn’t look to find other women to work on this necessarily…we looked for the best person for the job.
Dragonfly was built on bringing people into our village and making them feel like this experience was worth their while. We asked everyone coming on board what they wanted to get out of this experience and then we did what we could to give them that opportunity. That, I believe, created an atmosphere where people gave an enormous part of themselves to the project. We really felt like family in the end. Women have a lot of stories to tell and are just as creative, innovative and driven as their male counterparts. That was proven to me time and again throughout the making of Dragonfly.
St. Anthony Main Theatre 1Sun, Apr 10 7:10 PM
Rochester Galaxy 14 CineSat, Apr 16 4:40 PM
Thank you Cara, Maribeth and Mim for taking the time for the interview!
Special thanks to Ben Epstein & Line Producer Matt Brown for facilitating the set visit.
Hope you enjoyed the interview. I hope you’d check out Dragonfly when it’s playing near you, or when it arrives on VOD/DVD.