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Film strikes chords with its emotions

MATT JAMES Of the Record staff
Amber Tamblyn, left, stars in Stephanie Daley opposite Tilda Swinton. Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute.
1Stephanie-Daley

Two pregnancies are at the center of the Sundance Film Festival film, "Stephanie Daley."

The first is 16-year-old Daley’s. She stands accused of killing her baby after hiding her pregnancy but steadfastly denies the charge, insisting the infant was stillborn. As the case is examined, though, Lydie Crane, the psychologist hired by the prosecutor in the case must deal with being pregnant herself while still experiencing the lingering grief for a past stillborn baby of her own.

The film’s story emerges from among the complexities of denial and grief, dealing with both the event and more importantly, the characters themselves.

"This is a movie about a current event," said the film’s writer and director, Hilary Brougher, "and it’s a fictional current event, but it’s about stripping away the layers around that event."

The project was inspired by an idea. "The thing I was interested in was the internal life of pregnancies," said Brougher.

"I think I was very interested in what was happening with my friends who were having kids," she added.

While she only became a mother after writing the script, Brougher said the subject interested her. And at the same time, she wanted to examine a situation like Daley’s in which a girl is forced to deal with her pregnancy by herself, examining what will happen and how that will affect her.

"I was intrigued with having to get denial up on screen," said Brougher.

The emotion, she noted, is a difficult one to illustrate, but one that flows logically from a situation like Daley’s. And while she might have found it very different to cast the parts of the two women, Brougher said she found her actresses rather quickly.

"Tilda, I knew right away I wanted and came on, and then I met Amber," Brougher.

Tilda Swinton, who plays Lydia, joined the project in its early stages, she said, while Amber Tamblyn, who plays Stephanie, joined shortly afterward, just before the general casting began.

Swinton, according to Brougher, brought significant experience to the film, and Tamblyn offered skills uniquely suited to fit her character.

"She was really strong, really smart," Brougher said, "and she could really connect with being a kid and being an adult."

Bougher says she was quite happy with the performances of all the actors in her film.

"There was a wonderful sense of discovery working with my actors," she added.

They brought some new energy to the work, Brougher noted, with a different view of the material and some eyes that had never seen the script before.

"Actors are the best thing to happen to a director/scriptwriter," said Brougher, "because you’re stuck with a script for months and months and you get sick of working with it, but then they bring along a fresh perspective to the project."

According to Brougher, the filming also brought its share of surprises, in terms of performances and interpretations. Filmed in 23 days this past summer and three days this past December, the project led to some spontaneity.

"This film had to be made really quickly, so there was a lot of energy," said Brougher.

There were also plenty of surprises.

"We didn’t do a lot of prep," she added, "so a lot of times the actors were meeting for the first time on stage, so there was a lot of that."

With the late finish to the filming, Brougher had to cut the editing close, finishing the sound work just this past week. However, she claims she never doubted she and her team would complete the film’s work.

"Worried, yes," she said, "But I absolutely knew it was going to get done so worried, with confidence."

Coming to the film festival, Brougher wondered how people would receive the film. While the film deals with the inherently political topics such as pregnancy and abortion, she said she never aimed to make an overtly political statement. Instead, Brougher worked to use life’s colors to paint her story.

"We actually went out of our way to make room for people to interpret it," she said. "The film is about moral ambiguity in a lot of senses."

"I hope it’s a healthy dialogue," Brougher added. "It’s a pretty humanistic film; it’s not a political film."

At the same time, she said she was happy to be coming to the Sundance Film Festival. Her first feature, "The Sticky Fingers of Time" premiered at the Venice, Rotterdam and Toronto film festivals, but while she previously participated in the 2001 Sundance Institute Screenwriters and Directors labs, this will be her first trip to Park City for the film festivals.

"I feel incredibly proud and satisfied," said Brougher when asked about coming to Sundance. "This film, in particular is way close to me. I’m very tight with all of the people involved with it."

"Stephanie Daley" will premier at the Racquet Club Theatre at 8:30 p.m. this evening.

For more info on screening times or the film, visit http://www.sundance.org.


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