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Brigitta Wagner’s beautiful feature film Rosehill premieres at the New Jersey Film Festival on September 11, 2015 at Rutgers University!!


By Al Nigrin

originally published: 08/28/2015

Brigitta Wagner’s beautiful feature film Rosehill premieres at the New Jersey Film Festival on September 11, 2015 at Rutgers University!!

Nigrin: Rosehill is an intimate and  beautiful feature film about that delves into the lives of two women. After receiving some devastating news from her doctor, Katriona escapes New York to visit her best friend, who works as a sex researcher at Indiana University. When the two women decide to embark on a road trip through mid-western America, they find out more about one another, and more about the resilience of the human spirit, than they could have predicted. I just watched your film again and it is was just as wonderful the second time. Tell us why you made this film.

Wagner: Rosehill is a love-letter to friendship and the process of aging and evolving. In my early thirties, I was struck by how volatile, exciting, and unexpected that moment and those experiences were. Friends were dealing with big transitions in their careers, geographies, love lives, families, and health: marriage, divorce, birth, death, new responsibilities, opportunities, and failures. Suddenly we were these fallible beings—no longer fully in control of our destinies—as young people tend to feel in their 20s and earlier. We grew up in a country that offered a lot of certainty and security, a pathway to upward mobility, and a political and cultural sense of cohesion and shared imperatives. You try to get educated. You try to get a job. And then you participate in something called the American Dream. But we entered adulthood in a political and technological moment that disrupted these familiar pathways and assumptions. On a wider scale I could observe a new uncertainty at work in the American Midwest after the Great Recession. As a professor in Indiana, I was fascinated by the stories of the people around me—all these people from all over the world who had found their way to the small college town of Bloomington and all the families who had been there for generations. And I wanted to think in broader terms about how individual stories relate to larger narratives of place. And Southern Indiana happens to have both a geological history that is particularly important for the history of American cities and a history of sex research that laid the groundwork for the sea changes in civil liberties that are shaping the US today. The fictional characters Alice and Katriona, while concerned with their own obstacles and challenges, become embedded in a larger story of place and longing, of past and present. I made the film in order to explore the idea of "coming-of-age” as an ongoing emotional and geological process.

Nigrin:  Some of the Festival judges commented on how the liked the fact that you wove together experimental scenes within the narrative. Tell us more about this and how you decided to put the film together this way.

Wagner: Since the very first treatment of the film, I had been planning to weave together these various elements and to use different cameras, aspect ratios, and image textures. I liked the idea of having different registers for conveying the relationship of Alice and Katriona, of Indiana and New York, of the present and past, of sexual practices and geological processes. Just as we humans communicate to each other with words and body language (and therefore have the power to convey nuanced and mixed emotions), I liked the idea of the film doing something similar to its audience: playing with trust and intimacy, hiding and revealing, declaring and denying, inviting and resisting. When people open themselves to this film, they might have an experience that’s more like a meandering river. From a distance, they understand that it’s a river flowing in a particular direction. But in the river, they are at the mercy of all kinds of micro-forces and movements, and it’s a very unique emotional journey that keeps a lot of possibilities open—like life.

Nigrin:  The two lead actors, have great chemistry and play their roles perfectly. Tell us more about them and  how they came to be in your film.

Wagner: Josephine Decker is a filmmaker, actress, and performance artist. She has this explosive imagination and creative force and has made two features— Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely—that rawly and magically depict female sexuality while also flirting with genre. Rosehill’s Alice is her first lead role in a film directed by a woman though she’s also acted for Joe Swanberg, Onur Tukel, Stephen Cone, and others. Kate Chamuris is a New York improv comedian though she plays her first lead dramatic role in Rosehill. She’s trained in musical theater as well and makes hilarious sketches about women’s experiences. Joe introduced me to Josephine in Berlin a few years ago, and then my co-producer Bianca Escobar introduced me to Kate at the Telluride Film Festival. Rosehill started to take shape as I was working on an archival project with the German filmmaker Dr. Monika Treut, and Josephine and Kate came to mind very early in the process. They both loved the story and were willing to experiment with and expand their repertoire in this part-scripted, part-improvised, and part-documentary film. They were also willing to share parts of themselves and to feed the characters of Alice and Katriona with their own insights and experiences. I’d fly to New York to meet them and give them little tasks, and we’d cook together or look at old stag films, talk about relationships and friendship, shoot scenes of their characters’ past, and make little interactive videos for the other actors back in Indiana. The process was very organic, like cooking stew in a big cauldron and casually tossing in our favorite ingredients. When I was back in Indiana, I’d encourage them to continue to meet in New York and develop certain parts of their characters’ friendship that I shouldn’t know about: little secrets that the camera might see but that nobody would know for certain. Finally, when we shot in Bloomington, they lived together throughout the process. And this was great for the film: the more pivotal scenes were shot after they had been in close quarters for two weeks.



 
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Nigrin:  The cinematography, improvised sequences, and music are absolutely wonderful too. They almost feel like characters in the film as well. Do you feel the same way?

Wagner:  My brother, Andreas Wagner, was the principal cinematographer. He shot the fictional scenes while I shot the super-8 and documentary footage. There’s even a small film-within-a-film directed by Josephine and filmed by Ashley Connor, who shot her two features. And there’s a ton of archival footage, too. Andreas and I had a long history of making videos and improvising stories together as children, so it felt very natural to share the cinematography and to speak our different visual languages to the same content as adults. So in some ways, the film is a conversation between these different visual modes. The improvised sequences do this for the actors, too. Kate and Josephine are constantly in dialogue with different forms of realism and the shifting levels of performativity. This makes their overall performances dynamic and moody as their characters build up and strip away barriers. I also chose the music very carefully with a preference for lyrical storytelling and women’s voices that function like something between a Greek chorus and a score. Emily Arin, a gifted and original Philadelphia songwriter, wrote some songs specifically for the film. Chris Swanson, who’s got a great ear and musical memory and is one of the minds behind Bloomington record labels Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar, loves cinema and knew exactly what I needed. And members of the Berlin band Canyon Spree put their special twist on two songs by Angel Olson. Market East has an older, nostalgic sound that I like, and The Japonize Elephants and Hoagy Carmichael have a connection to Bloomington and were important for the narrative.

Nigrin:  Where there any memorable stories in getting the film finished or any other info about your film you can pass on to us?


Wagner: I finished the film between New York and Berlin—an effort that became incredibly international at some point (Thank you, Brazil, Spain, France, and Austria). And people in both places were so generous about pitching in their post-production time and expertise. One of the things I love about independent filmmaking and hybrid features is that so much is possible when you work in a small way with people you know. This may not be the most economically savvy way to make films, but it is the most human and personal. And the most fun.

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Rosehill will be screened with a great short film The Cart on Friday, September 11.

Here is more info on this program:

The Cart - Patrik Eriksson (Lodz, Poland) 

In this hauntingly beautiful experimental film, a young woman fulfills a mysterious task, as she moves through an existential dreamscape. 2015; 7 min.

Rosehill - Brigitta Wagner (Haworth, New Jersey)

Expertly weaving together improvised and scripted scenes, Rosehill is an intimate feature film that delves into the lives of two women. After receiving some devastating news from her boyfriend, Katriona escapes New York to visit her best friend, who works as a sex researcher at Indiana University. When the two women decide to embark on a road trip through mid-western America, they find out more about one another, and more about the resilience of the human spirit, than they could have predicted. 2015;
78 min. With an introduction and Q+A session with Director Brigitta Wagner!

Friday, September 11, 2015 at 7:00 p.m.


Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University


71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey


$10=General; $9=Students+Seniors; $8=Rutgers Film Co-op Friends


Information: (848) 932-8482;
www.njfilmfest.com



 
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Free Food courtesy of Jimmy Johns of New Brunswick will be given out prior to this screening of the New Jersey Film Festival!

 




Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.

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