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Leslie-Ann Coles's The Curtain screens at the Spring 2024 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, January 27!

By Al Nigrin

originally published: 01/20/2024

Leslie-Ann Coles

The Curtain, an excellent short film,  will be screening at the Spring 2024 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, January 27. Director Leslie-Ann Coles responded to my questions about her short film The Curtain via email. Here is my interview with her:

Nigrin: Your film The Curtain focuses on a mother-daughter relationship as well as questions of mortality.  Tell us about why you decided to make this film.

Coles: This story evolved organically. It was inspired by a one-star motel.  Over the years, I've driven by this roadside motel in Northern Ontario. I wanted to tell a story that could unfold over the course of one day from one room in that motel. This informed the story, and my protagonist was born. Mother/ daughter relationships appear to be a recurring theme in my narrative work. My debut short, In The Refrigerator: Dancing for Doll, was an intergenerational matriarchal story that depicted three generations linked through blood and history.  In part, it was based on a true story about a great aunt of mine. The only biographical element in The Curtain is that my mother is a survivor of breast cancer. When she discovered she had cancer, I questioned my own mortality in relation to my mother, and I know she reflected on her own mortality. 

Nigrin: Back in 2017 the New Jersey Film Festival screened your excellent documentary Melody Makers where Photographer Barrie Wentzel and others discuss the rise and fall of Melody Maker magazine -- the world's first weekly music publication. What made you want to make a fictional film this go round?

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Coles: I love working in both scripted and unscripted.  My debut film, mentioned previously, was scripted, and I also starred and directed it.  I returned to fiction following Melody Makers primarily because I have an epic female-driven western entitled, Soiled Dove,  that I wrote during the pandemic that I want to steer that feature film into production in the near future.  I had also been contemplating The Curtain for some time. It was time to return to fiction.  Fictional films, unlike documentaries, have a clear beginning, middle and end. Documentaries morph and evolve from conception to completion. Melody Makers took almost ten years to complete!  That said, I also have another feature documentary in the works.

Nigrin: One of the members of the New Jersey Film Festival jury commented how great the actors in your film are. Please tell us more about them.

Coles: Thank you. I was excited to act in this film alongside fellow actors Bill MacDonald, Beth Hornby, Sean Jones,  and Imogen Whist. Imogen was just a little girl when she worked with me on my debut film. And, Bill and I are both method trained actors. We met in the Actors Studio where we improvised scenes every Sat., pre-pandemic. Actor,  Alan C. Peterson led the workshop. Method acting is about not acting. It’s really about being in the moment, and responding authentically to what’s going on. I am really proud of all the performances in this film. Everyone kept it real. No rehearsals!

Leslie-Ann Coles

I realize you are also one of the lead actors in your film. Is it hard directing yourself?

Coles: I wouldn't say it's hard directing myself. I wrote the screenplay so the character, Beatrice, lived in me.  I knew her. When on set,  I switch hats, as required. Although, I neglected to inform some of the crew that I was acting and directing, lol. So on the day, some were surprised.  I had meetings with the cinematographers prior to going to camera so they knew what I was going for from a technical and performance perspective. We shot the flashback sequence on a Super 16 Bolex. That was exciting.

Nigrin: Tell us about why you decided to call your film The Curtain.

Coles: The curtain symbolically represents what is hidden,  or unseen. In the case of The Curtain, it is what's not said. The final curtain, or the closed curtain signifies the end of something. I use the crack in the window as the portal to the flashback sequence which takes us back to the protagonist's childhood memory of this same motel room. I'm not sure if I have answered your question but like rugs, curtains hide things from view. When the curtain closes at the end of the film it marks the end of the protagonist's journey. Curtain closed, the end. 

Nigrin: In addition to filmmaking, you have been running your own film festival in Toronto.  You are the founder of Female Eye Film Festival, which is Canada’s annual competitive international independent women director’s film festival. I know how labor intensive running a film festival can be. How has your Festival been doing since COVID hit?

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Coles: The Female Eye Film Festival (FeFF) was founded in 2001.  In March 2020, FeFF took place live and the day after we closed, we were in lock down. We pivoted online in 2021 and produced online screenings and industry events.  We returned as a hybrid event in 2022, and in 2023 we were a live, in-person event again. The Female Eye survived the pandemic but we're still recovering.  

Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?

Coles: Much to my chagrin, the Woodbridge Motel was demolished by the time I was ready to go to camera. Like so many roadside motels across the country, they are quickly disappearing, and being replaced by condos. Needless to say, I had to scramble to find another location, and secured The Vaughan Inn. It wasn't far from the original location.  I didn't realize folks were actually living out of the motel due to the pandemic so the place was in rough shape. I wanted to capture two seasons so we filmed in March (modern day), and August (flashback). The original crew were booked elsewhere come August so I had to secure an entirely new crew when we went back to camera to complete production. That was a memorable challenge.

The Curtain will be playing along with Bear Hugs and From Jailhouse to Milhouse at the Spring 2024 New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, January 27 – Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 5PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. The Curtain Director Leslie-Ann Coles will be on hand to do a Q+A after the In-Person screening! For more info and tickets go here.


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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