One of the last additions to Slamdance’s lineup this year was a world premiere Special Screening of Yosemite. The film is written and directed by Gabrielle Demeestere, a former classmate of James Franco who produces and costars. While the film was not in competition for Slamdance’s audience or jury awards, Demeestere’s strong debut did earn her the inaugural Tangerine Entertainment Juice Fund award for best female directing. We were able to have a brief chat with her a couple days prior to the premiere and award ceremony.
Dork Shelf: What is Yosemite about?
Gabrielle Demeestere: The movie is about 3 ten year old boys growing up in Palo Alto in the 1980s, and it’s based on two short stories from the James Franco book A California Childhood, ‘Yosemite’ and ‘Peter Parker’. Then I wrote the third story, which is the Ted chapter and created the mountain lion framework that dramatizes the sense of danger that these kids are facing. ‘Yosemite’ used to be in the Palo Alto book but now it’s in California. He wrote the stories and I wrote the script.
DS: What would you hope audiences take away from this film?
GD: There are sort of two sides to it. One is a story about childhood and hopefully there’s a sense of beauty to the experience and also you just feel connected to experiences you’ve had in the past. The movie’s a lot about connection and how these kids have these evolving friendships and betrayals. Eventually two of them connect and support each other through mourning. So feeling a connection to other human beings and then there’s some of the historical context I thought was interesting in terms of seeing Palo Alto at time that’s pre-internet and pre-technology and seeing how the way we connect to each other has changed over time. Also how messed up our relationship to nature is, that’s this constant source of tension in the movie.
DS: There are a lot of references to the first cell phones and the first forms of the internet, was this meant to be a hint of things to come?
GD: Yeah, it’s not really present in the stories but because it takes place in Palo Alto I wanted to give it a strong sense of place. Then I thought if you’re making a period film it’s interesting to see how things have evolved. Especially if the movie is about these kids connecting to each other I think it’s interesting to anticipate what’s to come and how that’s going to change a lot more.
DS: Was there a learning curve when working with mostly child actors?
GD: No, that was weirdly easy. I think it was more nerve wracking having cast them and hoping that I had made the right choice. You imagine maybe they won’t be able to focus or they’ll be difficult to work with, but it pretty soon became clear that they were all really into it and really good. I think everyone working on this film was relieved and excited. They were just very cool kids who were excited to be in the movie.
DS: Did you see a lot of kids when casting?
Yeah I started the process pretty early. I’m based in New York and I went to a lot of theatre programs in Brooklyn and I did a reading of the script at NYU with the kid who plays Joe, Alec Mansky. He read and he was great so I kept him in my back pocket and then I went out to San Francisco to do research on the film and I worked with a casting director there and we found another kid. Then I found another kid in Palo Alto.
DS: Are you and Franco working on any other projects together?
GD: We have a book that his company (RabbitBandini Productions) is going to buy the rights to and produce but I can’t say what yet.
DS: Have you watched it with an audience yet or will this be your first time?
GD: Just a small audience, with my parents when were doing post production. But that’ll be super fun, a lot of the cast and kids are coming. There was a really great feeling and energy while were making the film, it’s very exciting that everyone’s coming to see the movie together.
DS: Who are some of your cinematic influences?
GD: I like Kelly Reichardt a lot, Claire Denis, I love Sebastian Silva. Some of the more dark humour type stuff.
DS: What’s on your ‘Dork Shelf’ (what do you collect)?
GD: I don’t really collect anything, but people know that I like weird animal figures and tend to gift them so I do have a few of those.