Whistler Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Ali Liebert on THE QUIETING

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The Quieting tells the story of Maggie, an anxious and newly queer woman on the eve of a very important date – her first date with a woman. On the eve of that life changing event, she is thrown into the throes of self-doubt and fear is confronted by an unexpected guest. Sara Canning and Julia Sarah Stone star in this psychological thriller by Ali Liebert that snaps the struggle of identity sharply into focus.

Jennifer Merin: What your film is about — both in story and theme?

Ali Liebert: The Quieting tells the story of Maggie, an anxious and newly queer woman on the eve of a very important date – her first date with a woman. As she tries to ground herself in preparation, she is stalked and then accosted by a homophobic teenager and must face her greatest opponent.

I wanted to explore themes of identity, loss, shame and the bravery it takes to face the voices in our head. In this film we call those voices “Junior”. We have a choice – we can turn against ourselves or choose to soften our hearts when facing the cruelest, scared versions of ourselves.

Merin: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and to the main characters in it?

Liebert: I had the extreme good fortune of collaborating with our incredible Cinematographer Josh Knepper to develop a visual language that served our story. In the first part of the film, the camera is almost stalking Maggie. We used extreme close ups to crowd Maggie, so the audience feels the anxiety she feels. The further she gets away from Junior, the more space she has, in her life and in the frame.

I was inspired to tell this story through the thriller genre lens, because to me, it is the most palpable and realistic way to visually represent how anxiety and self doubt feels. Traditionally, thriller films are a man stalking a woman. I wanted to explore these classic thriller tropes, but from my lens as queer female filmmaker.

Merin: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and to the main characters in it?

Liebert: Bringing my lived experience as motherless, late blooming queer person with crushing anxiety may seem very specific in terms of relatability, but a lot of folks who have seen the film have shared with me, regardless of gender or sexuality, they relate to the film – which of course, is a wonderful feeling. The feedback confirmed that I’m not the only one who is battling the voices in my head on a daily basis.

I’m so incredibly lucky that Sara Canning and Julia Sarah Stone came onboard to be a part of this film. These actors took my words and elevated them to a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. The understood my vision and brought their own spin on the characters. Both of their performances are so raw and beautiful. They knew they were telling “my” story but it didn’t hinder them, it somehow emboldened them and I think you can really feel it when you watch the film.

Merin: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

At first when I was envisioning this story – it was a rom-com! A jaunty little story about a woman in her 30’s going on her first date with a woman. How fun! But as I became more honest with myself, it became clear to me is was actually anything but a rom-com. Coming out at 33, felt like I was living in my own personal psychological thriller.

Taking the risk to say it wasn’t a fairly tale took me a while to come around to, but I’m glad I did. It was a huge turning point in getting to the core of this film and it’s message.

I had a lot of help from some special collaborators during the script phase: Andrew McIlroy, Donia Kash and Sara Graefe.

Merin: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film.

Liebert: Making this film amplified this very strong message: “TRUST YOUR GUT – TRUST YOURSELF”. So many times as a director, you don’t have a day or two to make a decision. You have to make it in the moment and if you keep second guessing yourself it will make for a very painful and stressful time. I had to make some decisions while shooting and in post that I don’t know if I’d make today, but that’s the best part of learning and striving to know yourself as a filmmaker – “mistakes” are all part of it. And some of those hasty, gut inspired decisions brought magic onscreen.

Merin: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

Liebert: We made our film as a part of the Crazy8s filmmaking competition, which is an 8 day filmmaking challenge. Over 200 filmmakers pitch their short and through a series of challenges it’s whittled down to 6 teams that get to make their short. I was so shocked and thrilled to be given this chance. Shooting a short in three days is not strange but completing a film in the 5 days that follows is absolutely nuts! I couldn’t have done it without the help of so many people especially my incredible producers Rebecca Steele & Liz Levine, DP Josh Knepper, Editor Jesse Lyon and Composer Brittany Allen. Honestly there are so many seriously talented and generous folks who donated their time and talent to make this film a reality. It was an incredible experience and I encourage anyone who lives in Vancouver to pitch and go for it. The Crazy8s team are so supportive and won’t let you fail.

Merin: What are your plans for the future?

Liebert: I’m always trying to balance my acting career and my new filmmaking journey. For now I’m developing a feature with my partner and have a few other irons in the fire that I would be in big trouble if I mentioned here!

Merin: Who are the filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

Liebert: Sook-Yin Lee, Sarah Polley and Anne Wheeler are some kick ass Canadian filmmakers whose work I deeply respect and admire.

Merin: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

Liebert: Don’t give up! Sharing information and hiring other women whenever you are position to do so is incredibly important. In order to bridge the gap of experience we need to extend a hand to each other. I have mentors and I regularly mentor other women in the industry – it’s so rewarding on either end.

About Ali Liebert

Ali Liebert is a DGC Award nominated director currently living in Vancouver.

Her first movie for television, Amish Abduction, gained her a DGC Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement – Movies for Television and Mini-Series (2020) and a Leo Award nomination for Best Television Movie.

Ali’s short film, a queer, genre bending thriller, The Quieting, made its world premiere at Inside Out Toronto LGBTQ Film Festival (2020). The Quieting has since screened at multiple festivals (virtually, of course) across North America.

With over 100 credits to her name as an award winning actor (Canadian Screen Award & Leo Award winner for Bomb Girls) and multiple EP credits, Ali’s favourite place to be is on set, especially in her new role, behind the lens. You can find Ali on Twitter and Instagram @aliliebert

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