TIFF Interview: Into the Forest Writer-Director Patricia Rozema Talks the End of the World as We Know It
One of the most surprising and satisfying films at TIFF this year has been a small, intimate film titled Into the Forest. Based on a novel by Jean Hagland, this piece of speculative fiction (not sci-fi) focuses on two sisters, played by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, who are left to fend for themselves in their home after the power goes out…and stays out indefinitely.
A beautiful looking, meditative film featuring stellar performances from Page (who stars in Freeheld, also playing at TIFF this year) and Wood, the movie is a fresh take on the futuristic, survival film which actually does focus on characters. Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema (Grey Gardens, Mansfield Park) spoke with me about the film during the festival.
Lesley Coffin (TMS): How would you explain the film?
Patricia Rozema: It’s set a little bit in the future, I guess it falls into the genre of speculative fiction. And it’s about a little family with some modern technology, but everything else is basically the same as it is now. And there is a loving father and two brilliant, beautiful daughters, one who wants to be a dancer, the other wants to be an academic, and the power goes out. They live up in the mountains and live about three hours away by car to a very small town. And they live in a somewhat modern, Frank Lloyd Wright style house. But when they finally do go into town, they realize people are leaving and the grocery store has been raided. And the law has left the town, so there are some dangerous sorts still in the town. So they decided to stay up in their house until the power comes back on. And it is a bit of a how to story, but it also a bit of a cautionary tale about our total dependence on fossil fuels and electrical power.
We don’t have the means to survive without it anymore. These two girls are beautiful, fabulous people, but they aren’t really good at the end of the world. And I loved pointing out that one of the biggest things that would happen if we didn’t have power is that we wouldn’t know anything about the rest of the world. They don’t know how wide spread this is. They find out it is continent wide, but they don’t know if it is the rest of world. And they don’t know why it happened. And as the time accumulates, we see what happens psychologically when there are few resources, but we also see some strength in the girls that they come to have. We see some really beautiful things result from this, but we also see some really horrifying things. I put these girls through some things.
TMS: If the technology is so similar to today’s, why set the film in the future?
Rozema: I just wanted to make it a little more possible. It is still very close to now, but not exactly now. But the film is still very contemporary, the look and their clothing isn’t really modern. When I thought about how they should look four or five years into the future, I just said “let them wear what they are wearing right now, and by the time the film comes they’ll be in sync.” They live in a remote community, so fashions would get to them late anyway.
TMS: How did you get Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood attached to the project?
Rozema: Ellen got me involved. She found the book and approached me to write the script and direct it. We had been working on another film at the time which just didn’t come about. So she approached me with the book, and she had some producers in the US already, and then we brought it to some Canadian producers to make it a co-production. But she brought it to me and I loved it. And then I wrote the adaptation and she and Rachel both said they loved it.
TMS: I know you are Canadian, but the book was originally set in America. Why did you want to set it here [in Canada]?
Rozema: It is set in the Pacific Northwest. The book was originally set in Northern California, and we were shooting in British Columbia and the two just look different. The trees are different. And I didn’t want to say it was Northern California when it really wasn’t, because I think you just have to be respectful of the facts of nature. So we called it the Pacific Northwest. But in fact, that whole area is called Cascadia and they are trying to get independence, so the licenses actually say Cascadia, thinking that 5 years into the future, they might have won independence.
TMS: Are you a fan of science fiction books or films?
Rozema: I like speculative fiction. Things which are relatively close to my reality, but just alter one thing. I remember reading a feminist book by Marge Pearcy (Woman on the Edge of Time). I remember that one and always thought that would make a good movie. And I like science fiction, so long as it reflects real humans. I want to be in people’s heads, not just looking at technology.
TMS: Where you inspired by any films when making this movie?
Rozema: I can’t think of any science fiction films I drew from, but Jane Champion’s The Piano was a cinematic influence. Just the use of nature in that film and focus on women having to survive in isolation from the rest of the world.
TMS: Is the fact they are sisters, rather than friends, important to the story?
Rozema: It would have been different, because the bonds of sisterhood probably made their connection deeper. They fight and disagree in the film, but that bond is so deep they find their strength in each other. I don’t think they knew each other very well before making the movie, but they spent a lot of time together before filming, just to develop a real bond. They had to get to the point where they felt comfortable doing nothing together.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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