NEW Women in Film Alert! Check out Director Jessica Hester’s new film project a Long Walk to Forever & check out our exclusive interview with her below!
Can you tell us who you are and a little about Long Walk to Forever?
I am Jessica Hester, native resident to Ossining, New York. I directed Long Walk to Forever. The film is a gentle satire on society’s institution of matrimony and how it has overshadowed the natural response of falling in love. The film is an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story with the same name, which is loosely based on his romance with his first wife, Jane Cox.
Long Walk to Forever is a beautiful and simple story, yet it explores many facets of our humanity. Vonnegut does this in such a fun way, as he leads Catherine, our protagonist, into the most impossible situation, and she gets to explore herself and her belief system as she takes a walk with her childhood friend. On this walk, the further she gets away from her house (society), the deeper she walks into nature with Newt (her childhood friend) and the closer she gets to her natural response to love. This is exciting for me as a female director. I feel as women, we all know what it is like to lose our authentic connection to self, and in a very bold way Vonnegut gives us context to explore this and the opportunity to return to our authentic selves.
The more I work on the film, the more that I am convinced that this is a story about courage, as the female has to face herself, her ideas, and her values. Our actress, Amelia Matthews, courageously put all of herself into the role, and because of this Catherine’s journey is so raw, terrifying in the most honest way, and heartfelt yet extremely funny because it is so relatable. However, it is not only the female character that demonstrates this courage. Newt constantly leads this walk with the objective to share his love with Catherine, and although this is not a new story for man what is refreshing and delights me as a filmmaker is that Vonnegut shows us HOW to take this action without a true expectation. Our Newt shares his heart without having the darndest idea of what is going to happen next, and just continues to ask the characters to walk with him, to come along and have a good time.
One of the main messages in the project is the commercialization of marriage- can you speak to why this topic resonates with you as a woman and what you have gained by digging deeper into Kurt V’s work?
I think this story just resolves my feeling that we can not defy our very nature for too long, just because we want to be a part of a tradition or society. I think as women, no matter how far we travel away from our true selves, the truth will yield us, it will call us to to help us stay on track, even if we are not conscious to it. The positive side of that is, I believe we all have an inner voice that will show up, and that we get to make choices for.
As I get older, I do want to get married, but if you asked me a few years back it felt stifling, unsettling, and even made me angry. I was a wedding planner for years and I could not help to feel that so many of the weddings I had to be a part of were either planned for the wrong reason or the very wedding itself became more important than the love shared by the couple. Interestingly enough, the most beautiful weddings I have ever attended, where the love was very apparent, were that of the same sex, which obviously to be married they had already had to defy tradition and commercialization because, during that time, there were not many obvious models of that form of love, especially in the commercialized world. Now as I have matured and I work through this story, I relate to Catherine very much and I am confident my authentic voice and sight will lead me. And, if it doesn’t, something will show up to lead me back to nature, so I trust that the day I get married it will be for my authentic self and for the RIGHT reasons. And, if i don’t ever get married, it will be for the same reason, because it will be true to my most authentic self.
I think it’s really important to tell more stories with a female perspective. Can you talk to us a little about the power of having (or being) a female director?
Great question, I can only tell you about the power of directing. I always compare directing it to a composer with his/her orchestra. Everyone on your team is playing a very important part and it is important to hear everyone as you invite them to come together. Maybe I am bias but I do believe women are very good at hearing everyone, unlike our male counterparts. Film is such a fun medium because you get to bring together so many artists to make one singular voice through a collection of voices. My voice as a woman is integral to that collection of voices; the more diversity of thought and experiences that we have on a team, whether that relates to gender, race, religious background, or whatever, I truly think the final product will be that much better. As it relates to Long Walk to Forever, I am blessed because Caitlin Engel (another powerful woman) is one of the producers on our team. Her perspective and vision is so aligned with what I want to offer the world and what I see in Vonnegut’s story. My voice becomes even more powerful and more confident as she lends herself to the story and the production.
I have so many AHA moments working on a story. It’s in many stages of the filmmaking process where I feel so much gratitude for being able to share my voice, and sometimes it’s just in the smallest detail that I can offer that may relate to what other women feel or see and that very detail may be the invitation for a woman to see herself on the screen. The more women telling stories, the more possibilities there will be for more women to see and feel themselves back. And, maybe through that lens, more women can see more possibility for their lives or even just find more space to celebrate being a woman.
Kim Woozy, a professional athlete is the founder of the brand, MAHFIA TV. She wants to help women athletes be seen on the screen. She has this motto, ” You can’t be what you can’t see.” This motto is exactly why we need women telling stories.
Feminist Wednesday is embarking on producing our first feature length film, Dream, Girl. Can you give our team some advice you have learned through filming your narrative?
Don’t wait for your ducks to line up. Give yourself the time to SEE it, even DREAM IT, and BELIEVE you can make it happen. I have so many filmmaker friends who ask me, “How do I make what I do happen?” I trust when a vision starts to unfold, even if I don’t see the vision in it’s entirety, and I have the faith that I can make it, faith will be my guide and the vision will continue to reveal itself. I suggest, inviting people who are inspired in the same way to be a part of the team. I also think it is important that your teammates have a stake in the project — so give them one. Help them see their vision as a part of the film’s story, I think this is very important on a small independent project like ours. I think communion between artists is very powerful and if you remain sensitive to that, it will definitely lend itself to the story you would like to capture. Take Risks. We need to see women taking risks on the screen and that needs to happen as the storyteller. Don’t try to get it right for some pre-made formula, make it authentic to YOU.
What has been the most discouraging and rewarding part of this project for you?
The most discouraging part has been my own fear, fear lent to me from the consciousness and my own history. My fear of asking for support and for money. That is why this Indiegogo campaign is so important. It is an opportunity to face that fear, educate myself more, and become a filmmaker that is responsible for the monetary life of the film. I want to see this process all the way through to empower myself and all these incredible people on my team.
Any last plugs or links or info you want FW readers to know about?
One last plug I want to leave is that is more people should read the works of Kurt Vonnegut. I know he already has so many fans, but his writing is so sensitive and soulful. I think he lends himself as a guide to humanity. He has touched my heart and soul.
The most rewarding part is that every day you get to be creative and work in a field where dreams, your imagination, and authentic truth can be explored and most importantly, shared.
So, please if you love a good story, love supporting women in film, love independent film, love to think differently, love Vonnegut, or all of the above, then please contribute to our Indiegogo campaign. We are almost to the finish line and are grateful for the support of this community.