'Hannah Free' 

Directing Hannah Free

Hannah Free is one of the main features to keep an eye on during the LGBT Film Festival. In fact, NUVO is sponsoring it.

This gentle heartache of a film stars Sharon Gless (Cagney from the popular '80s cop show, Cagney & Lacey) as a dying woman looking back on her lifelong love affair with a small town housewife. Sounds like a Hallmark commercial, but don't worry - it is far from that. The director, Wendy Jo Carlton, sat down with NUVO to talk about everything from why you should see Hannah Free to why queer cinema, as well as the entire movie industry, needs to be turned upside down.

NUVO: What attracted you to the script?

Carlton: The dark humor. Also, I'm a sucker for a good love story especially one that is flawed, where the characters are flawed and make mistakes.

NUVO: You wrote all of the films you directed before this, so what was it like directing someone else's script?

Carlton: It was a refreshing challenge. I found it freeing because you can be objective in that the material is not as precious to you as your own script. You can be more objective in terms of narrative and see strengths and weaknesses more clearly. My job from there was to make the film more visual, more cinematic, and to get subtleties in character by working with the cast on performance.

NUVO: How did Sharon Gless get in the mix?

Carlton: Sharon had worked with our screenwriter, Claudia Allen, in a radio play and a stage play. So, when Claudia and I were thinking of actors to take on the powerful and complex character of Hannah, she was on our wish list of fantasy actors to play her.

NUVO: What was it like working with her?

Carlton: She has worked in television and film before, but this was her first time playing the lead, title character in a feature film. So, she had a lot of lines, responsibility, and pressure and was nervous. I was intimidated too in working with her because of her experience level, but then we both realized that we didn't have enough time in the shoot to be intimidated (laughs). She made it easy, though, and was very down to earth.

NUVO: What was the biggest challenge of making the film and how did it compare to the films you have made previously?

Carlton: Having to manage a larger crew and direct a much bigger cast. We shot the film in 18 days and only had two months of pre-production, so anyone that knows what I'm talking about can appreciate that challenge (laughs).

NUVO: Since this film is part of the LGBT Film Festival, how do you think gay cinema has evolved over the past few years?

Carlton: In the past few years there seems to be more of a queer sensibility represented in more mainstream content if not overt queer narratives. In terms of narrative films, I think queer cinema is prime for a renaissance. The same things are happening in queer films that happen in traditional romantic comedies. Boy meets boy. Girl meets girl. But I'm hoping to see more queer films that have a deeper level of sophistication and complexity.

I'd like to see queer features spend more time in the incubator. More and more filmmakers want to be players in the game but don't have the patience for development. After the success of Hannah Free, the goal for my next couple of features is to write stories with queer characters who have issues and desires that aren't about sexual identity but more about class divisions and access to knowledge.

NUVO: What films have inspired you as a filmmaker over the last few years?

Carlton: I like Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog. I'm also a big David Lynch fan. In terms of other recent films, I liked Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I really appreciated the care and attention that was brought to make it such a beautiful and effective film.

Note: Hannah Free is playing at the IMA's Tobias Theater on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 3:30 p.m.

"Hannah Free"

4 stars, NR

The anchor of this film, its crowning achievement, is Sharon Gless' performance. She has a natural, powerful screen presence. Her character's presence is equally commanding. Hannah, a lesbian and proud of it, refuses to tip toe around her relationship with a small town housewife. That woman, Rachel (Maureen Gallagher) is just as stubborn about hiding it. The film, gracefully directed by Wendy Jo Carlton, shows their decade-spanning struggle (Kelli Strickland and Ann Hagemann play their younger selves). Thankfully, the low budget does not put too much of a damper on that epic scope. It may look like a Lifetime movie at times, but Hannah Free has all the emotional sophistication and intensity of a film worthy of the silver screen. 86 minutes.

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