SLO LIGHT: AN INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER CYNTHIA ANGEL
When you click play on the trailer for Cynthia Angel’s independent film Slo Light, a few things stand out immediately. The pulsating music. The grasping, shadowed images. And as you watch on, a harrowing theme emerges: the dark presence of exploitation, particularly concerning women and sex.
New York-based producer Angel created Slo Light—the story of a woman who commits suicide because of a sex tape uploaded to the internet and the sister who plans to avenge her death—with inspiration from 50’s noirs and classic horror films (just imagine Barbara Stanwyck poised in the darkness, waiting to strike). With female-centric themes tucked under her belt, Angel uses the Fincher method of pairing eerie soundtracks with film. In this case, she borrows the sounds of Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge, whom she worked with in 2013 for a Museum of Natural History film. Davidge sent Angel and her director his debut solo album—Slo Light—and the obsession began there.
“It haunted us,” Angel said of the album. “The more we listened, the more we could discern a strong narrative thread running throughout. The different shades and movements of the tracks suggested both light and dark moods, masculine and feminine.”
With the soundtrack in mind, Angel pursued the creation of a project she’d had on her mind in a while: “a provoking exploration of women’s relationships with their sisters, friends, lovers and sons.” Insert strong, executive female roles and a tantalizing revenge plot, and you’ve got Slo Light. But the beauties of independent filmmaking (the freedom from studio control, the ability to explore the complexities of female characters) aren’t without its drawbacks—namely, funding.
“On the basis of my own experience of working in the industry, I know that at this stage in my career… it would be highly unlikely that a large studio or corporation would be prepared to take the risk of backing this untried project,” Angel said. “Yet I firmly believe that such innovative initiatives should find expression in American cinema, and so I am appealing to those who wish to see powerful women both in front of and behind the camera to come together and make this dream a reality by joining our Kickstarter campaign.”
We talked to Angel more about her vision for the film, expected audience reaction, and views on the current sociocultural mindset.
What are you hoping the audience takes away from this film?
We hope that in making this film it will inspire those who are dispossessed, disenfranchised, or voiceless to have the courage to come forward and tell their own stories and have their own voices heard.
What inspired you to make a film about this?
We had long since wanted to tell a story which would shift from the male to the female perspective and, in doing so, would challenge traditional audience expectations. Too often in films are we asked to identify with a white male protagonist and his quest to overcome insurmountable odds. Too often do we see female and minority characters subjugated to secondary status by the male gaze, by the lens of a camera and by social construct. I’ve always enjoyed films which reverse these roles and confound expectations—classic noir films such as Double Indemnity, Scarlet Street and Out of the Past, Seventies horror films such as Don’t Look Now, and modern-day dark fables like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and Ex Machina.
Where did you get the basis for the characters and plot of this film?
The characters and plot are based on people we know and situations we’ve encountered. But also on a deeper level they are based on the archetypes that battle for supremacy inside of all of us. The manipulative and predatory male and his counterpart, the kind and sensitive man. The vulnerable, innocent and eager to please little girl, the fiercely independent career driven woman, and the sexually adventurous, fearless femme fatale.
What about our society and culture makes you feel like this film is needed or what do you hope to see change as a result of it?
Open explorations of female sexuality and the unspoken bond that exists between women are underrepresented in society and culture. Whereas aggressive male sexuality is celebrated, female sexuality is seen as dangerous and a force to be shamed, tamed, or controlled. Where groups of men are portrayed as untouchable gods, groups of women are often seen as neurotic homemakers obsessed with thoughts of romance and marriage. Why should women’s self esteem be governed and reinforced by these social and cultural stereotypes? Why shouldn’t women be presented as the complex, multi-faceted creatures that they are and not socially inferior, sexually submissive domesticated slaves? In telling the story of a girl who commits suicide because of peer pressure and shaming—and the sister who rises up to right these wrongs—we hope that it will help more young girls to realize the strength that they possess within and the power that they have to shape their own destinies.
What were/are some of the emotional challenges involved in making this film thus far?
Naturally, in a film which will portray the filming of a sex tape, its transmission on the internet, and the consequences which it brings, a lot will be asked of the actors and the director. The actors (both female and male) will be asked to plumb their emotional depths to dive down deep and return with performances which encompass feelings of vulnerability, shame, pain, depression, alienation despair, manipulation, spite, sorrow, vengeful anger, and denial. The director will be challenged with making a film which tells a difficult story in a non-exploitative manner while guiding his actors through multi-layered performances and ultimately leaving the audience with a message of hope and inspiration.
How is this film unique from others in its genre?
Slo Light is unique amongst female revenge thrillers for two reasons:
The film shifts midway from the male to the female perspective. While even a film as balanced as Gone Girl alternates evenly between the male and the female perspectives, Slo Light has by its climax completely eradicated the male point of view and replaced it with a powerful voice of female transcendence.
The film will be dialogue free and scored exclusively by the beautiful, melancholic music of composer Neil Davidge of Massive Attack. This choice was a very deliberate one, intended to heighten the power of our message. Images convey the emotional essence of a situation far more effectively than thousands of words can. When combined with music (which is the most emotional medium there is), evocative images can resonate far more than a traditional narrative format.
How do you think young people will react to this film? Do you think their reaction will differ from older generations (i.e, their parents)?
Young people of today have a much greater understanding of visual language than any generation that has come before them. As products of the digital age, today’s youth communicate heavily using visual means such as Instagram and Snapchat. Indeed, many teens’ first sexual exchanges are conducted online. Even music is consumed through video sharing sites such as YouTube, meaning that the images carry as much weight as the sounds. We hope that by tapping into this advanced visual understanding and by dealing with issues that are incredibly topical we are able to capture this audience, heighten their awareness, influence them towards positive change, and help them to realize that even the smallest action can make a difference.
The Kickstarter has been 59% funded, but it's not done yet. If you’d like to support Cynthia Angel and D L A Films’ Slo Light, please check out the Kickstarter campaign.