#16: Meet CHARISE STUDESVILLE

23 10 2009

CHARISE STUDESVILLE, writer/director/producer

Film: THE HANDS

Screens: Saturday Oct. 24, 4:45 pm – Emerging Stars: Filmmakers on the Edge program

The Hands is a story of the love between a father and daughter that can’t last in its original pure state. As the grown-up daughter now sits at her father’s bedside in his final hours, she becomes fixated upon his hands and how they have come to represent all of who he was, as a man and as a father.

The Hands

1. Tell us a little about yourself and where you have lived, highlighting any major cultural identities that define, influence or challenge you in your life.

I have spent most of my life in the midwest, growing up for much of my childhood in Madison, WI, and returning there to attend the University of Wisconsin.  Since graduating from college, I have lived in Chicago.  For the past two years, I have split my time between Los Angeles and Chicago.

I was born a multi-cultural baby before it was chic.  Coming from different worlds on either side of my family, I learned very early on to look beyond the surface to view who people really are, at their core.

While there were definitely times when my being culturally different from the blond-haired, blue-eyed standard of beauty that defined the population where I grew up, I have to say that I always felt my mixed-race status was a bonus.  From the very beginning, I loved and was loved by very different people from very different worlds.  It’s funny, but no matter where I go in the world, people assume I am one of them, a member of their cultural tribe.  I really think this has informed my filmmaking. I have always been able to hone in on the humanist element in people, and in the characters I create in my writing and filmmaking.  You can’t learn that in school.  You either have the sensibilities, or not.  I am thankful for all of the nations that live within my heart, and I think the world is finally catching up with my view.

2. How did you come to be a filmmaker, and where/how did you learn the “craft” of filmmaking?

I was trained as a journalist at the University of Wisconsin School of journalism.  I went on to use my writing skills within politics, the law, non-profits, etc., but always circled back to fiction writing.

A few years ago, I began studying screenwriting and filmmaking, first during my graduate studies at DePaul University, and then at the Iowa Writers Workshop.  I subsequently wrote several screenplays that won awards in various writing contests.  After learning the production side of the business during an internship at Martin Chase Productions (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Cheetah Girls, The Princess Diaries), I knew that the one piece left to learn was directing.  I was accepted into the USC/Warner Brothers Directing & Producing Program, where it all sort of came together for me.  I was able to come out of the program and head directly into production of my directorial debut, along with executive producing another film.

My instructor at USC really helped me in placing a template of organization over the already-honed film aesthetics that came from studying the craft for so many years.

With all of that said, I still feel that my most useful training came from the year I spent as a young girl in a body cast, literally forced to watch the world go by.  My imagination served as my friend all of those months, and now it serves as the basis for my career.

3. What prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?

One of the screenplays that I wrote is a modern version of The Big Chill, but populated by a multi-culti cast of women friends.  Each woman has a complicated and sometimes haunting background story as they come into the present.

The Hands is one such back story.  It is based upon the real-life experience of many women I have met, myself included, who idolized their fathers as little girls, but who as adults had to come to grips with the reality that Daddy was just a man, a flawed human being.  It is a pivitol moment for both daughters and fathers, and I wanted to look at it up close. I also wanted to explore the ideas of memory, loss, and forgiveness within the confines of the father/daughter relationship.  This story seemed the perfect way to do just that.

4. What is your single favorite line from your film?

It’s the last spoken words of the film:  Joy and sadness are not exclusive of one another.  One can be happy to be free of the imprisonment, but still long for the familiarity of the captor.

It applies to a lot of different kinds of relationships.

5. What movies would you say have transformed or changed the way you see the world?

Room With A View was the first film I remember seeing and thinking that I would love to create something that could transport the viewer so completely to another place and time, and relay the longings and experiences of the characters to the viewer, both visually and emotionally.

Daughters of The Dust and Eve’s Bayou left a longing in my heart for the experience of actually becoming a filmmaker.  Both of these films drove me to begin the dig, to figure out how story and picture become one.

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