For thirty years and counting, thousands head to Austin, TX each March for the annual SXSW Festival. Once again, Fine Living Lancaster joined this pilgrimage to act as your eyes and ears at the SXSW Music, Film, and Interactive festivals. What a wonderful, educational, entertaining, and, well, super fun trip it was. Check out this Q&A we had with two inspiring women:
A Q&A with actor Stephanie Beatriz and director Jessica M. Thompson of The Light of the Moon
The Light of the Moon is a difficult film, but it is also full of strength and hope. Actor Stephanie Beatriz (well known for her work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Short Term 12) plays Bonnie, the film’s lead character, with incredible talent and depth. Walking home from a night out with friends, Bonnie is sexually assaulted. The film—written, directed and produced by Australian filmmaker Jessica M. Thompson—chronicles the months of Bonnie’s life immediately following her attack. It is “a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of relationships in the face of a tragedy.” FLL sat down with Thompson and Beatriz to talk about the importance
of Bonnie’s story and the making of The Light of the Moon.
Stephanie Beatriz (SB): Well, welcome to our friendship. (Laughs.)
Fine Living Lancaster (FLL): Are you two friends in real life?
Jessica M. Thompson (JT): Not before the film, but best of friends now. We’re soul mates.
SB: Oh, yeah.
FLL: That’s so cool. Working on this movie, you’d have to become good friends, right?
JT: Yeah, otherwise it’d be the worst.
SB: It would’ve been. It would’ve been horrible. What if we’d like, hated each other?
JT: Obviously when you’re an independent director and you cast someone who’s a bit of a star, you can’t audition them and you just have to hope for the best. But, I was like, “She could be a friggin’ diva, I don’t know.” Well, I knew she wasn’t in my heart, I knew.
SB: Also, like, what diva is going to go do an indie film?
JT: They might do it for a certain prestige, you know what I mean?
SB: I guess so, but like, what a dummy…
JT: So I was nervous at first… I was like, “Oh, what happens if she’s just like, ‘No, I’m only giving you two takes of everything’?”
SB: (Laughs.) Alec Baldwin style?
JT: Or if you were like, “No, I’m hard out at this time every day,” or something like that.
SB: Like what if I only drank bottled water?
FLL: Jessica, why did you think that this was an important story to tell now?
JT: Well, it’s particularly important even more now than when I started writing it, and even more relevant. I think the biggest thing was the increase in the amount of sexual assault cases that I was reading about, and it felt like a pandemic. I think it is a pandemic, especially at colleges. So, it was always something in the back of my mind that I always felt – this is a problem that no one is really addressing. That’s not to say that, no one is… we are addressing it
in a deep way. There are some people and some organizations out there, like Protector and all of those at the amazing Women Rise that are, but it’s not being spoken about in a mainstream kind of way. Then, actually, a friend was assaulted by a stranger in New York when she was jogging in the Upper East Side, and hearing what she went through at the hospital and the police, and afterwards… She’s a strong woman, she’s a lawyer, trying to go back to work and she didn’t want to tell anyone, which is fine, her choice… I thought, this is a story I’ve never told and I’ve never heard before. I think that as powerful as documentaries like “The Hunting Ground” and other great documentaries like that are, sometimes seeing statistics on screen, though that film is so powerful, it’s sometimes more powerful when you hear just one person’s story, one woman’s story dealing with this, and sometimes it speaks to the bigger issue. That’s what really made me try to change those statistics around, and talk about it in an emotional, deep way, and have consent spoken about earlier on.
FLL: Would you call your movie feminist?
JT: 100 percent.
JT: 200 percent.
FLL: And do you embrace that title?
Both: Oh, hell yeah.
JT: All feminism means is equality of the genders. That’s it. Anything else you put on it is what you or the world has put on it, you know? But, that’s literally what it means. One hundred percent it’s feminist.
SB: The first date I went on with the guy I’m dating now, I asked him if he was a feminist because it’s really important to me and he was like, “No, I don’t describe myself that way.” I was like, “Well, this guy is out.” (Both laugh.) And, then I had to explain to him what it actually means—which is just equality between the genders…
JT: I’ve done that before too…
SB: And I watched a light go on in his eyes, like he just had never heard it that way before.
JT: And when they don’t get it, and they keep insisting that they’re not, I’m like…
SB: Well, then we’re done!
JT: If you don’t believe that I deserve equal pay to you, and you don’t believe I deserve the same respect…
SB: You definitely don’t get to make out with me!
JT: Definitely not gonna kiss.
SB: Peace, bro!
JT: Yeah. I don’t know why it’s become a dirty world and I quite often think it’s men who have made it a dirty word, so you know, that’s just the patriarchy trying to keep us down, we won’t let it. So, yeah, it’s a feminist film, for sure. And, it passes the Bechdel Test.
SB: It sure does.
JT: It definitely passes the Bechdel Test. [Named after its creator, cartoonist Alison Bechdel, a film passes this test if two female characters talk to one another about something other than a man at some point. Only about half of films released between 1970 and 2013 pass this test, according to a study released by FiveThirtyEight in 2014.] FLL: Did you keep that test in mind as you were writing?
JT: No, I think I just naturally passed the Bechdel Test because quite often that’s how I run. (Laughs.)
FLL: How long have you been working on the film?
JT: Since the moment I sat down to write it, just over two years. For actual production, we only shot in June of last year. One month; five weeks including rehearsals. So June, one month of shooting, then finishing it, and premiering it in March.
SB: That was fast.
JT: From the moment you write, it takes a long time to develop and get funding for an indie film.
FLL: What was it like to get funding? Did you have any pushback on this film due to its sensitive topic?
JT: Of course.
FLL: More so than other films you’ve worked on?
JT: Absolutely. But, to be honest, men have been our biggest supporters in terms of funding and in terms of finances, because I think that they can identify with the character of Matt [the lead character’s boyfriend]. It was hard; it’s a hard sell, a hard elevator pitch. But, then when people get it, they do really deeply get it. They do really deeply think, “I want to be a part of this.” Look, independent filmmaking is hard, but hopefully because we’ve made one film together, and we want to keep making films together, after the continuing success of this one, hopefully for the second one—I’ve heard—the funding become easier.
SB: Fingers crossed.
FLL: What do you hope audiences take away from your film?
JT: I find that one hard to answer because it’s like I’m dictating. Someone else asked me that, and I said I don’t know if that’s up for me to say what they should take. Everyone should take out what they want to take out, but I would like to think that people will take good things, positive things, and feel impassioned or empowered, and like they’ve been identified on screen and are being seen on screen.
SB: I want people to walk away with the feeling of like, you know that girl. You don’t know that you know her, but I bet you know her. You know somebody that this has happened to, you do. To start having conversations with people where you can create a safe space to have people talk about it. If somebody walks away from this movie and then is like, “I wonder if there’s someone in my life?” That maybe starts to introduce the idea that you can talk to me about that, and I’m going to tell you that it wasn’t your fault. I’m going to tell you that I believe you, and I’m going to tell you that you didn’t do anything wrong. That would be amazing.
JT: Someone did say, “I feel like I have the dialogue now to speak to my friend who went through this better.”
SB: God, that’s really great.
JT: I hope that that happens.
Stay tuned for more from our trip to SXSW!