AFI FEST Interview: ANNE AT 13,000 FEET and MS SLAVIC 7 Actor Deragh Campbell – American Film Institute


AFI FEST Interview: ANNE AT 13,000 FEET and MS SLAVIC 7 Actor Deragh Campbell

Deragh Campbell holds the unique position of starring in two films (and co-directing one of them) at this year’s AFI FEST presented by Audi. We spoke with Deragh about her background, the different creative approaches for each film and the importance of finding a film community.

AFI: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to become an actor and filmmaker? 

DC: I hadn’t planned to be an actor – my ambition was to be a novelist – but I was cast in Matthew Porterfield’s I USED TO BE DARKER and this was my introduction not only to acting but also to avid film watching, both through films Matt recommended and travelling with the film to festivals. I was so surprised and moved by how acting felt, both collaborative and experiential – you get this doubling of experience of both being on set and operating within a character’s world, and you have your onscreen relationships as well as your relationship to the entire crew. It’s so rich.

It’s nice how I was naturally led back to writing as I wrote with different directors that I was involved with as an actor. And this in turn led to filmmaking as Sofia involved me further as a producer, editor and then co-director. For me, it’s about loving movies, and the multitudinous and flexible way they communicate, and lending myself in different ways to making them.

AFI: At this year’s AFI FEST, you are starring in two films, one of which you are a co-director. Let’s start with ANNE AT 13,000 FEET. What was the collaborative process like working with director Kazik Radwanski as you were developing your character, Anne?  

DC: With Kazik we worked in this two-pronged way where he orchestrated the scenarios and then I reacted them. He would have something he wanted to achieve, perhaps a conflict or a moment of connection, and I’d try and steer the scene that way or maybe follow the scene in a totally different direction. Sometimes not much would happen and Kaz would adjust the scenario or I’d adjust my behavior – it was about trying to make things happen. And Nikolay Michaylov, the cinematographer, was moving within this and has a particular instinct to know what to capture.

AFI: You’ve talked about the production process being uniquely long for ANNE AT 13,000 FEET. How do you feel it benefited the creation of your character and ultimately the film? 

DC: I don’t really think of it as a benefit, just a different way of creating a character. Rather than having a set idea of who this character was, we gathered more evidence about who she was from how she reacted in different circumstances. I think this resulted in a character that is unpredictable, open and contradictory, which gives the film this active and inquisitive quality.

AFI: Your other film at AFI FEST is MS SLAVIC 7, which you co-directed with Sofia Bohdanowicz. How did your partnership with Sofia evolve from actor-director to co-director? 

DC: As an actor in her films, Sofia creates a very non-hierarchal dynamic where you don’t feel this presence of pleasing or failing the director. This always made me feel very trusted as an actor and allowed me to be present in the scene. I think this is because Sofia is very curious and non-judgmental. For MS Slavic 7, Sofia really empowered me by considering my perspective not only on the character but also on the structure and content of the film. This is very egoless on Sofia’s part but I think really shows the priority she puts on discovery in each of her films. For her next film I’ll be co-writing and Sofia will be directing so our roles really adapt to the needs of the film.

AFI: What was the process of expanding the character of Audrey Benac while using the director’s semi-autobiographical story as inspiration? 

DC: The character of Audrey Benac began as a stand-in for Sofia in interactions with her real-life family in Sofia’s first feature, Never Eat Alone. We became interested to know more about Audrey, what fueled her curiosity about her family history, what she was seeking and maybe what she was avoiding. This led us to create a character that has an almost desperate desire for understanding and connection, so much so that it ironically can make her feel lost and isolated. So while she is a vehicle to examine Sofia’s family history and discuss both of our concerns, she has also become a character quite independent of us, with her own set of behaviors.

AFI: Do you have any advice for young actors and filmmakers?

DC: I suppose my advice would be to involve yourself in a filmmaking and film-watching community. Very often as an actor, when you get success it is you alone (or with your management). In the Toronto filmmaking community we watch movies together at the TIFF Cinematheque, we exchange information to assist each other in production and collaborate in different arrangements. So, as our films become more visible, the success is shared which I think is more satisfying but also more sustainable.

MS SLAVIC 7 is screening on Friday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 16 at 12:15 p.m. ANNE AT 13,000 FEET is screening on Saturday, November 16 at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 17 at 5:45 p.m.

Buy tickets now for MS SLAVIC 7 and ANNE AT 13,000 FEET.

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