Hanna Szentpeteri, film director and (screen)writer, you grew up between New York, Slovenia, and Hungary. You also made a film in Tel Aviv, Israel and studied in London, UK. How was growing up in so many different languages and culturally diverse environments? How did all that contribute to your art?
I think it was the best possible way to grow up. As a diplomat's kid, you get to move every four years, so you have to be open to people, you have to be talkative and polite, otherwise you end up alone. Growing up in this way has made me very extroverted and has taught me many important social skills. Every place you live for a prolonged period leaves it's mark on you, of course. It's always hard to leave, and you never quite know where home is. But that's such a small price to pay for all the amazing experiences you get along the way.
You had a youth theatre group in London, for which you also wrote and directed plays. It's called Act Your Stage. What was the main goal and mission of the theatre group and why did you found it in the first place since you are a film director - how does theatre differ from film?
I founded AYS because I wanted to make plays that were for and about young people. I'm a little obsessed with coming of age films, books and plays, so I wanted to create a space where young people can tell their stories about growing up. Even though I make movies now, my background is in theater originally. I wrote my first play at the HB Playwrights Foundation in New York City when I was 14 years old, before I made any films. I originally thought I wanted to work in theater, because of it's spontaneity and accessibility. You can easily make and put on a play for free, but films require a lot of funding. So it was simply an easier way to get started and get young people involved. Now that I am finishing my masters, I have access to funding so I can make movies too, but I will always love doing both film and play directing.
Recently you made a documentary Band vs Brand (2018) with another non-straight director, Simona Jerala about Slovenian female music managers Eva Kristina Filipčič and Maša Pavoković. What is the message or the main point of the documentary? Is the title itself meaningful to you?
Simona and I made this film to shed light on the music management profession in Slovenia. It's always fascinated me how bands need to be "on brand" and have this pressure to produce authentic content. Managers play a very important role in that and while they help bands thrive, not every band is ready for the commitment that takes, as you can see in the film. Simona and I also related to the fact that Maša and Eva are working in a male-dominated profession like us, so we wanted to explore that.
Your Bachelors short film Sonny and the Lost Room (2015) is about a boy who creates a special place for his deceased brother and all the things he lost. The short film was also screened in Cannes Short Film Corner. Can you tell me where did you get the idea and why it was important for you to share with the others?
When I was in high school, my grandfather passed away when I was 15. It was the first family death that I had experienced. I remember getting upset about this phrase "sorry for your loss" that people say to you when someone dies. I was like "I didn't lose him, he's not going to appear under the couch one day." The phrase really troubled me. So I got the idea then, for this "lost room" where everything you've ever lost ends up- people and objects alike. But I didn't really have the guts to make a movie about it until many years later, when my uncle passed away while I was doing my BA in London. I just thought: This is what my diploma film is going to be about. It's time.
Your short film Marushka (2017) is about a growing teenager who builds her popularity through a web of lies. Why did you choose this topic and what did you wish to achieve in the audience?Marushka is about my experience of being the new kid at the film academy (AGRFT). Marushka is about my experience of being the new kid at the film academy (AGRFT), in a way. As you know, I had been the new kid many times before, but I didn't expect it to be a difficult transition as an adult. Coming to Ljubljana from London was harder than I thought. As an extrovert, I attended a bunch of Academy events in my first year, hoping to make connections, but I felt like I was tapping on a window- I could see everyone, but I couldn't really break the glass between us. (Thankfully, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote a song about exactly this called "Waving Through a Window" for the musical Dear Evan Hansen.) But because films are not real life, Marushka does break the metaphorical window pretty forcefully. She lies to everyone to become popular. I think high school is a weird time in life because you're doing all these adult things, maybe for the first time - like drinking or engaging in relationships, but you're still a kid living with your parents. Marushka circumvents this social barrier the only way she knows how - by making up some adulthood that will probably eventually actually happen. It's an exciting time though because Marushka just got accepted to the Scout Film Festival in Vermont, USA.
Your masters film, Iva, 24 is about a girl finishing college with no prospects for a good future. Is this something that concerns your generation?
Certainly. In the film, Iva works at a fast food bar alongside college, which she hates. She is suffering from depression in the film and feels that even if she fumbles through her degree and manages to finish, her life will not change for the better once she obtains it. But that isn't my brilliant idea, it's a based on a beautiful short story of Alja Debeljak. I just wanted to shine a light on depression among young people, because I think awareness and education is the first step towards ending the stigma around depression and mental illness in general.
However, it is worth mentioning that I was accepted to the film academy with a short film about two lesbians who wish to have a baby. That was supposed to be my masters film. We workshopped it for 1 year at the Academy and I handed in a new edit of the script every week. Regardless, my script was too ambitious for a short film, so I made Iva, 24 instead. I still hope to realise a topic like this into a feature film someday
Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, free, democratic relationships and world)?
Of course. Representation of minority groups has been a serious problem since the media was invented. But I’m happy to say that the awareness about this issue is growing, so I hope to see more LGBTQ+ characters in movies, commercials and TV shows soon that have their own agency and don’t die in the end.
Do you think that sexual orientation of the film director matters in a lesbian and/or bisexual-storyline the same as it matters that transgender actors play in or transgender directors direct transgender story lines?
I think that more LGBTQ+ people should be making media content, that’s for sure. I would actually love to teach a film class specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, to encourage them to tell their authentic stories, so that we won’t only have straight cis people representing us in the media. Having said that, I’m proud that the history of Slovenian Cinema has two feature length fiction films about LGBTQ+ characters and I wouldn’t give that up, even though both directors, Maja Weiss and Nejc Gazvoda, are straight as far as we know. We need fair and respectful representation in the media, and we need it now. If you’re LGBTQ+ and have a story to tell, please write it and make it. Please apply to film schools, get out there, and let’s make diverse content together.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
My biggest inspiration is Miranda July, hands down. She makes amazing films, art installations, plays and writes books. She just really figured out how to use every medium of art to be perpetuating the same distinct vision - most of her work is about trying to figure out who you are, which is very similar to my favorite topic - coming of age.
I am currently writing my first feature film, which is of course also about coming of age, which I hope to workshop this year
Jenna Laurenzo, you are screenwriter, director, producer. You made a debut with the short film Girl Night Stand. What inspired you to make this sweet story about one night stand which revealed to one of the protagonist that she could be at least bisexual?Girl Night Stand was inspired, because I wanted to make a prequel to Lez Bomb, along with something I could use to pitch a TV series. With Girl Night Stand, in particular, I was interested in exploring the character moving through her sexual identity and discovering something new along the way.
You also wrote, Lez bomb movie. Could you tell us what Lez bomb movie is about and what message do you try to send to the audience?Lez Bomb is a comedy about a still closeted young woman who brings her girlfriend home for Thanksgiving, only to have her coming out efforts thwarted by the unexpected arrival of her male roommate. The protagonist in the film comes to realize the acceptance she is fighting for is her own, and the theme I was most interested in exploring through Lez Bomb was self acceptance, not just with the main character, but with all the characters that make up the family and ensemble.
Your feature and short movies belong to comedy genre. There are quite some lesbian comedies but your really tend to be 'light' – what do you try to accomplish by using comedy as genre in lesbian storytelling and in lesbian audience in particular, since Aristotle defined comedy as portraying people who have some character flaws (and thus he defined them as 'ugly'). Namely, Aristotle defined comedy as an imitation of men worse than the average. However, „the characters portrayed in comedies were not worse than average in every way, only insofar as they are Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly.“ This definition is rather odd today and with time it lost its meaning and comedy became only as something to provoke laughter. Romantic comedy which is a very popular genre which depicts romance in humorous terms also focuses on the foibles of those who are falling in love. Do you think your stories coincide with these definitions and if not, why?Yes, I am a fan of Aristotle, though I think his breakdown of storytelling in relation to comedy is representative of the time he lived in. Personally, when it comes to quotes about comedy, I tend to think on Robin Williams quote "Comedy is acting out optimism." I once had a spiritual teacher tell me that laughter was the distance between what we expected to happen, and what happens. I think tragedy is when we hold too tightly to how we wanted life to go, instead of embracing reality. A little distance between our personal struggles allows us to look back through a comedic lens. In life, very often even the greatest of tragedies have comedic moments. I love comedy. I love to laugh. And I love when an audience comes together and shares laughter. In approaching this subject matter through a comedy lens, I hope to tap into the universality of the subject matter, particularly with the family dynamics. I believe comedy provides an amazing access point into subject matters that are often tackled with heaviness through drama. Comedy has the power to invite the audience into the journey, without being heavy handed, hopefully uniting an audience through laughter.
Do you think it is important that lesbian films convey certain values and attitudes, even when it comes to comedy?
You also play in your movies, what is the difference among playing, screenwriting and directing and what do you like or prefer most?Acting, screenwriting and directing all provide an amazing opportunity to dive into storytelling and explore themes, characters and ideas. I don't have a preference, I love them all.
Where/if any do you see similarities and differences in lesbian storytelling in American and European lesbian films?I think every movie is different, continent aside. We tell stories through the lens in which we see the world. Someone making a film in Europe or America is going to tell a story through the lens of growing up wherever they grew up. Maybe if I grew up in California vs. New Jersey my projects would have a different shade! But all films in general are touched by the individual who's telling the story, and hopefully their voice comes through in the most authentic way possible.
What are your plans for the future; you also produce besides directing and playing, which films have you produced yet and why?I am currently developing another feature film and television project. Yes, I have produced, and love that process of bringing people together and collaborating and look forward to continuing to do that!
Thank you so much for your time and for reaching out,
Here is my instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennalaurenzo/
Here's the movie's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lezbombmovie/?ref=bookmarks