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Monday, September 9, 2019

A Conversation with Filmmaker Michelle D'Alessandro Hatt

Photo By LV Imagery
Toronto-based filmmaker Michelle D'Alessandro Hatt followed her heart when she was young and had dreams of working in theatre. She performed onstage as an actress and behind the scenes as a playwright. Before long, cinema came calling and she was cast in independent films like the 2015 award-winning comedy "Guess Who’s Not Coming to Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner?," the 2017 dramatic short "Friends on Facebook" and Justin McConnell’s 2018 "Lifechanger." As a producer, she's co-produced several theatre productions and over 50 video productions. 

In 2018, she made her directorial debut with the short film "Brave Little Army."  The first of a trilogy, the film follows a group of girlfriends from grammar school through adulthood as they develop a bond and support each other in times of difficulty. The film has been shown at festivals all over the world, including Basilicata, Italy, the region of her family's Italian origins.

I spoke with D'Alessandro Hatt about her beginnings, the inspiration behind her wildly successful directorial debut and what it was like to bring her work back to her Italian roots.

You've had a successful career as an actress. What made you change gears and begin directing?
 As I played more and more roles in independent films, I eventually found myself envisioning the stories I wanted to tell through a lens rather than on a stage. That’s when I made the leap to filmmaking.

How did the story of "Brave Little Army" come about?
Four years ago I had the idea for a feature film about the reunion of four lifelong friends that turns into the perfect crime. As I developed the script, I realized there was an opportunity to have two short prequels, showing the women at different stages in their lives. Brave Little Army is the story of how the girls meet at age twelve, and the second short film in the trilogy is set ten years later, when the young women are at college. The feature takes place 20 years later.

What I really appreciated about the characters is that they all supported each other in the end. That's an important message because is a lot of competitiveness, especially in the film industry. What did you intend the message of the film to be? And what was your reason/motivation for wanting to communicate this message?
Thank you. I agree that it’s important to show girls supporting one another. It's starting to get better, but it's true that young women have often been portrayed in movies as mean-spirited and competitive. I wanted to show that girls can be a great source of strength and love for one another.

"Brave Little Army" set photo by Sarah Zanon

As you have origins in Basilicata, tell me about the significance of having your film shown at two film festivals there. Just from seeing your posts on social media, I can tell that it was a very moving experience for you.
Yes, it was an honour to be included in both festivals in the beautiful region where my grandparents are from, and so meaningful to be able to screen my film with so many of my Italian relatives in attendance. I also loved being able to showcase Basilicata on my social media channels as it is a gorgeous part of Italy many people don't know about and don't think to travel to.

Speaking of your Italian origins, do you feel that your Italian-Canadian point-of-view has impacted your films and the way you tell stories?
I grew up listening to stories about mystical, otherworldly happenings in my grandparents’ home village of Pisticci. Tales of werewolves and vampires, of prophetic dreams, and of people traveling to the other side and then coming back to life. I think this family folklore has instilled in me a sense of fantasy and theatricality that I tend to infuse my projects with. Even most of the plays I’ve written have had a surreal element to them.

In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing women directors?
I’m only a first-time director, so my experience is limited, but from everything I've learned from women at all levels of the industry, the challenges are similar to other male-dominated occupations: it's challenging to get work, to be paid, and to be taken seriously...and there’s also the challenge of being classified based on one’s gender at all. On one hand, there’s a desire to highlight women directors to increase their visibility and chances of being hired, and on the other, there’s the assertion that singling out female directors marginalizes them even further. We don't say  “male directors” so why do we call ourselves “female directors”? I can understand both points of view. 

What advice would you give to young women wanting to become directors?
Don't wait for permission from anyone and don't be afraid to fail and learn - just go for it. We need your stories.

Any plans for the future that you can talk about?
I can’t wait to shoot the second film of the trilogy, which I’m hoping to do within the next year. In the meantime, I’m writing when I can and thoroughly enjoying sharing Brave Little Army at festivals. I feel so grateful for every screening and audience.

In an update, the film has just become available online. Click here to stream it, and follow Michelle D'Alessandro Hatt's production company, Black Lab Films, for all the latest news.. IMDbFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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