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Interview with Amy Wendel - Director of All She Can

by Melissa Silverstein
August 4, 2011 2:48 AM
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In All She Can Luz wants to get the hell out of Benavides, Texas. The way she can get out is either through the Army or through a weight lifting scholarship to college. Her brother is in the Army and she has seen his dream of college disappearing and that’s not for her. So she’s going to lift her way out. Read more.

Co-writer and director Amy Wendel answered some questions about the film by email.

Women and Hollywood: How did you come up with the story for All She Can?

Amy Wendel: My husband and I saw a 60 Minutes segment about a small South Texas town, called San Diego, that had lost two of its youths in the first months of the war in Iraq. We were intrigued by the description of this town’s population as not only 98% Mexican-American, but also typically fourth or fifth generation American. We wondered what this community’s version of America might be like, and what options their children might have beyond the military – which dominated their school job fairs. I went down to San Diego and nearby Benavides without any preconceived notions of what I might find. I sought out people to interview – teachers, reporters, students, longtime residents, soldiers, and clergy. The first student I interviewed was on the women’s powerlifting team. I said, “The what team?” I was hooked. Every interview thereafter was like another door opening on a new world. Dan and I eventually crafted a story that incorporated the information and issues we found most compelling in these interviews.

WaH: How typical is Luz' story of other young women (and men) in Texas?

AW: In South Texas, many high school seniors from small towns struggle with limited college options. There was a kind of joke that the four employers at the career fair were the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Due to a State policy designed to combat segregation, UT Austin must accept the top 8 percent of every graduating high school class. The policy provides a tremendous opportunity for rural students, but they cannot all afford to go. Loans are increasingly replacing grants, and their families may already be in debt. At the same time, many of these kids are the first in their family to attend college and don’t have the confidence to be far from home or to compete academically against the top students from urban areas. If they don’t make it through college, they can end up back home with loans to pay, no earning power a degree would provide, and few careers to choose from.

WaH: You were able to show the line of desperation to get out and how that becomes an overwhelming pressure on these young kids for a better life. Talk about how you were able to create that dynamic.

AW: We didn’t really create the dynamic, we simply noticed it and explored it in interviews and script workshops with local high school students. The script grew organically from the research. No matter where you live, that moment of high school graduation brings with it the pressure to decide what will come next. For kids not used to dealing with many options, however, the stakes involved in that decision feel higher and the margin between success and failure feels slimmer – and that might actually be the case for economic and/or social reasons.

WaH: Luz is not a perfect heroine. She screws up. That's really refreshing to see in a young woman. Talk about how you created this character.

AW: The film touches on the pains we all go through when we make those difficult transitions from child to adulthood. And about making really bad choices because we want something so much. Who hasn't done that? We tried to capture that desperation in Luz and in her surroundings, but her world is not desolate – things are not that simple. There is plenty of warmth coming from her family, coach, and friends. Sometimes we’re just unable to appreciate that kind of support when we’re afraid we can’t make do without it.

WaH: How did you find the actress to play Luz?

AW: We had very talented casting directors, Brock Allen Casting, based in Texas. They found Corina Calderon, and I was immediately intrigued by her because of some interesting choices she made in her audition that suggested a deep understanding of, or connection with, the character we had in mind. Corina is from South Texas and brought a look and feel unique to that area, but it was a combination of soul searching and hard work that propelled her performance. She truly embodied Luz.

WaH: Your film premiered at Sundance in January and now it is about to open in markets across the country. Tell us a bit about the journey from Sundance to release?

AW: Sundance provides an amazing opportunity to introduce your film to its audience and to the industry at the same time. Maya Entertainment expressed its interest right away, and we feel they are a good fit for the film. We were fortunate to have a wonderful festival life after Sundance and all those opportunities to screen the film and interact with audiences really informed our work with Maya in preparing the film and promotional materials for the commercial release. We are thrilled the film will be seen in theaters and on other platforms – but even more thrilled that the final film remains so true to our original vision.

WaH: I noticed that you developed, wrote and directed this film and that's the way you have been working for some time. Talk about why this process works for you.

AW: I've always been aware that no one is going to hand a new director money, a good script and say, "Here, go make this movie." I had to either write my own material or hire someone (and that wasn't an option). As a second time feature director, that's still not going to happen. So, we'll continue developing and writing. One of the great things about this process is that I've lived this material for so long that I have a firm grasp of the story and the visual images before we even start shooting.

WaH: What do you want people to get out of this film?

AW: I hope they will see a part of themselves – a moment when the difference between what they want and what they are capable of is the perseverance required to make it happen one way or another. It’s a world that many of us have never seen before, and I hope many will find it interestingly different, and yet thematically familiar. No matter what culture we’re from, we all can get passionate about following our dreams.

WaH: What advice do you have for female filmmakers?

AW: Stick to your guns, and find some confidants in the industry - even if it's only one.

WaH: What's next for you?

AW: A romantic comedy called JANEY LIVE set in a small northern Minnesota town involving another unique sport!

All She Can opens Friday Aug. 5 in San Antonio at the AMC Rivercenter 9 at 7:25pm and in San Diego (CA) at the Ultra Star Mission Valley at 6:15pm. Screening times vary each day and can be found here. The film is currently planned to continue traveling with the Maya Indie Film Series to Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and Dallas, with those dates and times still to be determined.

The film also became available on Video On Demand in many areas served by Warner Cable or Comcast via InDemand. The DVD release is currently scheduled for mid-September.

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