Wiltonian's film makes Manhattan Film Festival debut

Since 2011, former Wilton resident Ila Duncan has directed two independent films: I Hate Tom Petty and Janie Charismanic.

The 23-year-old creates the films with her father, Woodson Duncan, and together, they have created the Wilton-based independent film company Judith Studios.

“It’s always a little challenging to work with family, but I think overall, I’m really lucky to have him,” said Ms. Duncan.

“I think we are able to work pretty well together and create some really meaningful work.”

The first micro-budget film Ms. Duncan directed, I Hate Tom Petty, was part of an online film festival called The FreeStyle Life Film Exhibition, and it also received the Accolade Award of Merit in 2011.

Ms. Duncan’s most recent indie film, Janie Charismanic, however, is not only a winner of the 2013 Accolade Award of Excellence, but it has also been selected to be screened at the 2014 Manhattan Film Festival on June 27.

“It’s really exciting to have the film featured at the festival,” said Ms. Duncan, who moved to Manhattan last September.

“I think it’s great that we have a chance to show it. I mean, the Manhattan Film Festival is not a huge name, but I think it’s pretty well known in the industry.”

Founded by independent filmmakers, the Manhattan Film Festival is dedicated to developing and discovering new ways to help individuals pursue careers in film-making.

“It’s going to be a great networking opportunity and a great chance just because it is in Manhattan and it’s so central,” said Ms. Duncan. “Hopefully we can get a lot of new people to see it.”

The film

Janie Charismanic is a 101-minute film about a woman named Janie, who Ms. Duncan described as a “down-and-out rock star.”

“She’s getting a little older, but she’s not slowing down or maturing the way that her friends are,” she explained.

“She’s pushing people too far; she’s burning bridges and she basically ends up completely burning out and needing to find work.”

Janie, played by New York-based actor Josie Marie Smith, ends up working in an office job she hates. Anthony Marks, another New York-based actor, plays her co-worker, Kevin Shasta.

“Janie sort of withdraws into herself until she meets a co-worker named Kevin, who shows interest in her and tries to pull her out of her shell,” Ms. Duncan said.

“Janie starts getting back into this rock star persona and she sort of brings out a wilder side in Kevin, and they sort of feed off each other and things get a little crazy.”

Ms. Duncan said Janie Charismanic, which took about a year to make, is more character-driven than plot-driven — “not super plotty or super suspenseful” but more focused on character relationships, she said.

Ms. Duncan said her goal for Janie Charismanic was to explore the relationship between Janie and Kevin.

“We just wanted to look at this woman who’s trying to remain true to herself, but her external circumstances aren’t letting her, and how she has to deal with that and get back to who she was,” explained Ms. Duncan.

“It gets a little bit more complicated than that, but it’s really a character study.”

The director

Ms. Duncan became interested in film after taking some film classes while attending Wellesley College.

“I then started talking to my dad about film analysis and how important film can be as a medium,” she said.

“He had some concept that he had been thinking about for years. He’s a songwriter, so he sort of wound the story around his songs, and he wanted to make a movie to tell his story and to give me some experience in film-making.”

As a director, Ms. Duncan said, her goals and interests have shifted the more she explores film.

“Most of the big movies tend to be very homogeneous, and I’m really interested in the importance of female characters and a variety of characters with different experiences,” she said.

“I think both films feature interesting female characters, but in future projects I want to be even more conscious of trying to get a diverse group of characters together.”

Ms. Duncan said “balancing the need to stay on schedule and wanting to get things right” was a challenge while making Janie Charismanic, “but for the most part, we were able to get everything that we needed to get done on time.”

Another challenge was in the editing room, said Ms. Duncan.

“It’s a little bit disappointing when it doesn’t necessarily come out exactly as we hope, but we’re finding more and more that with just a little bit of effort, you can go back and fix things,” she said.

Since moving to Manhattan, Ms. Duncan has been working on various film sets, mostly in the art department, “as a way to be on set and try to learn through osmosis,” she said.

“I get to see what other people are doing and get a better idea of what it’s like to work with a bigger crew — a more formal production.”

Ms. Duncan said she is thinking about looking into editing as something to do in between film projects.

In addition to Janie Charismanic being an official Manhattan Film Festival selection, Ms. Duncan said she is also excited that I Hate Tom Petty recently became available for purchase online.