American film director, producer and screenwriter Hannah Fidell has directed a succession of coming-of-age films characterized by the mental degradation and self-destruction of protagonists in crisis. Their dysfunctional relationships and trying predicaments are imbued with a stark realism that render them deeply relatable yet wholly subversive, highlighting the weighty notions of illicit love, domestic violence and dislocation explored in her films.
One of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2012, the up-and-coming director first gained inspiration for her debut feature from Kris Swanberg’s poignant drama It Was Great, But I Was Ready to Come Home (2009). The penetrating journey of self-exploration follows two best friends, Cam (Jade Healy) and Annie (Kris Swanberg), as they travel around the costal towns and mountains Costa Rica, a sentimental search for self-understanding embodied in Fidell’s We’re Glad You’re Here (2010), an analogous voyage for self-fulfilment that revolves around the experiences of a young girl, Catherine (Lindsay Burge), who returns to her college town of Bloomington, Indiana from New York, following the economic crisis. She engages in an internal, spiritual exploration and renegotiates her understanding of the world, as well as her understanding of success and fulfilment in life, gradually removed from artificial, external notions of achievement.
Fidell’s second release, The Gathering Squall (2011), a short drama based on the eponymous Joyce Carol Oates’s novel, follows the challenging experiences of a young fourteen-year-old girl, Lisellen Uhlmann (Sydney Hogan), transitioning from pubescence to adulthood. The film continues Fidell’s leitmotif of perpetual frustration and dissatisfaction in life through the protagonist’s problematic process of maturation, manifesting itself in her growing obsession with the opposite sex. Her fixation is partly her response to her distant father, a problem which she tries to remedy through her dysfunctional relationship with a young boy, Duncan Baits (Tyler Serle), ultimately resulting in irrevocable disappointment and a bitter sense of displaced love. Fidell’s involvement in the production of the short, sombre drama, Man & Gun (2011), also explores this sense of emotional compulsivity through the love affair an autistic, secluded, obsessive compulsive man (Tim Harrington) has with his guns, especially his .50 assault rifle, that’s leads him to commit bizarre acts.
Fidell’s breakout film, A Teacher (2013), a psychological drama following Diana Watts (Lindsay Burge), a high school teacher in her late twenties who becomes involved in a clandestine relationship with one of her male students, Eric Tull (Will Britain), garnered Fidell a US in Progress Official Selection Prize at the Champs Elysées Film Festival and the German independence Award at the Oldenburg International Film Festival. Watts’s search for love in an illicit place and the instability, hysteria and frenzy that she develops as her infatuation with the student quickly evolves into a full-blown obsession, is implied to be a consequence of the persisting and unresolved issues she has towards her mother, subtle narratological intricacies which give heed to Fidell’s sensitive and intelligent psychological explorations of realistically convoluted internal struggles. Watts lives in a perpetual dilemma in which she is logically aware that her relationship with Tull is comprising her integrity, yet what she believes to be real love for him prevents her from pulling away, a predicament which Fidell does not attempt to speedily and naively resolve, she leaves it realistically unsettled and challenging.
Fidell’s romantic drama, 6 Years (2015), centring on the relationship of a young couple, Mel (Taissa Farmiga) and Dan (Ben Rosenfield), in the midst of an idyllic love that slowly unravels as sudden developments threaten to tear them apart, marks the second time Fidell has worked with Burge – again taking on the role of an illicit lover. Fidell extends her exploration of dysfunctional relationships and unrealistic expectations placed on one’s romantic partner, through the lovers’ individual insecurities which push them down a stormy path of violence that renders the future of their relationship uncertain. She adopts more challenging subject matter in comparison to her previous films, through the portrayal of domestic violence within the young couple’s relationship, as Dan is ultimately hospitalized for injuries during an explosive argument following the discovery of infidelity within the relationship. The exploration is a clear nod to Fidell’s courageous and authentic directorial prowess, choosing not to shy away from issues that resonate so greatly with viewers and pervade society: “I’ve never experienced domestic abuse, so I wanted it to be relatable and yet still subversive and crossing the line.”
Fidell’s latest film currently in post-production, The Long Dumb Road (2015), proves that she has not slowed down in her bold and progressive examination of deep emotional plights, as she depicts two young men travelling across the West of the US in this exciting new comedy. In comparison to her earlier films, Fidell’s The Long Dumb Road appears to possess a distinctly more hopeful tone, a nod to a promising sense of development and diversity within her body of work.