Despite her exotic first name, Juanita Wilson is all Irish, born and bred in Dublin, where she lives with her producer-husband, James Flynn. That said, the director isn’t afraid to venture far afield in search of the stories she wants to tell.
Her Oscar-nominated debut short “The Door” was shot in Ukraine and in the Russian language. Her first feature, “As If I Am Not There,” which premiered at the Toronto film festival last fall, is a Bosnian war drama that unspools in a mixture of former Yugoslav languages, plus a smattering of Swedish.
Both stories deal with tough subjects, inspired by true events, and pack an emotional punch. “The Door” is about a man laying his daughter to rest in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. “As If I Am Not There” is the harrowing story of a woman who takes a teaching job in a small village and ends up getting sent to a concentration camp.
Both films combine Wilson’s desire to tell real stories about the resilience of the human spirit with a passion for vivid image-making drawn from her training as a fine artist.
It took her a long time to find her vocation as a filmmaker. After studying as a sculptor, she trained in arts management and then as a journalist. She developed and produced two Irish films with Flynn, “H3” and “Inside I’m Dancing,” before she decided to try directing.
“There’s nothing to prove, even to yourself, that you can do it,” she says. “You convince others that you can do it, and then you find out if you were right.”
The acclaim for “The Door” and “As If I Am Not There” vindicated her self-belief, but her next project marks a move in a different direction. “It’s easy to reproduce the same emotions; I want to challenge myself to try something else,” she explains. She’s developing “The Ones You Do,” an American novel by Daniel Woodrell (“Winter’s Bone”).
“It’s a lovely story, very much character-based, with a lot of humor, about a family, all looking for love and dysfunctional in their own way,” she says. “In an ideal world, I’d like to move between genres and engage as large an audience as possible.”
Homebase: Dublin, Ireland
Inspired by: “The Kiss of the Spiderwoman” — “I found it very moving,” she says.
Richard Ayoade | Daniel Espinosa | Ed Gass-Donnelly | Elgin James | Patrick Lussier | Baran Bo Odar | Andre Ovredal | Denis Villeneuve | Juanita Wilson | Jason Winer