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10 Directors to Watch: Elizabeth Wood Takes Intense ‘White Girl’ to Sundance

Columbia grad drew her Sundance-bound directorial debut from journal entries about her own extreme adolescence.

Elizabeth Wood likes intensity. Just take a look at her movie “White Girl.”

The writer-director’s gut-punch of a narrative feature, debuting in competition at Sundance this year, follows a young, hedonistic college student’s increasing desperate attempts to get her new boyfriend out of trouble with the law. Along the way, the movie, which stars Morgan Saylor (“Homeland”), offers an unflinching look at the juxtapositions and frictions of race and class that happen every day in contemporary New York, as well as the extremes with which young adults flirt in pursuit of a good time.

“I’ve got intense sensibilities,” Wood says. “I just like to feel things. My goal isn’t to shock, it’s to be real and authentic. Which can sometimes be shocking.”

Wood started writing “White Girl” — based on incidents in her own life — when she applied to Columbia U.’s screenwriting MFA program. (She graduated in 2013. “It was murder, but it was good for me,” she says about the experience.)

By that point, she’d already moved away from more experimental short films into documentary, including the nonfiction feature “Wade in the Water, Children,” which grew out of footage from a documentary class she’d taught New Orleans kids in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (Her husband, Gabriel Nussbaum, co-directed and produced that one, and serves as producer on “White Girl.”)

She still has the first words of the story she wrote down. “It was in my journal,” she says. “I framed it. Even while it was all happening, it felt like I was living in a movie.”

Wood’s next film, “Spiritual Crisis,” is also drawn from her own life, as is another screenplay she has in her back pocket. She’s also at work on a documentary about a graffiti artist and painter.

— Gordon Cox

Age: 33
Influences: Larry Clark, Todd Solondz
Agency: CAA

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