Miu Miu Women’s Tales is back at the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days section for the seventh year with its 15th and 16th female-directed shorts that explore life through the female gaze. The global fashion brand created its shorts program in 2012, featuring work from such filmmakers as Zoe Cassavetes, Lucrecia Martel, Massy Tadjedin, Ava DuVernay, So Yong Kim, Agnes Varda and Chloe Sevigny.
This year’s offerings feature actress Dakota Fanning’s directing debut, “Hello Apartment,” which premiered earlier this year during London Fashion Week, and “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter” by writer-director Haifaa Al-Mansour, whose breakout feature “Wadjda” in 2012 was Saudi Arabia’s first foreign-language Oscar entry. “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter” will premiere at Venice on Sunday, Sept. 2, followed by a screening of “Hello Apartment.”
The program will also include panel discussions with Fanning and Al-Mansour as well as Bel Powley, Alison Sudol, Gugu Mbatha Raw, Kristine Froseth and Sadie Sink, moderated by The Gentlewoman editor-in-chief Penny Martin.
Al-Mansour is looking forward to going back to Venice, which is where “Wadjda” premiered. “It’s really sweet to go back with a similar story.” Both films feature a young girl faced with a dilemma due to Saudi Arabia’s stringent gender rules. “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter” takes place in Saudi Arabia where a performer sings for fancily dressed women at a wedding party until an electrical problem cuts her performance off. Her daughter’s quick thinking gets the show back on track just as the wedding party arrives.
The opening of the film features glamorous high heels stepping out of cars, but with women covered by traditional black abayas until they enter the wedding hall, where they are surrounded only by other women and can reveal their beautiful gowns and dance freely, away from the male gaze.”Saudis love fashion,” says Al-Mansour, who revealed that a Miu Miu collection inspired the 1980s-set story. “They sent me pictures of their latest collection and it had this ‘80s flair — the big hair, the big shoulders — and it made me think about how it felt to grow up (in Saudi Arabia) during that era,” she explains.
Al-Mansour had been aware of the Miu Miu Women’s Tales shorts before the fashion house reached out to her about directing one. “I’ve always loved Miu Miu and Prada, so when they said they were interested in having me direct one of their Women’s Tales, I was really excited,” she says. “I’d been following the series, all amazing filmmakers that I respect and admire. When I pitched them the story, there were very supportive and really wanted to protect my vision.
Al-Mansour, who now lives in Los Angeles, will soon be heading back to Saudi Arabia to shoot another feature, “The Perfect Candidate,” there under very different circumstances than her first film. When she made “Wadjda,” she couldn’t been seen actually directing the film. “I wasn’t really illegal, but it was really underground,” she recalls. “Now things have changed a lot, so it’s exciting to go back home and be part of the change.”
Fanning’s “Hello Apartment,” written by Liz Hannah, who co-wrote Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” is about a young woman’s life as revealed through her apartment. It stars Eve Hewson, Tom Sturridge and Christina Rouner.
Fanning has long been a friend of the fashion brand so when they approached her to make a short film, she was ready to jump on board.
“I’ve wanted to direct something for a long time, ever since I can remember. It’s the only other thing (besides acting) I’ve wanted to do,” she says. “They held a spot for me to direct. I was so scared, but I felt very safe doing it with Miu Miu and Mrs. (Miuccia) Prada. They are so supportive and creative. I feel so blessed that my first experience directing was filled with such freedom. I was able to tell whatever story I wanted how I wanted and they were just there to help me along the way.”
The story of “Hello Apartment” took on more poignancy for Fanning as she arrived in Venice on Saturday. She’d just moved out of her first apartment after seven years the day before. “I said goodbye to it for the last time yesterday; Goodbye apartment! I’m still feeling emotional about it,” she says. Fanning wanted to capture that feeling in her short. “It’s about how our memories are connected to the spaces that we experience them in. It was inspired by living in that apartment, becoming more independent as each year went by and becoming a young woman. I moved in at 17; I’m leaving at 24. I wanted to capture that feeling in the film.”
Fanning would like to do more directing, but that will have to wait for at least a year because of all the acting jobs she has lined up. “I definitely have the desire,” she says. “Making ‘Hello Apartment’ was such a taste of what it’s like. It was very eye-opening. I feel I still have things to learn and things I want to build more confidence in before I move on to a feature, but that’s my goal.”
Miu Miu Women’s Tales backs two shorts a year. Max Brun, who produces the shorts, says the filmmakers are given a great deal of freedom over their projects. “They are almost free to do whatever they’d like to do,” he explains. Each filmmaker is given the same budget. Production takes between four and five months. Brun notes how increasingly important the Women’s Tales project has become for the global film industry. “I know that the movie industry is more male than female,” he says. “Thanks to Mrs. Prada, this adventure is becoming stronger and stronger.”
Directors for next year’s 17th and 18th films have not yet been decided. Previous shorts are available for viewing on the Miu Miu website.