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Sundance: ‘The Tale’ Filmmakers on Sexual Abuse Drama: ‘The World Is Ready to Look at This Difficult Subject’

Initially launched at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, global luxury group Kering kicked off their fourth season of Women in Motion talks by bringing the series to the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The start of this year’s ongoing forum saw award-winning filmmaker Jennifer Fox and her producer Laura Rister engage in a discussion on gender equality in the film industry, as well as the current climate on sexual abuse.

Moderated by Variety’s New York Bureau Chief, Ramin Setoodeh, the event unfolded with Fox sharing anecdotes on how she came to make “The Tale,” her first narrative feature after a thirty-five year career in documentary, and an entry in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance.

Based on Fox’s own childhood sexual abuse, “The Tale” follows Jennifer, played by Laura Dern, whose mother, portrayed by Ellen Burstyn, discovers a story her daughter wrote at age thirteen detailing an unusual relationship with two adult coaches.

Fox’s process to break the story began with what she described as a traditional narrative on what had happened to her as an adolescent in 1973. Eventually becoming bored with what she felt was a very obvious subject, Fox desired to radicalize her process. “What I was really interested in was the way I had constructed the story around that event,” she declared. The story morphed into what Fox called a dialog between the present and the past, in which we see Dern’s Jennifer track down various people from her childhood to help fill in what occurred.

“Each person she finds triggers a new version of the story in the present,” Fox said.
 When considering the filmmaking process as therapeutic, Fox was quick to reject the idea as being so simple, elaborating that her life as an artist was about turning herself inside out. “Yes, this is a journey I’ve taken, but I don’t want to make it special because it’s a memoir.”

When addressing the current momentum of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, Fox and Rister agreed that bringing their film on sexual abuse to this year’s Sundance was kismet with the moment at hand. “I think the world is ready to look at this very dark and difficult subject,” Fox said.

Rister and Fox then mused on what would guarantee more women in directing and producing roles in the industry. 
Rister stated that women must have a strong balance of patience and tenacity in getting their work out there.

“Filmmaking is an incredibly rigorous art,” Fox added. “We have to take some male characteristics and go forward despite the fear.”

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