Screening during the closing night of Portland Film Festival this weekend is Dorie Barton’s “Girl Flu.”, starring Katee Sackhoff. A small movie with a big heart, “Girl Flu.” is a film that aims to show the authenticity in growing up by telling authentic stories of strong women on the big screen – something that is all-too-rare in today’s day and age. The Portland Film Festival runs from August 29 until September 5th. “Girl Flu.” screens at the Laurelhurst Theater September 4 at 7.15 PM (shows screening at PFF after 5.30 PM are strictly 21 and over!).
This is NOT a message piece. It’s a story about a universal experience. But those of us making the film hope to spread a little love and laughter about a subject that rarely gets talked about, but should. We all have to grow up; half of us do it by getting a case of the Girl Flu.
While “Girl Flu.” is the first feature film Dorie helms as writer/director, her on-screen credits include “Meet the Fockers,” “Down With Love,” and she has also worked in theatre for many years. Dorie is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts. We talked with her and actress Katee Sackhoff about “Girl Flu.” before the Portland Film Festival screening to get some insight into this exciting project.
Set in present day Los Angeles, “Girl Flu.” had a 19 day shooting schedule that spread throughout November and December 2014. Written and directed by Dorie Barton, the film is exec. produced by Paul Schiff and Richard Hull. David K. Wilson and Jay Lowi produced, and Katherine Brown co-produced. Its cast includes Jade Pettyjohn (Bird), Katee Sackhoff (Jenny), Jeremy Sisto (Arlo) and Heather Matarazzo (Lili).
“Girl Flu. is a sweet, raw, funny story about what it’s like to have to grow up in one single, humiliating moment.”
All coming-of-age stories teach us that growing up means going through a rite of passage. “Girl Flu.” addresses one of the most universal rites of all: a girl’s first period. There’s never been a film that really deals with how shocking and ridiculous that can be. A little bit Juno, a little bit Little Miss Sunshine, “Girl Flu.” is an intimate, affecting ride-along with a girl and her free-spirited mother as they struggle to cope with what it really means to become a woman.
BSG-M: Where does “Girl Flu.” come from?
Barton: Most films – if they mention it at all – use menstruation as a cruel joke, or something intended to gross out the audience. I felt like this important life transition deserved being explored and how the idea of “becoming a woman” is something that can happen at any stage of a woman’s life.
BSG-M: What was the inspiration behind the story?
Barton: I had a really awful, embarrassing first period. To build the story, I started asking every woman I know about their first period. Every story was different, but there were many things in common. Most women remember what they were wearing (since, you know, blood!) and many talked about a shift between them and their mother. There’s something about suddenly “becoming a woman” that puts a spotlight on the relationship between you and the number one woman in your life. It’s challenging for both mother and daughter to navigate that time, so that’s what the film became about – that relationship.
BSG-M: Can you tell us more about your way of developing and fleshing out the story?
Barton: Things have to percolate for a while for me so that I can sit with all the angles on something. I never want something to “just happen” on film. It all has to mean something, at least to me. I do like to free write on scenes to see where they go, but ultimately, everything in the film was given a great deal of thought, by me, by our production team, by the designers, and by the wonderful actors that made these roles their own.
BSG-M: What would be a “typical day at the office” while shooting “Girl Flu?”
Barton: We had a really happy, smoothly-running set. One of the things that was most fun was the way we inhabited the primary set – The House – and made it feel like home. Before we even started filming, and the house was still being decorated, Katee brought in her own pink flowered record player and a big crate of records from her vinyl collection. Both became part of the movie. Katee and I hung out in “her” bedroom that day, played records and talked about so many things. That almost magical feeling really shaped how the whole shoot felt.
BSG-M: What – to you – is most rewarding about making this film?
Barton: It’s incredibly rewarding to see something that started as just an idea in my mind become something that’s the result of so many artists’ imagination. Each person that joined the team make the film their own, and brought to it something so rich, and so full, so much better than I could have ever imagined.
BSG-M: Katee, did the message of the film play a part in you taking on the role of “Jenny”?
Sackhoff: I didn’t think that her getting her period has anything to do with what the story’s really about, because it’s not. It’s literally the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But these women are on this path way before Bird gets her period at school. That’s just the one thing that makes Bird snap.
BSG-M: What can you tell us about Katee’s character in the film?
Barton: The part of Jenny is incredibly challenging, because it requires the most heavy lifting in the film, in terms of the ability to rapidly swing between states of being, and the work of creating a character that is simultaneously The Problem and one of the film’s Heroes. Katee does an amazing job here because she makes it look so effortless that it’s impossible to see how many balls she was juggling at every moment.
Katee is also not just playing Jenny, who is a very complicated person, but Jenny herself is playing multiple roles. In many ways, Jenny is still a little girl playing dress-up. She likes to have fun and not take life too seriously, because if she does, she fears that her life as she knows it might crumble away. So she plays roles to manage her fears. Her daughter and her boyfriend and her best friend need more of her than she knows how to give, so Jenny tries on different tactics and attitudes to try to cope. Finally, we see her stripped away of all her coping mechanisms, and the end of the film shows us the real Jenny, a person full of love capable of being a great mom and partner and friend. Katee plays this whole, very tricky arc with such a fine sense of all the levels of awareness that you really believe this woman exists.
Sackhoff: … If you leave the movie not liking her as a person, it’s okay. She’s not a role model, she’s not the type of person you can identify with. She’s a woman that’s very lost and she pushes everyone away from her that cares about her, including her own child. She’s just a bit of a lost soul.
BSG-M: How did you get involved with “Girl Flu?”
Sackhoff: I was in Paris when my manager sent the script to me. I read it and thought to myself: I have to do this, but I was terrified because it was a character I’ve never played before. It was out of my comfort zone, like trying to be funny. Or not trying to be funny, I guess that’s the whole point, just being in a scene and it will be situationally funny. I sat down with Dorie for like 2 hours and she realized that I could do it, and I – in that moment – realized that she could help me do it.
Barton: Having seen and loved so many of Katee’s roles, I knew that she could do something that the role absolutely required, and that is playing someone who truly lives in their body. Jenny is a hedonist. She likes pleasure and fun. Katee had never done comedy before but to me that was an asset, because she didn’t ever try to be funny, she just dug into the physical experience and brought the character to life from the ground up. The character is achingly funny, because Katee really felt everything she was doing. It was an incredibly courageous leap for her to take and it pays off in her extraordinary performance.
BSG-M: Is the work of the actors mostly influenced by directorial input or were they allowed to “fly free” at some of their scenes?
Barton: For some scenes, it was just a few words between the actors and me, other times we would crawl into Jenny’s big bed and have long talks about what was going on. I was lucky enough to get rehearsal time with Katee, and Katee and Jade [Bird] before the shoot. Katee’s personal script was the most impressive thing I’d ever seen, so full of notes to herself to track what she was playing in each scene, and what role Jenny was playing.
Sackhoff: [My memorization system] comes from working in television and having to memorize really fast. I circle scenes that I’m in. I go to the front page and write down all the scene numbers I’m in. Then I mark scenes that require a lot of work from me and those that require less work so that I know I can memorize those on the day. Once I get my schedule, the schedule goes to the front of the script as well. So I’m never not 100% memorized and ready for the day.
BSG-M: Katee, What can you tell us about Dorie Barton: director?
Sackhoff: Dorie’s amazing. She’s a lovely director, I had more fun working with her and probably felt more comfortable with her than I have with any other director I’ve ever worked with. She’s the type of person where, even in a short conversation, you can see how warm and how caring she is. That translates on set as well.
BSG-M: She told us something about your record player and vinyl collection:
Sackhoff: I felt that my character would have an old record player and Dorie completely agreed with me so I brought my travel record player and my vinyl collection – or part of my vinyl collection – and it became set dec, so it was used in the movie.
BSG-M: And your fellow cast mates?
Sackhoff: Amazing! Jade Pettyjohn is fantastic. She steals the movie, as she should. It’s her movie. She’s absolutely brilliant in the role. Heather Matarazzo is one of my favourite people. I’ve been a fan of hers for a very, very long time. She’s so funny and has great comedic timing, which can be so hard to be in scenes with her because all you want to do is laugh. Jeremy Sisto:. I’ve had a crush on him since I was 14. Working with him was like a dream come true. Judy Reyes is amazing, huge fan of hers. Every single person in this movie not only delivers great performances but is also kind, and that’s just Indie film making. You can’t have any divas on set because you don’t have the time and you don’t have the money so everyone just has to be a team player and work hard. As does the crew, we had a phenomenal crew. Dorie was by far one of the most patient, kind, supportive, loving directors I’ve ever worked with.
BSG-M: Now that Girl Flu. has screened at a few film festivals, how has the audience reaction been so far?Sackhoff: Reactions so far have been great. We had our premiere at LA Film Festival, which is always such a welcoming film festival because you’re essentially in your home town, so there’s a lot of friends and family in the audience. As far as how it’s been received at other film festivals I don’t know yet, but I’m hoping nothing but good things.
Barton: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly about the actors’ performances in the film. The story itself has seemed to touch a lot of people, both women and men. There are so many roles for women to recognize themselves in, and to recognize the women in their lives. For men, both Jeremy Sisto [Arlo] and Diego Josef [Carlos] provide a way in for them, and for them to feel like they have a powerful part to play in women’s growth by accepting that this is something outside their experience that deserves respect and understanding.
BSG-M: What are the future plans for Girl Flu.? Do you have a release date?
Barton: First, we’ll be doing a run of festivals to reach out directly to our audience, something very important to those of us who made the film. And it’s been something I’ve been looking forward to since I started writing the piece.
BSG-M: What can you tell us about Girl Flu. that you wished everyone knew but people never seem to mention?
Barton: I’m always glad to get an opportunity to express how grateful I am to the people that made this film come to life. To name a few… My wonderful producer David Wilson, who read the script and saw what it could be, and understood the importance of this particular story being represented on film. My amazing DP, Alice Brooks, who went over the script with a fine-toothed comb with me to understand what everything really meant. The incredibly talented crew who made this world come to life. And of course the unbelievably generous actors, who all took a leap of faith on a writer-director who’d never made a film before. They brought the weight of their experience in to support me and support the film and I’m profoundly grateful.
In Katee’s case, I’m particularly grateful that she trusted me with so much, and came to the role with such a generosity of spirit. Jenny is filled with Katee’s open-heartedness and playfulness. She’s both funny and feminine in a way she’d never played before, and the complexity of the role is something that everyone who sees the film takes in on a very deep level. Jenny is mercurial, sexy, childlike, and at times extremely selfish. To play that, Katee was completely selfless. That’s a hard distinction to see on screen because Jenny just seems to be. I want everyone to see this film, in part, to see this beautiful side of Katee, and to see how gracefully she flies without a net.
We would like to thank Dorie Barton, Katee Sackhoff and the entire team behind “Girl Flu.” who made this possible and for sending us the stills and teaser link.
“Girl Flu.” will be screening at the Portland Film Festival next. With 54 narrative and documentary feature films and 89 short films, the fourth annual Portland Film Festival will take place August 29 – September 5, 2016 at the Laurelhurst Theater.
Established in 2013, the Portland Film Festival is one of Oregon’s largest film festivals, and was named “one of the coolest film festivals in the world,” by MovieMaker Magazine. This year, the festival has programmed a near equal balance of films from men and women, furthering the festival’s commitment to supporting diverse voices and visions. New this year, the festival has created a section to screen classic films from the 70’s and 80’s, and will also be honoring two iconic writers, Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke) and William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run).
For the Portland Film Festival’s complete schedule and program, click here
To get tickets for “Girl Flu.” and many of the other great films at the Portland Film Festival, click here
For more information on where “Girl Flu.” will be screening next, check the following links:
As a preview, here’s a teaser to Girl Flu.