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VIFF 2020: Revenge Thriller Re-Examined in VIOLATION [Interview]

By Marina Antunes [09.25.20]


The writing and directing duo of Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer have been working together for a number of years and they're not strangers to difficult subject matter but their feature film debut is a step up in nearly every respect.


Boiled down to its core, Violation is a revenge thriller but one that tackles the difficult subject of sexual assault with a realism and levity that's not often seen in revenge films; This isn't so much a fantasy as it is one woman's struggle to find closure. Also explored are the dynamics of family and sibling dynamics in the face of adversity. Spoiler alert: things are complicated.


Beautifully shot by Adam Crosby and featuring an eerily beautiful score from Mancinelli and Cims-Fewer's frequent collaborator Andrea Boccadoro, Violation is a difficult but rewarding watch which feels very much like a culmination of Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer's work to date.


We recently had an opportunity to speak with Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer's about their feature debut. An abridged transcription of that conversation is below along with the full audio of our conversation.





Quiet Earth: I wanted to start by getting some insight into your move from short films into features.

Dusty Mancinelli: We met at TIFF talent lab in 2015 and we really quickly realized that we had very similar creative sensibilities and we were looking for a collaborator at the time and it was a real organic, natural process for us.

Madeleine Sims-Fewer: We'd both been making our own short films and were kind of just interested to find a creative partner who could elevate and push our ideas.

Mancinelli: Yeah. And so our short films were a really great place for us to develop our visual aesthetic and kind of figure out what kinds of films we wanted to make and what were the themes that were really personal to us. And we discovered through the course of making three shorts, that we were really interested in power dynamics.

Sims-Fewer: Politics, trauma, abusive power.

Mancinelli: Violation is sort of the culmination of all of those thematic threads.

Sims-Fewer: With this film, we were really interested in doing something different in the kind of revenge thriller space. We really love those films, but often there is this kind of cathartic moment of wish fulfillment where the audience cheers and is excited that the main character has got the revenge that they so desperately wanted. In a way, it kind of glorifies the violence and the horror in those films. We wanted to do something completely different. We wanted to instead pull back the kind of gruesome layers of revenge and show the audience what would it really take psychologically, emotionally? How would it erode your moral integrity? And really the film is designed in a way to kind of scare you into not wanting to seek revenge because you can see how destructive and chaotic it is.



The film has a very unique look to it. I'm curious about how you, the conversations that you had with Adam, your cinematographer about, um, you know, the look of the film, like w what were some of your inspirations and what were you kind of looking for? What sort of moods were you trying to elicit?

Mancinelli: Yeah, there's a sort of kinetic energy that's created through the camera movement in the film that I think amplifies Miriam's anxiety. Also, something we developed with Adam across our shorts was this idea of working with all-natural light. So we never use the lights in the film. And that means we have to really strategically design the shooting schedule around dusk and dawn and midday, and really work closely with our production designer, Joshua Turpin in exploring how we use the lampshades and curtains to shape the light. The lighting has this really soft kind of impressionistic quality to it that we were really excited about. We also worked with these really, really old lenses and what they did was create this intimacy that amplifies intimacy in the film. So it's a very shallow depth of field, and it's again creating this kind of dreamy atmosphere.

Sims-Fewer: And also a kind of alienation like the visuals are quite scary and they're quite alienating. The camera is not a Miriam's friend. It's kind of observing her story and her emotional unraveling in a way that does challenge the audience.

Do you think the advent of #MeToo has changed how we as a society respond to these sorts of stories?

Sims-Fewer: I think people are incredibly uncomfortable talking about things like sexual abuse within families and rape when it's somebody close to you. We can talk about statistics that say rape victims who have been assaulted by somebody close to them is so much higher than when it's a stranger. But when we actually get down to the nitty-gritty of looking at what that means, and actually talking about our own experiences and confronting the fact that most people who are assaulted are assaulted by somebody that they're close with, whether it's a friend or a family member or somebody who's a confidant or in a position of power - I don't think people are ready to talk about it

Are going to keep working with these difficult themes or are you ready to take on something a little more lighthearted for the next one?

Sims-Fewer: I think we'll always be interested in films that challenge audiences, but we're definitely, ready to tackle some new themes.

Mancinelli: I think with our shorts culminating in Violation, we feel like this particular chapter has come to a close. We're really excited about moving forward. I think the common themes that will continue to run through our work and that we're really interested in are interpersonal relationships between families and the dynamics between men and women. Hopefully, the films that we make will continue to be visceral, thought-provoking, and challenging.



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