BY HAZEL REID
After winning the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival and receiving the prestigious Sundance Documentary Fund Grant, American director Liza Mandelup’s debut feature film Jawline has made its way to this season’s NZ International Film Festival’s programme.
We caught up with Liza ahead of her visit down under (where she is holding special Q&A sessions at Jawline screenings in Auckland and Wellington) to talk about embarking on her debut feature film project, telling the story of an aspiring internet personality and the challenges of her job, including releasing her work into the universe and pouring hours into this four-years-in-the-making-movie.
Liza’s past work includes shoots for Gucci x Vogue, Chanel and Dove, Jawline is her first full length documentary. “For me being the director goes hand in hand with bringing together all the people you enjoy working with, who you think are incredibly talented and having them make something original.”
The film follows aspiring internet personality Austyn Tester from his life in Tennessee on a journey to fulfill his hopes and dreams. Liza admitted it was “a huge leap of faith to just go with my gut in the beginning” as the director wasn’t sure where Austyn’s story was going. “I remember when the DP, Noah Collier and I first met with Austyn, we both looked at each other within an hour of meeting him and ‘just knew’ it was our main character.”
Following on from the success of her 2016 short Fangirl, Liza embarked on this feature length journey as she “wanted to follow someone when they first decided they were going to give it their all to become a live broadcasting star.” Talking challenges of this subject, “we had no idea how this would go. You really need to surrender to being along for the ride with this type of documentary. I always would go into the shoot with a sense of openness to whatever happened that day while having an ideal plan in my head.”
Opening up further, Liza mentions that “documentary film-making is about planning what you hope to happen – most of the time none of that happens and you make scenes out of things that happen instead. A lot of our best scenes were things that in the moment I felt like we were getting something that wasn’t part of the story but then when we looked at the footage, we realised we were getting exactly what we needed.”
As Jawline isn’t Liza’s first rodeo into the online world, she shared that it still surprised her “how much honest emotion is wrapped up in this world – a lot of the girls we met felt so genuinely connected to the guys they had been following even though they had never met them. They truly felt like they were closer to them than anyone in their real life.” Liza continued that it shocked her when they captured scenes of the fans meeting the aspiring stars in real life how much “raw emotion [was] pouring out of these teenage girls. There was a lot to unpack there.”
The Sundance Film Festival is known for premiering films that go on to receive critical acclaim and awards and, when Jawline was picked up to play at this years festival, Liza said that moment was “actually a dream come true.” She went on to say, “when we locked picture I sort of felt like everything was out of my hands from there. You get used to being in control of everything while making the film but once we started submitting to festivals, you are not in control at all anymore – the future of your film is up to other people.”
Jawline then went on to pick up the Special Jury Award after it’s premiere, with Liza stating that the whole experience was “pretty life changing. It meant so much to have that platform to premiere the film at and having people at Sundance believe in your film is surreal, they see so much stuff and I’m still shocked they picked us to play at the festival!”
Liza says she hopes that “people will feel like they’ve seen a new perspective” after watching Jawline and now NZ audiences have the opportunity to watch it on the big screen. So what’s next you ask? Well, when Liza isn’t travelling in support of her films, she is currently working on a “series, developing a narrative project and documentary simultaneously. We live in very bizarre times [and] I feel excited by so many things at the moment.”
Jawline is showing at the NZ International Film Festival this August. Liza will also be appearing for a special Q&A sessions in Auckland (1st – 2nd August) and Wellington (3rd – 4th August).
From tour managing boybands to working massive events and interviewing international talent, HAZEL REID is in love with the craziness that is the entertainment industry.
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