If you’re looking for examples of 21st century independent film icons, you could hardly do better than the trio of Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams. As actors, Sheil and Adams have become reliable onscreen signifiers of indie film cred in films as varied as Happiness, All the Light in the Sky and Always Shine (Adams) and Listen Up, Phillip, Kate Plays Christine and Buster’s Mal Heart (Sheil), among plenty of others. And then there’s Seimetz, who for years has been doing excellent work on both sides of the camera—acting in films such as Tiny Furniture, You’re Next and Lean on Pete as well as directing projects including Sun Don’t Shine and the Starz original series The Girlfriend Experience.
Now the women (BFFs in real life) have teamed up for Seimetz’s critically acclaimed new thriller, She Dies Tomorrow. Following the transmission of a seemingly highly contagious “mind virus” from victim-to-victim—starting with Sheil’s “Amy” and moving on to Adams’ “Jane” and beyond—the film’s themes of contagion, anxiety and lurking death are especially, even uncomfortably, relevant in our new post-coronavirus reality. Nevertheless, the film is surprisingly funny despite everything, excellently deploying the performers natural comedic chops.
She Dies Tomorrow recently screen as part our Film Independent Presents… virtual cinema, followed by a spirited Q&A with Seimetz, Sheil and Adams with Film Independent Senior Programmer Jenn Wilson. You can watch the entire conversation below:
‘SHE DIES TOMORROW’
Humble beginnings. Wilson asked the panelists how they got their start. Seimetz said that as a youngster she aspired to be a doctor before deciding, at the end of high school, “I’m going to be part of the film industry,” much to her family’s horror, she said. Always drawn to the less commercial side of film, she initially resigned herself to working day jobs in order to subsidize her creative efforts. “I just sort of accepted that it was my art form, and I’d figure out how to support myself, because I didn’t really know anyone [in the industry].” This led to gigs as a seamstress and a nanny before she ultimately tapping into her network of friends to start working on sets—both as onscreen and behind-the-scenes.
Mumblecore? Wilson observed that, to a degree, all three women are associated with the “mumblecore” movement of American indie cinema—a subgenre typically characterized by small budgets, intimate studies of young people and a chummy, tightly-knit creative community. Before the filming of 2012’s All the Light in the Sky, Adams was even cautioned by mumblecore majordomo Joe Swanberg that, should Adams collaborate with him, “You’ll never get the stink off of you.” But Adams was unconcerned: “It’s never really mattered to me, the labels other people have, because they always seem wrong.”
COVID-19. Though the movie seems incredibly timely, She Dies Tomorrow was filmed well before the coronavirus pandemic. Wilson asked where the idea for the story came from. “Kate and Jane have heard me explain this a lot,” Seimetz sighed. Adams jumped in: “Put a spin on it!” Seimetz replied, “You know what, I will. Challenge accepted!” She says she wasn’t making a COVID film but she’s glad, whatever the reason, that people are connecting to the work. “It was to touch more on the spreading of fear and anxiety. Sometimes when you talk to friends you feel like a burden—like you’re somehow spreading the anxiety.”
A weird way to unwind. Sheil and Adams agreed that playing such stressed-out characters was strangely cathartic. “It’s such a pleasure to be working. The movie gave me a chance to reflect on my own existential crises, these are things we have already been talking about as friends.” Said Adams, “Anything I didn’t understand, I didn’t care about,” trusting that Seimetz knew what she was doing. Sheil added: “It’s cool to work with Amy because she’s such an amazing actor as well as an amazing everything else. It’s cool working with someone so incredibly talented at the thing you’re trying to do—you feel like you’re in safe hands.”
Performance intensity. The panel also acknowledged the influence of the 1981 psychological horror film Possession on She Dies Tomorrow—especially the performance of French actress Isabelle Adjani, who stars in the cult favorite as woman slowly being taken over (we think) by demonic possession. Seimetz admired how director Andrzej Żuławski “allowed the actor to access something that’s beyond words, something that we’re all trying to attain by performing. It’s so unhinged and unpredictable in this really beautiful way.”
Humor and horror. Wilson observed that She Dies Tomorrow is unsettling, sure, but also really funny. Sheil said she felt like they always make comedies. “It’s a huge part of our relationship—Amy and Jane and I—to find humor in things that are sad.” Said Seimetz: “When dark things happen and the emotion is so raw, things are heightened. Every little absurdity is amplified.”
She Dies Tomorrow was released in drive-in theaters and on SVOD on August 7, distributed by Neon. It’s currently available to rent on all major streaming platforms. Learn more here.
Film Independent Presents is supported by Lead Sponsor the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Official Partner Vision Media and Promotional Partner KCRW.
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