This week I spoke to film director Shanna Riker about her new short film The Leap, a modernised retelling of an ancient Native American legend from the 1600’s. But first I asked what made her want to become a film director in the first place. “I have been a life long cinephile as well as a writer for as long as I can remember. For many years I had planned to be a famous actress, but upon moving to New York City I quickly learned that I hate auditioning,” Shanna said. “I knew that there was a writer/ director living inside me. I wanted to tell stories from the female lens and join the revolution happening in the film industry. I want to take audiences on journeys and allow them to feel the way I feel when I watch the films I have loved and cherished my entire life.”
Her latest short film written by Sarah Taylor is based on the ‘Indian Leap’ story. The legend revolves around the warring Narragansett and Mohegan tribes during the 1600s. In an effort to save his life, Chief Miantonomo of the Narragansetts, leapt across a gulch to escape Chief Uncas and his Mohegans. Making it across, Miantonomo was able to evade his pursuers for a moment, until ultimately being captured a short time later on. The film however is a modern tale of two young lesbians growing up in small town. When one of their ex boyfriends doesn’t take kindly to their relationship he decides he needs to “fix” them. When the whole town begins to shun them they have nowhere to turn but to each other.
“This story is important, because young LGBTQ teens need to feel safe. They need parents who will love and accept them and not shun or push them away.” Shanna explained when I asked why she thinks a story is so poignant right now “I believe this is a perfect film for modern times. The lives of these teens need to be normalised and their stories need to be told.”
As with any production The Leap came with its own set of highlights and struggles. “This was my first time directing something I had not written and also my first set where I wasn’t basically the entire crew, so having a crew was a blessing,” Shanna said. “I was nervous going in to be a 35 year old woman who had to direct with a male DP and AD, both 23 and both had been to film school. However, it was an incredible experience. Where I was lacking in “technical” knowledge they were able to essentially ‘straighten my crown without telling the world it was crooked.’ We were an amazing team and I will continue working with both of them.”
“Also we were filming at this beautiful waterfall, Yantic Falls in Norwich, CT, which is where the writer, Sarah grew up.” She continues, “It was wonderful to walk to set everyday an be surrounded by amazing nature however… We were filming at a waterfall and though it was beautiful, it was not ideal conditions for filming. I don’t recommend it, for audio purposes, and also the unpredictability of the scene.” For Shanna the low/no budget film production became a bigger bonding experience with the people in her crew than perhaps she expected due to some personal hardship. “It was a rough time of year for me. We were filming around the anniversary of my Mom’s death. I didn’t want to tell them that, but at some point I cried in the arms of almost every person on set because I was trying desperately not to break.. I bonded with each of them on a level that I’m not sure happens often. We all connected and became a family.”
Shanna has plans to submit the finished film to festivals in New York and Connecticut as well as some of the larger festivals like SXSW and Out Fest. On top of this she hopes to get the film into smaller communities to really spread the message to as many people as possible. “I hope that upon watching this film, someone feels the need to hug someone they have mistreated. I hope that a parent will call their child they haven’t spoken to since last Christmas.” She said, “I hope a young LGBTQ teen will find the courage to come out to someone. I hope that at least one male with toxic traits will feel something deep down inside begging him to do better. “
FOLLOW SHANNA RIKER
INSTAGRAM | @Theleap_film_official | @Shannariker