8 Female Filmmakers: Audrey Berteaux on ‘Too Like the Lightning’
This story is part of a series of interviews spotlighting eight local female filmmakers in collaboration with the Cindependent Film Festival. Read more female filmmaker stories and thank you to everyone who came to support the inaugural Cindependent Film Festival! Stay tuned for our recap on this incredible event.
The first thing you notice about Audrey is her glowing smile as she enters the Rohs Street Cafe on a bustling summer weekday. She is almost effervescent with her energy as we move to a space outside for the interview. With her easygoing nature, she wouldn’t strike the average person as being a driven powerhouse of creativity who has returned to Cincinnati from an ambitious journey throughout the country. But she is, and we’re lucky to have her back as she gears up to showcase her directorial debut with “Too Like the Lightning” during the Cindependent Film Festival this month.
Interview by Courtney Reynolds. Photography by Angie Lipscomb.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?
So I’m originally from Cincinnati. I grew up here. I went to high school at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. I’m the daughter of two professors at Xavier University; my mom runs the sustainability department and my dad is a musician, so they ended up with a sustainable- and artsy-oriented kid. I went to undergrad at Butler University and worked as a professional actress in Chicago for a little while. From there I moved to Washington, D.C. to go to grad school and went to – the longest name in the entire history of school names – The Academy for Classical Acting at the Shakespeare Theatre at The George Washington University. So I studied Shakespeare – that was sort of my thing. I went to New York for a little bit and eventually sort of came to the conclusion that I really wanted to do more of my own thing. I loved performing, and I still do that, obviously, but I wanted to be able to speak my own truth a little bit in a deeper way.
We wanted to be creating work that had vision and that felt immediate and needed.
And so, myself and two of my colleagues – David Mavricos and William Vaughn – decided to form our own company, which is Walterhoope. I think that was born out of two things: 1. We wanted to be able to connect with our audiences on a deeper level, and 2. We wanted to be creating work that had vision and that felt immediate and needed. So I think that was sort of the impetus for creating Walterhoope, which is the company that produced the film “Too Like the Lightning.”
So then we were looking for a home. We didn’t really think of Cincinnati, at first; we were thinking, “Should we move to Asheville?” We didn’t want to be in New York or D.C. because those communities already have a lot, you know? It’s already sort of inundated with small arts organizations and nonprofits and things like that. We wanted to be somewhere where we really felt like we were making some sort of difference. So we ended up producing this event, “The Macbeths,” here because a friend of mine is a chef; we were collaborating with her and she had a venue and we were like, “This will be great. We’ll do this event in Cincinnati.” It was sort of a “Walterhoope meets Shakespeare.” So we wrote two-thirds of it and then we sampled Shakespeare for the rest of it. It was designed like you were going over to someone’s house with food, a farm-to-table meal, and it just went so well – so far beyond what I could have expected. Everyone was so receptive to it. And I felt that we had achieved those two goals that we had set out to achieve, and the Cincinnati community totally charmed us. And we were like, “Never mind. We actually want to move back here,” which is not something I had ever seen myself doing, being from Cincinnati, but it just became really clear that this is where we were supposed to be.
I guess the last thing I’ll say is the thing that makes us really unique is that we choose the medium that suits the subject matter of the story best. So while we started out as a theatre company, when we started working on [“Too Like the Lightning”] – originally they were a series of poetry – the stage didn’t really feel right. We felt the medium best for that was a series of short films, in a series of five different styles, with five very different women, to really express the breadth of that experience a certain way. So yeah, we choose whether it’s dance, whether it’s poetry, whether it’s film, whether it’s theatre, whether it’s something else entirely – we choose whatever medium fits the story.
Yeah, you never know what it’s going to be and your brain has to function on so many more levels. So while I have been in films as an actress, [“Too Like the Lightning”] is the first film I’ve ever directed, produced, or worked on as a filmmaker. So that’s really exciting for me and I will certainly be doing more of it.
So that’s a perfect segue: Tell us about the film.
So the #MeToo movement was happening and I was feeling really unsure of how to participate in that. I have so much admiration and so much respect for the folks who came out over social media and shared their story and their truth. And basically like every woman, I am also #MeToo, but for me it wasn’t the right way to participate in that movement. And so I was really feeling like, “We have this company and I don’t think we can stay silent, so how do we participate in this in the best way?”
I really feel like everybody is an artist and you don’t have to have that label on yourself to create something.
My friend and colleague Teresa Spencer [wrote] the poetry. She’d been writing these poems and it started because she had somebody holler at her, you know, out of a truck window as she was driving, and she was super shocked – she almost got in a car accident. She had to pull over and she thought, “What do you want out of this? What do you think is going to happen? Like, I’m going to pull over and we’re going to go to a nice dinner, and live happily ever after?” So out of that trauma, she is like, “What if I followed this through to this imaginary conclusion?” Which of course was the birth of these sardonic or satirical love poems to street harassers. When I read them, I thought, “This is so brilliant. She takes this subject matter that is so traumatic for women and turns these men into clowns. It takes all the power away from these men and says, ‘You are a buffoon; you are ridiculous.’” That was so appealing to me and so from there, I was thinking, “How can we represent every woman that could ever exist as best as we can?” Because no matter where you’re from, no matter what you look like, as a woman, street harassment is inevitable. Dealing with that everyday violence doesn’t get taken as seriously. So in echoing all these realms of experience with different kinds of women and situations, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if each of the films was in a different style?” And so we had various filmmakers we look up to: Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson – the blend of those two was sort of my inspiration for “Tinder.” Every text in that film was an actual text that was received by a woman.
Every one of the stories in the films is 100 percent true; we just sort of blew up the scenario to be larger than life. The first one, “The Shouter”: A woman is running and it’s sort of the traditional scenario where you’re running and in your own world and someone jumps into your world so aggressively, sort of like “Twin Peaks.”
Yes, that sort of jarring experience out of nowhere.
Exactly, and the red room and how everything is distorted. So we started brainstorming these different styles and different ways these women would be in situations that are larger than life in the same way that the poems are, because we really wanted to do justice to her words and highlight that as best as possible since the writing is so incredible. So that’s sort of where we came from for those films.
So how did you get involved with the Cindependent Film Festival?
When we had a very informal showing of the films at an event at People’s Liberty in March, we had this overwhelming response from women. First of all, we had everyone laughing hysterically like moments of pathos. The fourth film sort of takes it to a darker place and we realized people were connecting with the work and actually starting to come up to us to share their stories. I even had someone come up to me and say, “I didn’t know I was #MeToo until I saw these stories.”
That is incredibly powerful.
Yes. We don’t realize it’s not just the really dark stuff, you know. God forbid being raped or sexually harassed in a physical way, but it goes beyond that in our culture. So that was very, very interesting to see that kind of awakening happen with all different people that were there. That’s when we thought we could reach a broader audience and, being very community focused, we thought, “Does Cincinnati have a festival?” So that’s when we found this festival, submitted, and pretty quickly after heard from Allyson [the founder], and now we’re here.
Do you plan on submitting to more festivals or sharing these to a wider audience?
Yes. Our plan is to submit to more festivals this year, and also the films will be available to the general public. We’re talking about how we want that to happen. And we’re talking about having an interactive website (my colleague, Dave Mavricos, is a tech wizard) where women could almost create their own short poem to a street harasser. Or, I don’t know if you know the band Arcade Fire? You know when they released “The Suburbs” they had that interactive music video? So along those lines. At the end of the day, we are looking for how we can engage with our audiences deeper than just, “Here’s this thing.” I really feel like everybody is an artist and you don’t have to have that label on yourself to create something.
What other female filmmakers do you look up to?
That’s a great question. You know, there aren’t enough female filmmakers in the forefront and to be brutally honest, it’s very sad, as I don’t think I have a role model who is a female filmmaker. Like, I’m not someone who is a total film nerd who knows all the people, and I didn’t come out of a film school, you know. There’s no woman who stands strong and obvious to me in the public spotlight growing up, which seems ridiculous.
Since you were an actress, what actress has inspired you?
Well, you know, Meryl [Streep], obviously. She’s amazing and I think she’s also just shown women that they can have a deep career beyond just 35 and you’re done. So I have always looked up to her and followed her career really closely. She’s had such interesting life experiences with men trying to tell her who she is and what she should do and how she should behave in the world of film, and she just kind of showed everybody up. I really respect her for that, having a family, and just being really grounded.
Explore the rest of our female filmmaker series here, and thank you for joining us in celebrating independent film in Cincinnati.