Wylie Writes’ One-On-One with Elizabeth Lazebnik

Be Still, an experimental biopic on Canada’s trailblazing photographer Hannah Maynard, educates and hypnotizes viewers.  Thanks to filmmaker Elizabeth Lazebnik, Be Still channels Maynard’s creative vision and offers viewers a very special perspective.  Eager to know more about the movie, I contacted Lazebnik to pick her brain.

Addison Wylie: When did your fascination with Hannah Maynard begin?  What about her and her groundbreaking work holds your fascination?

Elizabeth Lazebnik: It began over 20 years ago.  By chance, I found a book with Hannah’s photographs at York University’s Library when I came to Canada and was pursuing my BFA there.  I wanted to learn more about Canadian art and was simply browsing books at the library.  I was drawn to Hannah’s self-portraits with her doubles, especially one image that includes her, her double, and her grandson looking at his own double, which is cut in half.  It sparked my curiosity about the story behind that photograph.

AW: Do you feel similar innovation that Maynard tapped into is being channeled by current creative artists?

EL: More so in visual arts.  I feel that we could definitely see more innovation in feature-length films.  Perhaps it’s because there is encouragement to be more creative with the short form, but then there is a fear to continue being as innovative with features because more funding is involved.  Unfortunately, this tendency toward safety often leads to less captivating and adventurous cinematic experiences.

AW: Piercey Dalton is exceptional as Hannah Maynard.  What character work was involved in creating her portrayal?

EL: We actually cast Piercey very close to the production.  It took us a while to find our Hannah, but Piercey was amazing.  She sent us a self-tape, and it became immediately clear to us that she was perfect to portray Hannah.  She agreed to work with us right away, and we discussed Hannah’s story, the time period in which she lived, and the history of photography.  We even managed to do a couple of rehearsals!

AW: The movie has a really interesting look and sound to it. For most of Be Still, the viewer genuinely feels like we’ve sunken into Maynard’s perception of the world around her; which can sometimes play altered tricks with her mind (and ours).  How did you come up with this unique, almost genre-bending, style?

EL: Hannah was the first surrealist photographer, and I thought it would be fitting to create a film that is also surrealistic in its form.  Most of my work has an experimental edge to it, and I wanted to ensure that this isn’t lost in the feature film.  I am also autistic and process information a bit differently, so this type of exploration, both visually and in terms of sound, makes sense to me.  The sound design was created by Joshua Hemming, who is also my husband, so we worked on it at home, allowing us to discuss ideas and try them out immediately.

AW: Do you feel the modern movies you watch take full advantage of sound design?  I feel horror filmmakers are on the pulse (NopeSkinamarink) but Be Still, being a biopic with experimental tendencies, makes a case that there’s still much more range to be explored in other genres.

EL: I strongly believe that modern films are not fully tapping into the potential of sound design.  We should not hesitate to experiment and convey the inner worlds of the characters we explore on the screen.  Sound has an enormous impact on humans and, to me, it is equally as important as the image.  There are countless ways to use sound to immerse the audience in the world on screen.

AW: Be Still has screened in Victoria, and will screen for one-time-only in Vancouver on January 17th after hitting VOD/Digital HD tomorrow (Jan. 16).  What does the theatrical experience offer moviegoers who may be waffling back and forth between seeing this in the theatre?

When we were making Be Still, we envisioned it for the big screen.  We aimed to create an immersive audio-visual experience, and seeing it on the big screen will better convey what we intended to achieve with this film.  It will hopefully absorb you further into the world of Hannah Maynard.

Read Addison Wylie’s review of Be Still here!


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