The feminist fever dream Mayday premieres this past week at the Sundance Film Festival and writer-director Karen Cinorre joined stars Grace Van Patten, Havana Rose Liu and Soko for a chat with Collider as buyers circle the acquisition title.
Mayday is a bit hard to describe, but Cinorre likens it to “a modern Wizard of Oz about a young woman who’s trying to find her voice.” She elaborated further, explaining where the inspiration for the film originated.
“It came partly out of my obsession, as a girl, with The Wizard of Oz, I think, and always wanting to kind of make a better one. Not that there’s anything wrong with the movie, but I always felt sad that Dorothy came back and they were like, ‘oh, you didn’t really go anywhere at all. You should’ve stayed home.’ And I just thought ‘no, no, she would be transformed when she came back,’ and I think that was in the back of my mind, so when I set out to create a story about a young woman coming of age, that was there.”
Cinorre also drew from ancient Greek mythology, as the four main characters in Mayday act as sirens of some sort, luring men to their deaths. “It’s where woman are most unapologetic and formidable and powerful, and the center of the story,” said the director, who noted that “the myth of the siren is still with us today.”
Van Patten plays the protagonist, Ana, and said she fell in love with the script for many different reasons. “I thought it was so magical and metaphorical and relevant, and done in such a fantastical way… Ana needs to find her inner strength, and she does, and I thought it was so hopeful and inspiring to see that, and to give people hope when they watch it,” said the actress, who added that “the idea of working with all women was [also] exciting to me.”
Liu credited the script for “exploring the power in femininity,” and said that she saw her character as “a manifestation of Ana’s inner child who can provide hope and love, and truly has hope and the desire to make some change within the structure Ana is escaping.” Liu is an activist and fashionista who makes her feature acting with Mayday, which proved to be a cathartic experience for her, as she felt like she could heal her own trauma by being part of the project.
Liu also offered her own take of the film, which can be seen as open to interpretation. “It could be seen as the death of second wave feminism. It could be seen as a path towards a more nuanced understanding of gender binaries. I think all of that within the feminist conversation is something that Karen really drums up symbolically in this film, and I think it can spark significant conversations about where we’re headed in terms of feminism and as a society, and where we’e been, and what the fallout has been from where we have been, and where we can go. Nothing for me is without symbolism in activism, but that could also just be my personal read on the film,” explained the NYU grad.
Meanwhile, Soko also praised Cinorre for making the cast “feel safe and empowered.” The French singer-turned-actress explained that she’s personally terrified of guns, and that the use of guns was a really big issue for her when she first read the script, but the director helped her make sense of it all. “I didn’t want to shoot guns, and then we did, and it was really hard for me. I felt like I had a weird PTSD experience, and it was very hard to overcome, but all the conversations I had with Karen were very reassuring. She’s very anti-gun and anti-violence, and [she explained] how the movie isn’t about this, it’s about the power of these women,” recalled Soko, who signed on to support Cinorre “in her first effort to put something very special and different out in the world.”
Oscar-nominated actress Juliette Lewis co-stars in Mayday, and when I pressed Cinorre and her cast for comment, everyone seemed to light up, especially Soko. “When I read the script, I told Karen right away — and I wasn’t even sure I was being cast — ‘hey, that character… did you think of Juliette Lewis, because she would be perfect,’ and she was like, ‘actually, yes!’
“I didn’t think of her while I was writing it,” said Cinorre, “but when I was done and it was time to cast, I thought, ‘who’s more badass and we-need-to-save-the-day than Juliette Lewis? It was so obvious that she was the right person for this part. I reached out and she read the script and the next thing I knew we were on the phone,” recalled the director. “We needed someone iconic for this woman, and there’s no better badass than Juliette Lewis.”
However, even Lewis was no match for the fierce wind that Cinorre and her crew faced while filming in Croatia. “I learned there are 30 different kinds of wind there, and they each have a name. One actually came in and demolished one of our sets, and that was pretty dramatic,” Cinorre lamented, though the cast seemed to have a great time filming overseas, with Soko making good use of a Croatian farmer’s market where she picked up some lavender honey.
Mayday wrapped production just a few months before the pandemic hit, and Cinorre expressed gratitude for being able to make the movie, and make it in a big way, before being forced to turn her apartment into an editing studio. Like her cast, she’s bummed they couldn’t celebrate the film’s premiere together in Park City, but she’s glad that Sundance chose to carry on virtually in the face of such adversity.
Cinorre has been making short films and other videos for a long time, so she has worked on a lot of sets over the years and paid her dues in the industry. “What brought me here was opportunity,” said a grateful Cinorre, who’s excited about some of the changes happening in Hollywood and the larger film industry. “I’m certainly seeing things that I haven’t seen before, and it does feel like things are opening up in a really incredible way.”
That said, there are still plenty of women who were never able to live their dreams, whether they wanted to become a director or something else entirely, and Cinorre has not forgotten about them. “I deeply dedicate this film to all the girls I know who didn’t make it, and I want everybody to feel that even in the darkest of times, there is a way you can survive and find your voice, and lot of it has to do with friendship.”
As for what’s next for the director and her leading lady, Cinorre said she has three scripts ready to go, including “a rather pandemic-friendly one,” but that right now, “we’re just trying to figure out the landscape of how to work in this new world, which won’t be the world forever, but I’m thinking of pivoting from a much larger canvas. Mayday is an explosion, and the next one will be about extraordinary women too, but it’ll be more of an implosion.”
Meanwhile, Van Patten will soon be seen in Hulu’s limited series Nine Perfect Strangers, which she seemed particularly excited about.
“It’s a crazy little story. It’s about a wellness retreat that Nicole Kidman runs, and nine strangers come together. I’m there with my parents for grieving purposes, because I’d lost a brother to suicide three years prior, so we’re going for that, and everyone else is there for specific reasons, and all hell breaks loose. It’s funny, it’s sad, it has a little bit of everything, so I’m very curious and excited to see how it turns out,” said Van Patten.
Buyers have expressed interest in Mayday, so stay tuned to find out how and when you can see the film.
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