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SXSW: Sister Aimee

On May 18, 1926, celebrity evangelist Sister Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared. Presumed drowned in Ocean Park Beach, Santa Monica, the news of her disappearance caused a national frenzy. Just as her devoted followers were ready to mourn her death, she resurfaced over a month later claiming that a woman named Mexicali Rose and a man named Steve kidnapped her and held her hostage. When she returned, the story of her escape raised some eyebrows and while Sister Aimee stuck to her story there were many who didn’t believe her tale. A case was brought against her in court but eventually dropped. What exactly did happen to Sister Aimee?

This story is 5-1/2% truth… the rest is imagination.

Written and directed by Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann, Sister Aimee is reimagines the events that happened during her disappearance. Based on truth, the film is primarily fantasy that blends elements of a period piece, a Western, a road trip movie, an LGBT love story and even features a climactic musical number. Anna Margaret Hollyman stars as Sister Aimee. Frustrated with the trappings of fame, she decides to fake her own death and runaway with her love Kenny/Steve (Michael Mosley). The two go undercover and travel to Mexico to start a new life together. Kenny hires Rey (Andrea Suarez Paz), a tough-as-nails Mexican woman who serves as their bodyguard and guide on the treacherous journey ahead. Along the way, the trio meet a variety of nefarious characters. Juxtaposed with the road trip scenes, is the investigation into Sister Aimee’s disappearance and the affect on her religious following. Aimee and Rey eventually get arrested and must plot their escape. 

If you’re looking for a Aimee Semple McPherson biopic, this is not it. Instead of a period piece about a fraudulent evangelist, I got a lesbian road trip movie instead. And let me tell you I was very happy with this. I attended the SXSW premiere of the film, settled into my seat, had a couple of mojitos and went along for the ride. Sister Aimee is my favorite film I saw at SXSW. Set in the 1920s, one of my favorite eras, with strong female protagonists and plenty of Latino characters… I was very happy with the end result! 

“As a Latino coming into a project… a period piece, it’s something that rarely happens. Apparently we didn’t exist back then… To have the freedom to not speak in an accent, when you speak in English or Spanish for the character… for me it was pretty revolutionary… [the directors] were very free to let the person be the person and not the stereotype.”

Luis Bordonada

Aimee is a complex character who evolves as the story progresses. Rey is just a bad ass through and through. I developed a massive crush on her. If I’m getting too personal in this review it’s because this film spoke to me on so many level and I can’t separate my emotional reactions enough to write an objective review. I just loved this movie. It does start off a bit slow but picks up. The performances, especially from Paz and Hollyman, were fantastic and Hollyman’s music and dance number is the highlight of the film.

Director-writer duo Schlingmann and Buck are partners in work and life and I wonder how much of their relationship worked its way into the script. In a Q&A after the SXSW screening, Schlingmann said the idea to make the film came to them from Anna Margaret Hollyman, who starred in their short film The Mink Catcher, who was interested in L.A. local history. The filmmakers did research and found the perfect subject for their debut feature-length film. 

For those of you, like me, who are very particular about period detail, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The finger waves were a little too ironed on for my taste but I thought the costumes and the sets were on point. It was shot on location in Austin, TX and seeing it in that city added something special to the experience.

Sister Aimee is a brilliant road trip movie centered on empowered female characters and reimagines an obscure event from early 20th century American history.

Sister Aimee screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Festival Favorites series.

Interview with Jamie Reed, Costume Supervisor for The Vast of Night

The Vast of Night recently premiered at Slamdance and won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative feature. Set in 1950s New Mexico, the filmfollows two teens as they uncover a secret frequency that reveals an otherworldly presence in their small town. You can read my review of it here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Reed, the costume supervisor for The Vast of Night. I love how she curated a wardrobe that was authentic to the era and visually appealing to modern audiences. I hope you enjoy learning about her work and how she styled the actors in the film!


Raquel Stecher: Tell me a bit about your background in fashion. 

Jamie Reed: I’ve always had an interest in fashion but didn’t really consider a career until I was almost out of college. I went ahead and finished my Government and Legal Studies degree and put law school on hold (what I had originally planned) while I pursued some fashion interests. I initially considered a design program but decided to start a personal shopping and styling business to see how I liked it. I mostly worked with individual clients but started doing a little media work as well. Both of my brothers work in television and is occasionally help them on projects. Over the past 15 years I’ve worked as a stylist both full-time and part-time while working other jobs. I now consider it mostly part-time as I also run a women’s lifestyle magazine, Splendry

Stecher: Congrats on The Vast of Night which recently premiered at Slamdance. How did you come to be involved with the film?

Reed: I’ve known Andrew [Patterson], the director, since college and have worked with him on several other projects over the years. When he approached me about this film he assured me it would be a small project, but by the time shooting began it had definitely grown! It ended up being a really great project and one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences I’ve had in my career.

Stecher: With the 1950s setting, what did kind of research did you do before curating/designing the wardrobe?

Reed: I spent a couple of months just researching 1950s fashion before purchasing anything. My goal was to be as accurate as possible and I had definite guidelines for what I did and didn’t want. I pulled yearbooks and browsed old photos online. I wanted this to be a realistic depiction of small town dress at this time. Andrew had a few ideas for some characters and I would show him photos to get a feel for what he had in mind. We’ve worked together enough now that I typically know what he likes and when I do need to push him in a direction he trusts my instincts and usually gives me my way.

Stecher: Were the clothes used in the film vintage, new or a mix of both?

Reed: It was a mix. The lead characters played by Sierra [McCormick] and Jake [Horowitz] wore all new clothing. We needed multiples of their clothing so vintage wasn’t really an option. Piecing together 1950s looks with new clothing was a fun challenge. For other featured characters and extras it was a mix of vintage and new. I did a LOT of thrift store shopping, buying vintage pieces on Etsy, and my assistant on the movie, Michelle [Harvey], actually had a collection of vintage clothes that she shared with us. Many of the featured extras are in great pieces she owned.

Stecher: Did you find inspiration from any films from the era?

Reed: I can’t remember if what watched any films or not, I mostly stuck to finding yearbook photos and newspapers. I was wanting to approach the look of the movie from a small-town “regular people” perspective. I’m from a small town and I know that the fashion trends tend to make their way to town a little slower.

Stecher: The basketball game scene at the high school is really where we get to see the wide array of 1950s fashion in the film. How did you approach dressing the cast and extras for that scene?

Reed: Pulling off this scene was quite an organizational feat and I had several helpers who kept things running smoothly!

I started shopping for this scene months before shooting. I probably visited every Goodwill store in the Dallas/Fort Worth area at least once. Knowing we could have hundreds of extras to dress I needed to be prepared with lots of basics. For women I knew pencil skirts and cardigans were a safe bet so I grabbed as many as I could get my hands on. I also collected dozens and dozens of men’s dress pants and suit jackets.

Luckily the boys basketball uniforms were manufactured by an outside company so I really only needed to worry about cheerleading and band uniforms when it came to the specialty clothing.

While we alerted extras of dress suggestions, we still had hundreds who showed up needing clothing. With the time constraints to dress people we had eventually we had to stop pulling clothing and then I worked to place people in the stands so we could make sure to get the best overall image. We did the best we could with the time we had and I think it was executed well.

Stecher: Tell me about dressing the two leads. Sierra McCormick has a great ensemble and I love Jake Horowitz’s look especially with the cardigan.

Reed: I got lucky in the fact that the movie all takes place over one night, so just one outfit for each! Andrew [Patterson] had some ideas in mind and I worked to find a variety of items to try. Once Jake and Sierra arrived we had some try-on sessions before settling on the chosen outfits.

Once they were set I purchased multiples of all items, in case of wear and tear over the entire shoot.

Sierra’s look consisted of a full skirt with ribbon hem, a blouse (ordered from a school uniform company), and tied ribbon. The outfit was completed with ankle socks and classic oxford shoes.

For Jake, Andrew had an old photo of a 1950s DJ he was inspired by. Many months after shooting I realized the final outfit we chose was spot on to the photograph, down to the stripes on the cardigan! I’m pretty sure I found that cardigan at a Gap outlet store near where we were shooting in Texas.

Stecher: My favorite element of the costume design is those vintage eyeglasses McCormick, Horowitz and other members of the cast wear. How did you decide on that look?

Reed: The eyewear was actually part of the art department’s doing! We initially tried to order frames for some cast members but the vintage pairs the art department secured ending up looking the best. This was great for me because I didn’t need to keep up with any glasses during the shoot! All someone else’s responsibility!

Stecher: How do you think the wardrobe contributed to the overall film?
Reed: The wardrobe, along with the art department and hair and makeup definitely set the foundation for the film. My goal going into the project was to do my best to not distract from the film with inappropriate clothing. I wanted the viewer to be caught up in the acting and dialogue and not noticing a new pair of Nikes on some extra walking by or something like that. I wanted everything you saw on screen to be spot-on to that time. 
There are definitely some period films where fashion is front and center. You’ve got gorgeous gowns or specialty apparel, but for this particular film, the scenes needed to look so, normal, that you wouldn’t even notice most of the outfits. 
I knew this was going to be an ambitious project and I’m very fortunate to have had the backing of Andrew and others in the film to trust my research and shopping skills and let me go in and do what I do. I was also fortunate to have a great on-set assistant in Michelle Harvey, we made a great team. 
Stecher: Do you plans to work on more films in the future?
Reed: I hope I have some more opportunities. I love the work I do with Splendry, but my styling work and costume design is something I never want to give up. If the right projects come along I’m sure I’ll be ready. 

You can find Jamie Reed on her website JKStyle and on Twitter @JKStyle1. A big thanks to Jamie for taking the time for this interview!

Slamdance: The Vast of Night

“You are entering the realm of the clandestine and forgotten. A split screen caught between channels.”

Set in 1950s New Mexico, The Vast of Night follows two teens as they uncover a secret frequency that reveals an otherworldly presence in their small town. On the night of Cayuga High School’s basketball game, Everett (Jake Horowitz) the local radio DJ who has a knack for technologies, meets up with Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator. Fay asks Everett to teach her how to use a tape recorder. Fay hears a strange noise coming from one of the phone lines and she captures the sound on tape. When Everett plays it on the air, the two learn that something is amiss in their community. Billy (Bruce Davis), a retired military worker and Mabel (Gail Cronauer), a homebound widow, both reach out to Everett with their stories of secret military experiments and extraterrestrials. Everett and Fay are on the run to uncover the truth behind these stories and why the aliens are targeting their hometown. 

Directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, The Vast of Night is a dialogue driven drama. Rapid-fire chatter mixed with slow, methodical storytelling drive the plot forward. Not much happens in the way of action and the story’s tension comes from increased paranoia and the uncovering of a supernatural mystery.

“The Vast of Night an exercise in people telling stories to each other. Drawing you in detail by detail.”

director Andrew Patterson

While the dialogue is key to the film, I found there to be too much of it. Cut away 25% of the chatter, especially in the beginning of the film, and I wouldn’t have felt like I was drowning in dialogue. The real appeal for me was the science fiction element with an emphasis on mid-20th century technology: radios, tape recorders, audio reels, switchboards, telephones, etc. There is also retrofuturistic vibe with the discussion of the year 2000 and “electronic highway control.” All the characters wear period appropriate clothing and vintage glasses. Some of the scenes are filtered through a blue-tinted television screen adding to the retro vibe. McCormick and Horowitz were convincing as the curious, technology loving and seemed plucked right out of the 1950s.

The Vast of Night will appeal to fans of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Twilight Zone. The heavy dialogue can be exhausting but if you have the patience to get through it you’ll be rewarded at the end.

The Vast of Night had its world premiere at Slamdance 25.

TIFF Review: Colette


by Raquel Stecher

dir. Wash Westmoreland
starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough,


Colette was a woman ahead of her time.

Wash Westmoreland’s biopic follows Colette (Keira Knightley) from the age of 18 to 34; the pivotal years when she was married to writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, also known by his nom de plume Willy (Dominic West). Colette starts her married life as a dutiful wife, helping Willy out with his business which involves hiring writers to create stories to be published under his name. Willy is a complete cad, spending the family finances on prostitutes, in gambling dens and treating others to expensive meals. When Colette tries her hand at some writing to help Willy out, the Claudine novels are born. Published under Willy’s name and not hers, these stories become the toast of Paris. As Colette begins to discover her authentic self, Willy finds himself losing control over her. We follow Colette’s trajectory from spunky country girl to fully realized woman and creator. She comes into her sexuality discovering her physical attraction to women. As Colette and Willy’s relationship falls apart, she falls for Missy (Denise Gough), a woman defying society by presenting as a man. Through her personal and professional relationship with Missy, Colette blossoms and finds the strength within herself to live courageously.

“My name is Claudine, I live in Montigny; I was born there in 1884; I shall probably not die there.”

The first line of Claudine are repeated throughout the film as a declaration of identity. And that is what this film, a story about discovering your true self.  Colette is a superb character study exploring gender dynamics and politics within the confines of deeply entrenched double standards. The real life Colette challenged sexual norms while finding her agency. Her message of female empowerment is desperately needed today.




The idea to bringing Colette to the big screen came from Colette herself. In conversation at the Colette press conference at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, Westmoreland said he and the late Richard Glatzer found Colette’s story to be  “a compelling narrative of a woman creating while a man was taking credit.”

As someone who loves a good period piece, Colette was rich in period detail. The cast wore real costumes of the era and scenes were shot in historic buildings. This imbued the film with a great sense of place and time. The part Colette fits Keira Knightley, no stranger to period pieces, like a glove. At the press conference she proclaimed, “I stood very tall when I played Colette. She was a maverick.” Colette is quite bold for a period piece. Comparing it with the relatively tame period pieces of previous decades, this movie demonstrates that you can still tell a story about the past that is provocative and interesting to contemporary viewers. Westmoreland went on to say, “for a long time period pieces have gotten a reputation for being a kind of safer genre. But I think at the moment there is something happening with period pieces that are radicalizing.”

Westmoreland found many parallels to Colette’s turn-of-the-century France with modern day. It was an era when people were questioning gender roles and women were demanding more access to power.  Westmoreland collaborated with screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who added the necessary female insights needed for the script. Actress Denise Gough called the casting one of the most progressive that she’d ever been involved with. Westmoreland went on to say:

 “With the casting we tried an approach that I don’t believe has really been tried before of having a very inclusive cast. We have trans men playing cisgender characters. We have trans women playing cisgender women. We have an out lesbian actor playing heterosexual. We have our gay actor playing someone who said he was heterosexual, we’re not quite sure. And we have Asian British actors playing characters who were historically white. We have a black actor playing someone who in history was white. And guess what? It all works. And these have been sacred rules for so long…. Colette broke a lot of rules so we though we should too.” – Wash Westmoreland




Colette is in select theaters starting today.

I attended a press and industry screening as well as the press conference for Colette at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF Review: Tell It to the Bees

by Raquel Stecher

Tell It to the Bees
dir. Annabel Jankel
starring Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger

“You should tell the bees your secrets. Then they won’t fly away.”

Set in 1950s Scotland, Tell It to the Bees is the story of two women who must face a society that isn’t ready or willing to accept them. Dr. Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) has returned home to her small town to take over her father’s practice. A secret about her past still lingers among the tight knit community. Jean meets Charlie (Gregor Selkirk), a curious young boy who is fascinated by the bee hives Jean keeps on her estate. Back at home, Charlie’s mother Lydia (Holliday Grainger) is going through a rough patch. Charlie’s father Robert (Emun Elliott) has abandoned the family, her sister-in-law Pam (Kate Dickie) is suspicious of Lydia’s every move and Lydia isn’t making enough money at the local mill and is facing eviction. When Charlie comes home with a bee-keeping journal and a novel Jean has gifted him, Lydia confronts Jean to discover the doctor is a kind woman and not a meddling man. The two quickly bond and when Lydia and Charlie are eventually evicted, Jean hires Lydia as her housekeeper. Behind the closed doors of the estate, Jean’s attraction for Lydia grows stronger and her desire to pull back weakens. As the two become intimate, whispers and rumors begin to circulate in the village. In an era where their relationship is not only frowned upon but illegal, can Lydia and Jean stay together? And what will happen to Charlie if they do?

“This town is too small for secrets.”

Based on the novel by Fiona Shaw, Tell It to the Bees was adapted to the screen by sisters Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth. In an interview with director Annabel Jankel, she remarked that she was drawn by “the power of generosity to fulfill another person’s potential.” Lydia and Jean are two female characters who are lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. Resiliency and compassion is what drives Jean to pursue medicine in a town that won’t have her. Lydia’s the extrovert to Jean’s introvert and she shows Jean how to be free with her emotions. And for what it’s worth I appreciated that the Lydia and Jean were working women and not bored housewives.

The general theme of secrets and lies runs strong in this story. It’s the main conflict for the story’s narrator Charlie who is grappling with major changes and doesn’t know how to process the actions of the adults around him. It’s refreshing to see a child character who is curious and receptive and an integral part of the main story and not just a sideliner.

A secondary story follows Lydia’s sister-in-law Annie (Lauren Lyle) who is in an interracial relationship with a young man. When she becomes pregnant, her disapproving brother Robert and sister Pam try to “fix” the situation. It’s a reminder that while that era had many beautiful aesthetics the cultural mores could be quite ugly.

The bees are another character in the story and add an almost fantastical element. The close up shots of the bees are stunning. They pulsate with energy and you can feel that coming off the screen. In the film they react to the goings on in the human world around them and at one point even intervene on behalf of some of the characters. About the bees director Jankel says, “I felt an added kinship with the supernatural cinematic quality that the extraordinary world of the bees could provide, for an audience, both visually, and sonically.”

Tell It to the Bees is a sweet indie film with a tender heart. Paquin and Grainger deliver beautiful performances as their polar opposite characters. My only small criticism of what is otherwise a beautiful film is that I felt there was a lack of sexual chemistry between the two leads. However, I appreciated the fact that their sexual relationship wasn’t the focus of the story. And thanks to the women writers and the woman director we don’t see a lesbian love story as a male fantasy. Rather it’s a deep and meaningful relationship that transforms the characters and allows them to grow as persons. If you get a chance to watch Tell It to the Bees, take it! I hope this film finds its audience.

I attended a press and industry screening of Tell It to the Bees at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.


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