April Mullen: Positive Word of "Mouth" Lands Director at TIFF
By David DeRocco
To truly understand the passion Niagara Falls-born filmmaker April Mullen has for her work, you need look no further than her answer to this question: if you were offered your dream job directing at the same time you were offered your dream job acting, which of the two would you take?
“Both, I would make it work,” laughed Mullen, a beacon of positive energy who has, along with numerous accolades from the film industry, just earned her place as an inductee on the Niagara Falls Arts and Culture Wall of Fame. “Director and actress, I would push them both to work. I am absolutely in love with everything about the entertainment industry. And what I love about directing is that I get to work so closely with actors. So I feel very fulfilled no matter what side of the camera I am on.”
Success on both sides of the camera has become a hallmark of Mullen’s career, which began in 2000 when she was cast as a “teen lover” in the campy Tim Meadows comedy The Ladies Man. Since then, the former Miss Teen Niagara has emerged as a film industry triple threat thanks to her ever-expanding credits as producer, actress and director. Known throughout the industry as an innovative maverick, Mullen’s impressive celluloid cred includes directing the cult classics Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser and Dead Before Dawn, along with more recent fare like 88, Farhope Tower and Badsville. However, it’s the upcoming film Below Her Mouth that has the buzz around director Mullen at an all-time high.
Starring androgynous Swedish model Erika Linder and Canadian dancer-turned-actress Natalie Krill, BELOW HER MOUTH is a bold, uninhibited story that chronicles the passionate connection and emotional fallout of a weekend lesbian love affair between Dallas, a roofer, and Jasmine, a fashion editor. Shot in Toronto with an all-female cast and crew, Below Her Mouth makes its World Premiere as part of a Special Presentation at this September’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). That exclusive designation from TIFF organizers has the normally unflappable director jacked with delight.
“I am still really excited, the shock of being a part of the festival is still setting in,” said Mullen. “I wake up with a lot of excitement and butterflies, because I’ve been applying to the festival since the beginning of my career. It’s really exciting to finally have the opening weekend and premier the film. I’m absolutely thrilled to finally be sharing this with audiences.”
Given that her past directorial efforts often involved carnivorous zombies, violent greaser gangs and femme fatales seeking revenge, Mullen knew she was in for a challenge when presented with the emotionally charged script from writer Stephanie Fabrizi. True to form, however, Mullen jumped at the chance to bring what she calls “an important film” to life on the big screen.
“It was a completely different genre than I had ever been involved in as a director,” said Mullen, who is credited as the first female to ever direct a live action stereoscopic 3D feature. “So going into it I had done all my prep work which is locations, costumes, casting, the shot list, all the regular things. I was really prepared. But then there was a moment going into it where I thought, wow, there is definitely going to be some major challenges in trying to find the reality between these two girls and this very fragile spark felt between two people when they feel alone in this bubble.”
Understanding the intimate nature of the subject matter and the torrid scenes needed to be filmed between Krill and Linder, Mullen says she had one primary objective as a director: to create an environment in which the two actresses could best explore and reflect the deep emotional connection discovered by their characters.
“It’s hard to bring about that kind of feeling when you’re surrounded by 50 people on a set with cameras in your face. I was really aware going in that was going to be my biggest mission. As soon as we started rolling nothing mattered more to me than allowing these two actresses to feel completely isolated to the rest of the world, and feel completely present with one another and feel safe and feel brave. That became my number one goal. It is definitely something that makes the film something special, that connection between the two girls is wildly entertaining and completely mesmerizing.”
Mullen acknowledged the process of making BELOW HER MOUTH had a profound impact on everyone involved including her. She says it’s the transformative nature of film making that results in such seismic shifts in personal identity once a project is complete.
“Every time you’re in the middle of making a film and you see it through post and colour and sound you grow so tremendously. I’m unrecognizable to the person I was a year and a half ago. Creatively, emotionally, spiritually. At least the way I work, I invest everything into the film and the product I’m making. I give it my all and remove all my barriers and come to the script and the work with as much honesty as possible. I really expose a piece of myself all the time through my work. I feel 10,000 years older by the time I’m finished a film! Every film is such a journey. I’m unrecognizable. Your identify goes through so many transformations when you’re creating something.”
With the hard work complete, Mullen’s looking forward to the TIFF premier and beyond to the official theatre release in 2017, hoping to find as wide an audience as possible for BELOW HER MOUTH. How does she think the film will fare with TIFF audiences whose members tend to flock to festival blockbusters in the hope of catching a glimpse of Hollywood royalty?
“I would say we are the alternative to that, so if you’re looking for something blockbuster you’ll go to something with large star names and a lot of money thrown at it. But we’re the alternative choice for those people looking for something authentic, very creative and artistic which centralizes its themes in something quite simple but something we all strive for, which is the connection and intimacy between two people. It’s literally about connecting with another human being and so I think at its core the truth and rawness are the themes of the film. If people are looking for that – for a really open and vulnerable experience – Below Her Mouth stands out in that regard. I don’t think there’s any film out there like ours. It’s a unique film.”
As for knowing where her career will take her next , this “director on fire” says “I have no idea, I’m just on board for the adventure.” No matter where Mullen goes, however, this transient L.A. resident will always be carrying a torch for the things she misses about being back home in Niagara.
“That’s a long list, starting with family, then our garden centre and garden market. The little things make me happy. Seeing the peach orchards, the vineyards, the green trees and the way they sway in the wind. The list goes on. And grandma! It’s a treat to be able to come home, which is why I love shooting at home in Niagara. I’ve done five films in Niagara, there’s no shortage of wanting to come home. I’m definitely addicted to that for sure."
For more info visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5073620/