By Mark Saldana
This year I watched one of the bolder and more powerful entries of the festival. Written and directed by Laura E. Davis and Jessica Kaye (who also stars in the film), Inheritance tells a very realistic story about a brother and sister facing some dark demons of their past when their father passes away. Not only must they deal with the usual funeral arrangements and future plans for their father’s estate, they must also revisit some deep and painful wounds experienced during their upbringing. The film stars Jessica Kaye as Mara (the sister), Daniel Ahearn as her boyfriend Aaron, and Mark Webber as Ben (the brother).
Kaye, not only has written and co-directed a truly amazing film, she delivers a performance that is so compelling, courageous and raw. Mark Webber also delivers a turn that is heartbreaking, emotionally charged and delicate. At the festival, I had the wonderful pleasure of speaking with Laura E. Davis, Jessica Kaye, and Mark Webber about the making of such an intense and remarkable film.
Mark Saldana: This film is so powerful, raw, disturbing, and heartbreaking. What inspired you two to make such a dark and almost tragic movie?
Laura: I think that we had a real commitment to going deep into whatever we wanted to. This is where the story brought us and we didn’t want to shy away from it. And we also wanted to see if we could find meaning in that struggle and see what happens when you go back and revisit traumas you have been avoiding.
Jessica: The story comes through collaboration with me Daniel (Ahearn) and Laura. The original inspiration was this place in Belize (where the film was shot and takes place) and wanting to do a real collaborative project. It was about, not only what themes are interesting to us right now, but also how is that relevant to us personally. We had an organic process of about three months, just talking through what was interesting to us, what we were struggling through and what themes stuck out. And we came upon these characters and this story.
Mark Saldana: How did Belize influence your film?
Jessica: It’s my family’s property, so we filmed there. Not only is Belize mind-blowingly beautiful and very moving on a personal level, but there is also something very interesting about the post-colonial culture there.
Mark Saldana: (To the actors) You truly have some tremendously emotional and raw scenes in the film and they are so perfectly performed. How difficult was it to get in the right mindset to pull these scenes off just right?
Jessica: Sometimes it was easier than other times. But because I was so deeply inside this story, both as a co-writer and as a co-director, I had that and I had a collaborator (*She looks at Laura.) with whom I shared a mind meld. So we definitely knew from the inside where it needed to go for the most part. So, all of those things allowed for it to happen. There were some days, some scenes, some points of shooting that were definitely harder than others. But having all of that support made it incredibly helpful.
Laura: I have to say that she always approached it with pure commitment. It is a very hard part, and a hard part to live with for a long period of time. That energy and that courage was omnipresent.
Mark Webber: Strictly as a performer, the environment between the four of us was just so awesome, so safe, comfortable and wide open. I had fun throughout the entirety of this movie. When things got extra uncomfortable and challenging, it becomes more fun. It was just the perfect environment to be able to do stuff like that. It’s a testament to them that they were able to create the environment that allowed us to go deeper and feel safe with one another. It would have been a nightmare, but there’s a reason why these sequences really work so well, and it was because of the trust that was there.
Mark Saldana: Everyone has such a wonderful chemistry with one another. How long did it take to develop that comfort with one another?
Jessica: It started with me and Daniel wanting to work together because we were friends. We already had a chemistry and we didn’t know quite what to do with it. So we decided we should work together. And Mark (Webber), I just don’t know with whom he could not have chemistry. He is just so charismatic and it was so much fun to act with him.
Laura: He’s a chemistry creator.
Mark Saldana: The movie mainly deals with the effects of abuse, including the self-inflicted kind. What messages about abuse do you hope to convey to your audiences?
Laura: Some abuse comes from the unexamined places of ourselves. That means we might hurt ourselves or hurt others that we also love. Especially if these people are children, they have no capacity to understand the complexity of humans that inflict abuse. As adults, that happens too. We still experience different kinds of abuse from people. It comes from unexamined parts of themselves. It doesn’t meant that it does hurt though. One thing Jess and I do believe in is the process of examination and I think that is a life-long process.
Jessica: One of the themes of our film is that if you don’t examine yourself and your past, it could come back to haunt you. I feel that it ricochets from the personal into the societal and the political if you’re looking at a post-colonial society–looking at that history as well.
Inheritance has one more SXSW screening today (March 16), 3:30 p.m. at the Alamo Ritz. It really is an amazing film that I highly recommend.