It’s 8 p.m. at the 777 Mall in downtown Miami, and all of the offices are dark except Borscht Corporation's. Five women sit, their eyes fixed on a projection of filmmaker Kali Ann Kahn’s debut, Fairchild, on a white wall. It’s the first time producers and actresses Claudia Rodriguez and Pamela Longsword have seen this cut of the movie, more than a year in the works. Their costar Stephanie Baker is also coming fresh to this iteration of the film, and for Dana Bassett — the nonprofit’s new interim executive director — it’s the first time she’s watched it at all.
As the film comes to a close, a 15-year-old brunette played by Baker looks down sadly as she nervously braids blades of grass. A camp counselor who just assaulted her passes a glance at her, but she averts her eyes. Perched behind a laptop, Kahn looks on expectantly to see the reactions.
“I was in summer camp in 2003,” Bassett says. “I’m like Baker, and the cool girls are taking my diary and trying to taunt me and find out who I’m interested in... [Fairchild] really moved me.”
Premiering Friday, November 22, at Borscht Film Festival in the Adrienne Arsht Center, Fairchild marks 25-year-old Kahn’s directorial debut. Based on her personal experiences, the film is about a girl at summer camp who's struggling to fit in with her peers and is taken advantage of by an older camp counselor. The film focuses on trauma and seeks to render a realistic portrayal of sexual assault.
“I wanted to create a narrative that existed outside of the act itself,” Kahn says. “Usually these narratives [and] stories about sexual assault don't tell you about the trauma, the psychology of the victim, all of the forces that go into it.”
Kahn chose to emphasize the victim’s trauma in Fairchild and opted to give the abuser the least amount of on-screen attention. She wanted to reassert control over the narrative that often surrounds sexual assault by turning the attention to the girl whose life was altered by the abuser. She refrained from showing the assault in the film for the same reason.
“I get feedback when people see the film: ‘How do we know what happened in the cabin? Why do we know it was bad?’ You should show that,’’’ Kahn shares. But she insists the depiction of the act isn’t necessary for her film. “It took me a while to realize that instead of trying to fit the expectations of the audience, which are wrapped up in all of these conventional, action-driven assault tales, my goal was to subvert that.”
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Of the top-grossing films from 2007 to 2018, fewer than 5 percent were directed by women, resulting in fewer opportunities for them to take part in major film productions. Fairchild was commissioned through Borscht’s No Bro Zone, a three-year-old initiative that attempts to bridge the gap by removing men from the process of greenlighting female-directed films. A panel of women reviews every application and works to prevent discrimination and encourage more female-helmed roles in Miami's filmmaking industry.
Kahn intentionally employed a woman-dominated film crew. Though the subject matter is by no means light-hearted, the women all came to form strong bonds and consider one another friends while also networking with other female filmmakers at the festival. They even mention their upcoming friendship anniversary.
“These sort of tender ideas are allowed to find a really beautiful home within the No Bro Zone,” says Olivia Lloyd, the head of production for commissioned works, “because these films are speaking directly to an audience that really understands them in that context.”
Fairchild at Borscht 0. 6:30 p.m. Friday, November 22, at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $10.