HEARTLAND: Interview with Maura Anderson and Velinda Godfrey
I am so excited to have the opportunity to speak with director/producer Maura Anderson and Writer/lead actress Velinda Godfrey about their new film Heartland. After the death of her girlfriend, a young woman returns home to Oklahoma, grief-stricken and on a frantic journey to find self-worth and acceptance. Godfrey and Anderson are breaking free of the lesbian genre and creating a story that revolves around substance instead of sexuality. This movie focuses on a lesbian character, but Heartland isn’t just another gay movie. With a talented cast, plethora of gifted filmmakers and huge support from Hollywood, Heartland hits close to home, no matter your sexuality.
www.heartlandthefilm.com or follow on twitter for updates @Heartland_Movie
Too often the “gay best friend” or the “funny lesbian” represent the LGTB community in films. Heartland is breaking that stigma and centers around a lesbian character with relatable experiences and actual substance. You have both stated before that sexuality is not a focal point of the movie, it just “is”. How important was it for you to make this film in regards to the LGTB community?
Maura: There isn’t much representation in film of what the LGBT community actually looks like. The “gay best friend” or “funny lesbian” tend to be stereotyped and vague, not even close to real, complex people. There was only 17 out of 102 studio movies in 2013 that had LGBT characters and out of those only 7 passed the Vito Russo test (meaning removing the character would affect the plot). While there are a lot more indie movies, we need more. I saw this film as an effort to more closely resemble real life, as it is now. There are these momentous events in life (like loss of a loved one) that everyone responds to at a base human level, regardless of their race, creed or sexuality, it’s a great reminder that we’re all in this together.
Velinda: When I first approached Todd, the one thing I knew about the film I wanted to make was that it would have a lead lesbian or bi character that struggled with something beyond sexuality. Of course that story should continue to be told, but I’d love to start seeing more films/television shows with gay, central characters that aren’t limited to niche markets. The real world is diverse. Let’s see it! I’m bored of the same stories.
We have read that this movie is loosely based on actress Velinda Godfrey’s life in a small town of Oklahoma. Living in the south, I know how hard being an openly gay woman is. You have shared this experience through the making of the film with your entire community. So, how was that?
Velinda: The central story isn’t inspired by personal experience, but certainly many dynamics within it are. I moved from Oklahoma before I could even legally drink, so my experience of having girlfriends in Oklahoma was many years ago and a lot has changed there in that time. A huge shift is taking place, and despite legislative attempts to regress, proposed by senators who will soon enough die off, the people in the community I grew up in are increasingly open and supportive of equal rights. The outpour of support from Oklahomans during our fundraising campaign blew us away. Local news stations even featured us. We definitely hope to show this shifting attitude and have been careful to not portray Oklahomans as hate-filled bigots, because the ones we’ve encountered are not. Still, being different in such a place is challenging and that couldn’t be ignored. As far as what it’s been like sharing this story with my communities, I think that’s an ongoing story, hopefully with a worthwhile ending.
Sexuality aside, just being a team of women making this movie is, in of itself, a huge deal. The film industry has been a predominantly male run business. But now women are stepping into the spotlight and bringing huge talent to the profession. How empowering has it been as women to have such an influential project coming to life at your fingertips, and what have you learned from the experience?
Maura: I think just as filmmakers it’s been an amazing opportunity. We have had the chance to foster a community around a project we really believe in and that, regardless of your gender, is incredible. I think it’s wonderful that the lack of female talent is being put in the spotlight now because the talent is there and many women have been creating amazing work for years, but they don’t get the publicity or opportunity. Unfortunately, in Hollywood this seems to be half the battle. I’ve learned from this if you have a good story (and script) and a passionate team behind it, with a lot of hard work you can get anything made.
Velinda: I believe the utilization of both male and female vision on this film has made for more dynamic characters and a more efficient production. Women are often undervalued, but certainly not on this set. The process so far has been extremely empowering, educating, and humbling and I think any storyteller, guy or gal, has to realize how privileged they are. I hope to see more ladies get the chance.
This movie is going to make a huge splash and I know everyone is excited about it; but great things do not come easy. What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced making this movie, and how have you been able to overcome those challenges and bring such a fantastic product to the screen?
Maura: Thanks! The biggest challenge so far was getting the financing in place. We put a lot of effort into preparing our crowd funding campaign and had an incredible outpouring of support. Now along with the Panavision New filmmakers grant, tax incentive and numerous favors from friends and talented filmmakers we’re making it. We haven’t shot yet, and while that’s always a challenge, it’s my favorite part and the one I’m most familiar with from years of producing and production managing so I’m looking forward it.
Velinda: Getting people to take a chance on you as a new filmmaker is definitely challenging. We’ve all put a lot of faith in each other on this team and realize we’re climbing uphill on roller skates. Keeping the faith when people won’t return a call or email is hard, but the right people have come forward every step of the way so far, so we keep moving pushing forward.
I for one cannot wait for this movie to be released; you both have so much to be proud of. If you have to sum this experience up into a few words, what would they be?
Maura: My shock and awe at the support and enthusiasm behind this project continues. I mean, we’ve always believed in it, but to have other people jumping on board as we are starting to cast and crew up is incredible. Collaboration is my favorite part about film and is one of the most important elements, so seeing that team start to come together is surreal. It’s a really special group of people and I know that is going to show in the end product.
Velinda: (Maura, that was 83 words! F-) The f*ing coolest! (That’s an exact few. A+)
Maura: Always the competitive one V 🙂
Conceptual teaser and scene