Director Alicia Conway didn’t always love movies. In fact, growing up most of her interests revolved around the worlds of art, photography, and psychology. It wasn’t until later that Conway realized that the medium of film allowed her to incorporate all the things she loved into one art form. From there, she was hooked.
Conway said that, “When I was growing up, I always loved horror fiction and really screwed up stuff like VC Andrews books. I didn’t really get into the horror film genre until I got into film school in Florida. I got my first taste during a horror marathon with Ben (her husband, Ben Rock, is also a film director), and I just fell in love.”
“There is something about the aesthetics of horror films that I totally appreciate,” added Conway. “I find something about exploring that part of the human psyche very fascinating.”
Conway just recently celebrated her first public short film Rite (review here) being accepted into the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and it’s been a twelve-year journey for her to get to this milestone in her life.
“I made tons of student short films while in school, but trust me, none of them are worth going back and watching now,” said Conway. “I needed to take my time and feel ready to make a film that had a message I felt people could connect with.”
Conway added that, “I’ve been to Sundance a few times already – the first time to support friends who worked on The Blair Witch Project, and other times as a ‘civilian.’ But there is nothing that compares to the feeling of having your own project as part of Sundance.”
In fact, Conway didn’t even really think she had made it into the competition. In order to make the deadline, Conway and her team submitted a version that hadn’t been finalized so when she got the call, she thought it was a joke.
When asked about how she heard she made Sundance, Conway said, “I was in a bar and I couldn’t even hear the message, so I first thought I heard that I got into Slamdance, which is still pretty cool. Then I went back and listened to the message again, and I realized that it said I had made it into Sundance. I was completely in shock so I kept making the people I was with listen to the message so I could make sure it was really happening.”
It was in 2002 that Conway found inspiration to create Rite based on her experience watching the documentary The 8th Day wherein two Jewish couples were deciding whether or not to circumcise their unborn sons.
Conway explained that, “In the documentary, these two young couples were going back and forth about their decision and you had these family members who were challenging their right to ask questions. I ended up getting into an argument with my roommate at the time who couldn’t understand why I was so angry. It seemed ridiculous to me that people wouldn’t have the right to question such a huge decision. People are so used to being told they have to do different things because they are rituals and traditions, and I just think it’s okay from time to time to stop and think about the impact of such decisions.”
Conway took that outrage and went to work the original script for Rite in 2002. When she was ready in 2008 to make her first short film, she went back to her script for Rite and prepped it early in the year for filming.
In Rite a young girl faces a very unsettling ritual (writer’s note: no spoilers here – trust me, you must see it to believe it) which, according to Conway is an allegory that also partially stems from her Roman Catholic upbringing.
“I’ve always believed that you should be able to examine certain things in your life, religion being one,” discussed Conway. “The idea that there are things in life you cannot question drives me crazy. Growing up, if you asked questions in school (Conway attended a Catholic school from K-12), you’d always get asked ‘Why are you trying to make things difficult by asking questions?’ I think part of faith is the ability to examine something and come to your own conclusions.”
“I really think certain rituals end up elevated because we never take a look at exactly why we do these things in our lives, and that applies to anything from marriage rituals to just saying ‘god bless you’ when someone sneezes,” Conway added. “Our society gets swept away in the communal feelings behind so many different rituals and customs so I just hope that my film allows people to get something out of it and maybe can open up a dialogue about traditions.”
While Conway knows that in order to have been accepted to Sundance there had to be a level of excellence in her work, she feels that most of what was accomplished with Rite had a lot to do with outside forces working in her favor.
“Everyone who worked on Rite was amazing; I couldn’t have asked for a better team,” said Conway. “I was more than lucky to have all these people who just stepped up and made my job so easy. Their work really elevated the quality of Rite.”
Conway added that, “I actually think that the story for Rite was always there, and somehow I managed to find it and help it along.”
Conway is currently in the planning stages for continuing Rite’s festival run this year. She is also hoping to start developing her first feature film soon after.
You can find out more visiting the official Rite website!
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