‘Boundaries’ director Shana Feste talks father-daughter road trip film

Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer and Lewis MacDougall star in the new film Boundaries, a story about love and healing between a father and daughter. Director Shana Feste’s road trip movie takes us on an emotional journey, crossing through intersections of anger, resentment and understanding.

Known for the 2010 drama Country Strong, Feste wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical film filled with humor, heart and an honest portrayal of complex relationships. In an in-depth interview with FF2 Media, she explains why she made the film, the message behind it and her perception of how things are changing for women in the filmmaking industry. (Warning: Spoilers)

Pamela Powell (PP):  What was the inspiration behind making this father-daughter relationship film?

Shana Feste (SF):  My father was my inspiration. He was a larger-than-life character. He was wildly charismatic and really an interesting guy. Growing up, he was in and out of prison, all for non-violent crimes, and I literally thought I just had to be a writer with a father like this because I was observing all these crazy things that we would do together. We had the time of our lives when we were together [but] that made the time that he would disappear all that much more painful. I struggled in my childhood to try to understand why my dad chose to be in the other places as opposed to being with me all the time. It wasn’t until later when he actually moved in with me that I got to see a totally different side of my father because he actually parented my son like he should have parented me. He was totally present and he actually apologized to me for the first time…that really changed everything. It was incredibly impactful. I wanted to make a movie that honored the spirit of this man … maybe on paper if you saw all the things that he did in his life you might  judge him, but if you knew him, you would see a different side. There would be something you would fall in love with.

Christopher Plummer, Vera Farmiga, Shana Feste, and Kristen Schaal in Boundaries (2018)

PP:  Did you see similarities between Christopher Plummer and your father?

SF:  Originally, our casting directors brought up Christopher Plummer and I immediately said, “Oh, my God. He’s the most amazing actor, but no way.” He is so different than my dad. My dad was covered in tattoos. He was in and out of prison. He’s from Texas. Christopher is a trained Shakespearean actor. He’s a classical pianist, so sophisticated.  I didn’t see the similarities until I started watching interviews with [him] … I feel like you really get the essence of who an actor is when you watch their interview … and I was smiling while I was watching … I was so charmed by him. And he had that same kind of twinkle in his eye that my father had… I wanted someone who you wouldn’t necessarily judge and I think Christopher can play the perfect anti-hero.  

PP:  Is your dad still around?

SF:  He passed away [recently] so he didn’t get to watch the film. But his brothers did and his sister did… they all saw the movie and they were really touched by it. And the one take away, my siblings, they all felt like they were going through the same thing, but we never spoke about it. They all had an anger toward him too that they really needed to work out and be able to see him for who he really was. So I think it was really healthy for my family to see this movie.

PP:  Is Vera’s role as Laura the animal rescuer a part of who you are as well?

SF:  I have my little rescue dog Loretta right here by my side. I’m an animal enthusiast. I rescue all kinds of animals. I’ve been doing it for the last, well, really all my life, picking up strays. I think anyone who’s had any degree of childhood trauma finds animals really healing because they truly do not hurt you and they’re all about love. I used this movie as a real opportunity to shine a light on something that I’m so passionate about which is animal rescue.  

PP:  Tell me more about the character of Laura always being the caregiver yet never really taking care of herself.

SF:  That’s a characteristic of myself… And it’s something that comes very natural to me and is very important to the character because yes, I feel like Laura is completely overextended… You see all the people needing help around you. It can be completely overwhelming and especially with animals, it’s just never stops. It’s like a well, an overflowing well of things that need help in your life. You know the character of [Serge] who was her boyfriend, the man that she meets at the end or agrees to go on a date with? That’s very important for her, and saying you know what? That’s something that I deserve. This is what love looks like and this is a good man.  When I was casting Yahya (Serge) and I saw his picture and his smile, I thought, “What is really going to tell the audience that Laura is going to be ok and that’s she’s going to think of herself and surround herself with people who really, truly love her?” And I thought, “Yahya is it.” But more importantly, I knew at the very end of the scene when she’s in bed with all of those animals, at first that was with Yahya. Yahya was supposed to be in bed with her and I thought that’s not the right message. I don’t want to say that she just needed this man to be in her life and now she’s completely happy. So I rewrote it … I just needed her to be with her animals and that was pure peace to me.

PP:  Can you tell me about your preference of both writing and directing a film?

SF: That’s the easiest way for me to direct is something that I write… As a woman in this industry, if you want to break out of what people want you to do and what films people want to see you make, you need to write it… Maybe you enjoyed The Greatest and you liked that I did a family drama but I actually wanted to do a musical and I’m certainly not getting offered a lot of musicals so I’m going to write my own musical and that’s why I did Country Strong. I think it’s really important to write. I feel very protective over the characters I write. I spend so much time with them alone in my room, writing them for months and months on end and you fall in love with these characters and they’re your life, and they’re your family and you want to see them through their whole journey.  

PP:  Do you think things are really changing for women in this industry?

SF:  I think things are changing, but sometimes I get frustrated. What is the definition of success? Right now, it’s like, you can direct Star Wars or you can direct a huge budget, Jurassic Park. Women are getting opportunities to do Marvel movies now. But for me, I have no interest in directing those kind of movies. I don’t know if that’s success. Is that was success looks like?  Why can’t success look like directing movies like Kramer vs Kramer? That’s what success looks like to me.  

PP:  What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?

SF: As an animal lover, I hope that people are so moved by these adorable creatures that they go out and rescue and not buy a pet. [But] on a more emotional level, I hope that people are able to investigate forgiveness in their own life and see how it can be really healthy and beneficial not just for the other person, but for themselves.  

Boundaries opens nationally on Friday, June 29.

© Pamela Powell (6/22/18) FF2 Media

Vera Farmiga in Boundaries (2018)

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics    

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New York native film critic and film critic Pamela Powell now resides near Chicago, interviewing screenwriters and directors of big blockbusters and independent gems as an Associate for FF2 Media. With a graduate degree from Northwestern in Speech-Language Pathology, she has tailored her writing, observational, and evaluative skills to encompass all aspects of film. With a focus on women in film, Pamela also gravitates toward films that are eye-opening, educational, and entertaining with the hopes of making this world a better place. 
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