It’s a tale as old as time: a young musician leaves their life behind with a bag on their back and a burning desire to find inspiration away from society. Phoebe Nir’s “gonzo female desire musical” “Eco Village,” however, is far from your conventional Age of Aquarius funfair about a hippie-adjacent community in the woods.
Nir’s feature debut is adapted from her eponymous Off-Broadway play and has its world premiere in the Bright Future strand of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Speaking exclusively with Variety, the playwright-turned-filmmaker says the film came out of a wish to be honest about how it feels to fall madly in love with someone who is bad for you.
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In the film, “Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always” breakout Sidney Flanigan is Robin, a musician who hitchhikes to the titular village run by Ursula (indie veteran Lindsay Burdge) in search of pastures new. Instead of falling into the arms of inspiration, she dives headfirst into a toxic whirlwind romance with the commune’s chiselled handyman, Jake (Alex Breaux).
“My amazing casting director Lois Drabkin read the script and thought she would be perfect for the role,” Nir says about Flanigan. “Casting Sidney gave us the whole movie, it took it to a different level. When Sidney first read the script, she was excited by the growth journey of the character as well as the musical elements.”
“My background is in theater, specifically musical theater, and doing the play Off-Broadway was an amazing experience but I felt like there were features of the piece that I didn’t fully see in my head,” she says of the roots for the film adaptation. “My co-producer and close collaborator Linds Gray has such an inventive visual vocabulary and, between the two of us, it feels like we’ve made a smooth transition to a different medium.”
Gray is also the film’s editor and is largely credited by Nir as the one responsible for the project’s “postmodern” feel, the fruit of a playful collage of images shot in luscious 16mm. “Linds has done incredibly cool work with editing, which I think is very groundbreaking, where she took the flaws and imperfections of the footage and used it as transitions through an experimentation with layering.”
Of her decision to shoot in 16mm, the director said the idea came from “wanting to portray this epic summer love story that already existed in the American canon.” “I wanted people to look at it and think it was something present in their subconscious and 16mm aids that.” The decision felt natural considering Nir’s inspirations for the project, which include “Harold and Maude,” the original “The Wicker Man” and “Chicago.”
The director also credited early 2000s teen movies as a major source of inspiration: “I love those summer romance movies that were kind of schlocky but a lot of women today grew up watching, like ‘The Lizzie McGuire Movie’ and ‘Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.’ I love the idea of Robin expecting a Chad Michael Murray type of character but it goes all wrong.”
A self-proclaimed musical theater nerd, Nir said much of her desire to make “Eco Village” came from a disillusionment with the artform. “Musical theater kind of died in my lifetime. I grew up going to Broadway and loving it more than anything and now I don’t even care about what is on anymore. The vitality of the art form is not the same.”
As for sing-and-dance films, Nir believes audiences still love a good musical, but that “some of the musicals lately have not been that entertaining.” “If people see a musical that is funny and great, they will show up for it. Right now, musicals have a bad rap, and maybe it’s deserved.”
The director’s next project follows yet another one of her burning passions: Shakespeare. Before “Eco Village” even met its first audiences, Nir had already begun working on a travelogue-style docuseries about Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, long-rumoured to be the true author of the bard’s plays. The series, also produced in partnership with Gray, will involve a mixture of interviews with academics interspersed with the duo travelling across England. In fact, Nir will leave Rotterdam straight to Stratford-upon-Avon, where she will film for the project before shopping around for potential partners.
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