Essays

Going for The Jugular: Actor/Writer/Director Camille Hollett-French

Courtney Gardner Reports from 2019 Slamdance about the Forceful Film Her Story (In Three Parts), No. 3: In the Absence of Angels

There are 1440 minutes in a day, and in just 24 of those minutes Camille Hollett-French manages to create a lasting impression and an uncanny reflection of life and the pivotal moments we can encounter. Her Story (In Three Parts): No. 3: In the Absence of Angels tells Crystal’s story. Crystal is raped in the middle of the day on her way home. Later, the audience shares an incredibly intimate moment with her in the bathroom as she begins to clean herself off, she gives herself a once over in the mirror moments before walking in to see her boyfriend and tries to act as if nothing had happened. The overlay of Crystal’s boyfriend shouting at the horror movie is particularly chilling, as he is distracted and unaware of what Crystal is going through all the while shouting at a female character who is unable to escape from a terrible situation. In the Absence of Angels tackles important topics like how society often victimizes survivors of rape, the internalized shame often experienced by survivors of rape, and the influences of behavior based on gender. In order to engage in these conversations with a larger audience, Hollett-French decided to combine her many artistic talents through film to tell this story. Camille wrote Crystal’s story to incorporate her own, and those of the women around her, experiences to make Crystal’s character come to life.

Crystal (Camille Hollett-French) Giving her face a once over shortly after her attack. Photo credit: Veronique Duplain

Camille grew up with messages condemning her for taking up too much space, physically and metaphorically, because it was unattractive and made her undesirable. Of course, she had friends growing up, but that didn’t stop her from on the outskirts of social situations. She was, as she recalls, a lonely fat kid with a sadness running through her because she yearned to create, feel, and express with others but wasn’t able to. Camille became thinner as she grew older and experienced another side effect of this culture, a new set of societal expectations and boundaries already in place. A system that she noticed, perhaps more than before, was based entirely on looks. She was praised for taking up less physical space but still criticized for the other spaces she took up.

Now, Camille uses film as an avenue for her to express her experiences and unique voice. She no longer has the time or energy or even desire to create films that simply scratch the surface or tiptoe around their subject matter. Camille is a filmmaker set on going for the jugular. What Camille wasn’t able to do, or didn’t feel capable of, as a child has led her to demand space as a director. She uses her directorial platform to share stories, send messages, and provide hard truths. The industry still favors the small, dainty, and silent woman and because of this there have been times that Camille has released a project and received no return. Throughout this process Camille has taught herself, and urges others, to fall in love with the film making process and to fight to remain in love with the process. She says that once that love and passion is gone there’s nothing else, you’ll simply be caught in the highs and lows. Fortunately for us, and her, Camille was able to get back to her roots and address societal issues in Her Story (In Three Parts) without encountering radio silence.

Crystal (Camille Hollett-French) and Derek (Brett Donahue) turning down the distractions from a horror movie in order to have a serious conversation. Photo credit: Veronique Duplain

Camille Hollett-French, the triple threat award-winning Trinidadian-Canadian writer, actor, and director premiered Her Story (In Three Parts), No. 3: In the Absence of Angels, at Slamdance in Park City, Utah in 2019. As we sat next to one another she smiled with relief, finally feeling as though she can take a breath from all of her hard work and relax. But, Slamdance is the calm before the storm. When Camille returns to Canada, she will be back on set doing it all over. Camille, like many of us, puts her soul into everything she creates. She experiences an internal crisis and questions her own sanity, she wonders if anything made sense, and even asks if it was worth it. As a fan of her and her work, I urged her that it did and that it was.

Camille has spent the majority of her life working toward this very moment. At the young age of four she won a pencil for her award-winning Halloween story, The Monsters on My Wall. She also grew up watching countless films she watched with her mom, dad, and sister which only accelerated her love affair with every film. For Camille, the natural progression as a young girl and predominantly exposed to the household names of male directors, was to enter the exhilarating world of acting. This too, with no surprise, came naturally.

Behind the scenes with Camille Hollett-French Photo credit: Veronique Duplain

As an undisputed artist, songwriter, potter, sculptor, painter, and one of her personal favorites, practicing pointillism, Camille soon made the connection that loving film meant she could tell this story through film. She had written Her Story and with the support of her partner, she realized she was capable of taking on more than just writing and acting in these stories: Camille could also direct the films as they came together. Realizing this helped push Camille into directorial roles and she felt as though there was no going back. Camille and her partner decided to move, selling their condo to pay for Her Story and renovating an old school bus that took them from Toronto to Vancouver. Living life with equal parts excitement and terror are well known to her partner, for when Camille wants to do something, she really wants to do something and will stop at nothing in order to go all in.

Director Camille Hollett-French going over lines with co-star Leevia Elliott Robinson (Destiny) Image 4: Photo credit: Veronique Duplain

Camille hopes Her Story (In Three Parts) will help her develop and establish herself as a director. It might have taken her 30 years, but she is happy to continue moving in this direction and to step into the directing world. It comes as no surprise that with Camille’s many passions and talents she plans to continue acting and writing. She would love nothing more than to direct someone’s script or write and act in something for a director she admires. Much like In the Absence of Angels, Camille’s story began intimately. Her life and the art she creates lend themselves to the multitude of layers throughout her work.

We interrupt this report to bring you a special news bulletin:  Be encouraged to break the silence, take up space, challenge the norms, go for the jugular. No radio silence here. Camille, if you are reading this, you are completely sane. Over and out.

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