By Nicole De Meneses
Self proclaimed feminist filmmaker Valerie Weiss is passionate about telling stories, pushing boundaries and empowering women to find their voice. Her curiosity as a scientist allowed her to achieve a PhD from Harvard Medical School in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology but it was her curiosity about exploring human behavior that has spawned a successful film and television career. Her film credits include “Losing Control,“ “The Light Beneath Their Feet,” and “The Archer.” Some of her television credits include “Chicago Med”, “Suits” and “Scandal”. She consciously chooses to tell stories about women in transition facing adversarial forces in society. Valerie Weiss is a filmmaker on a mission and on the rise.
Valerie Weiss approaches a film project like a scientific experiment. Hours of planning and care go into telling an emotional story with complex characters and every shot is graphed and charted to elicit an empathetic and calculated response. In “The Light Beneath Their Feet” she collaborated with Cinematographer Jeffrey Waldron to create a complex portrait of mental illness and the emotional toll the disorder has on family and loved ones. The end result is a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors and moods that elevate interconnecting story lines and evoke a timely feeling of past memories.
The ability to pull an honest and raw performance from an actor is an exceptional skill. Whether Valerie Weiss is conveying the complexities of a Bipolar mother struggling to maintain her sanity or a neurotic grad student tackling the trials and tribulations of dating by collecting rigorous data on prospective mates or a young woman wrongly convicted fighting back against a corrupt justice system. A certain level of trust and faith was put in Valerie Weiss hands and it was her purity of vision and forethought that was able to successfully navigated the narrative.
Valerie Weiss’s junior feature “The Archer” is a thrilling queer action movie it’s a ripped from the headlines case “cash-for-kids” and shines a light on a corrupt judicial system in support of mass incarceration of young people. She has crafted a compelling film with young characters that engage and empower the audience. From the very first scene before “The Archer” can even draw back her bow we know Lauren Pierce (Bailey Noble) is a force to be reckoned with. A champion archer, Lauren after leading her team to victory retreats back to her hotel room for a night of celebratory drinking with her crush Emily. The two girls drunken exuberance turns romantic but is quickly interrupted by Emily’s abusive boyfriend showing up unannounced. Violence ensues forcing Lauren to intervene in defense of Emily. Sending the boyfriend to the hospital and landing Lauren a one-way trip to Paradise Pines.
Paradise Pines is a youth prison that dispenses physical and psychological abuse on a daily basis to young girls whose crimes rage from petty theft to flipping off their math teacher. Their Lauren meets Rebecca (Jeanine Mason) (Grey’s Anatomy) a rebellious prisoner who has escaped multiple times only to be caught and subjected to degrading retribution at the hands of the masochistic warden Bob Patrice (Bill Sage)(AWOL) and his pervy son Michael played by (Michael Grant Terry) (Bones). Lauren and Rebecca must team up and make a break for it if they want to expose the facility’s criminal undertakings. “The Archer” is an edge of your seat action thriller queer audiences have been waiting for.
In contemplating the perfect rebellious counterpart to challenge and enthrall audience members as well as “The Archer” Lauren Pierce, Valerie Weiss with the help of her creative team crafted a complex and intricate look for Rebecca. She wanted her appearance to reflect the wild spirit of the young character. Every meticulous detail from the cornrows in her hair to the sprawling bird tattoo across her chest were tasteful delicate counterpoints that reiterate Rebecca’s unruly nature and her refusal to be locked away from the world. Valerie Weiss describes thinking of Bailey Noble as a beautiful deer, her speed and accuracy embodied in a graceful animal and thinking of Jeanine Mason with her long raven black hair as a soaring bird, restless and always moving always searching for her place. Thinking about her two leading actresses in “The Archer” as wild animals echoed the unforgiving natural landscape that the two characters found themselves stuck in.
Valerie Weiss is a principled filmmaker with a strong point of view. So it is no surprise that when asked about her early influences and favorite films, of the talented auteurs that came to mind were, Pedro Almodovar for his film “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and John Cassavetes, “A Woman Under the Influence.” Both are strong filmmakers that have made careers out of telling diverse and complicated female driven storylines. Knowing the challenges new directors face Valerie Weiss encourages budding auteurs to have a strong point of view and a take no for an answer attitude.
“I don’t want to imitate life in movies; I want to represent it. And in that representation, you use the colors you feel, and sometimes they are fake colors. But always it’s to show one emotion.” –Pedro Almodovar