Closing-night film 'Union Square'
When your first feature film wins the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it seems as if the rest of your career should be smooth sailing. That was the case for Nancy Savoca in 1989 with True Love, a beguiling romantic comedy about two young Italian-Americans experiencing prewedding jitters. More than 20 years later, after such films as Dogfight and Household Saints (which were critical successes if not box-office giants), Savoca still has to work hard to get her movies made. Her latest, Union Square – a two-hander starring Mira Sorvino and Tammy Blanchard – is the closing-night film at this year's Austin Film Festival (with Sorvino in attendance), so we took the opportunity to chat with Savoca to find out what she's been up to since her last film, Dirt, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2003.
"It's not for lack of trying," says Savoca regarding the amount of time it's taken for her to get her new feature off the ground. "There have been a lot of changes in independent filmmaking and in the way things are financed. We've always had stuff that we pushed forward, and we've always then gone off and done our little projects. The distribution, the getting it out there, letting people know that we have the projects – that has been the tricky part. That's what's changing. Now, I love that we're in New Frontierland. To me, when there is really no option except to do things a new way, that's when we get to experiment and bring people the kind of filmmaking that might be off the beaten path."
Union Square begins in a whirlwind, as Sorvino's Lucy engages in some frenzied retail therapy at the titular downtown New York City crossroads. Lucy is sending and leaving increasingly frantic text messages and voice mails, and her attire can only be described as trampy Bronx chic. We think that maybe we have seen vestiges of this character in Sorvino's Oscar-winning turn in Mighty Aphrodite; we know that if this woman doesn't settle down soon, we may grow as nutty as she. But that's before she raps on the apartment door of her estranged sister Jenny (Blanchard). Soon, nothing is as we anticipated – and that's exactly the way Savoca wants it. "I like the idea of dashing expectations," she says, "because that's the way it happens in real life."
Savoca's story about these two sisters basically uses one set and "microbudgeted equipment," although Union Square looks nothing like the bargain-basement items Lucy finds on the Filene's Basement garment racks where we see her shop. Savoca manages to incorporate her budgetary limitations into the film design. Union Square came about on a dare from one of the producers, Neda Armian, explains Savoca. "Neda said: 'Let's think of a story to shoot that we can plow right into with the thought that it's ours. We don't have to run around trying to get funding for it; we don't need to get approval for anybody; let's just shoot something that we can do. Just take my apartment; shoot anything.'
"One location, small cast and crew, made to fit the realities of what's available," Savoca continues. "This was our way of saying we can take the technology that's available to us today, which is amazingly portable and affordable and accessible, and do a story that doesn't need the approval of so many people in order to even exist. And to me that's what independent filmmaking is about."
Thursday, Oct. 27, 8pm, Paramount Theatre