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Several of the films that will appear in Competition at this year’s Berlin Film Festival were announced today, and I couldn’t be happier to see two anticipated films by two of our “25 New Face” filmmakers on the list. Miranda July will be traveling from Sundance to Berlin with her new movie, The Future, and first-time filmmaker Victoria Mahoney will be debuting with her Yelling to the Sky. I’m particularly thrilled to see Victoria’s film there because the project was part of the IFP Narrative Lab this year, for which I was a mentor. I saw the film at the rough-cut stage, was blown away by it, and picked Victoria for this year’s list, not knowing when the film would be finished or where it would premiere.

Here’s what I wrote about Victoria this year for Filmmaker. I can’t wait for everyone out there to see this film. (Photo: Richard Koek)

Writer-director Victoria Mahoney began her artistic career as an actress in theater and then film. “Shelly Winters was my teacher,” Mahoney says. “If you touched your hair too many times in her class, she’d come over and cut off your bangs. She taught me the gift of stillness.”

After working off-off Broadway, Mahoney went to L.A., did a number of pilots, a few European films, and a season of Seinfeld (she played Gladys Mayo, owner of the clothing store Putumayo). But then there were all those “ridiculous films I did to sustain myself. And that’s when I began to feel [artistically] ungratified. So, I slipped into writing. I went to Cubby — that’s what we called Hubert Selby, Jr., who taught the masters program at USC. He gave me a skill set for writing instead of my [previous] fantasy of being a writer.”

Mahoney says the seeds of Yelling to the Sky, her powerful, emotionally nuanced debut feature about a New York City teenager growing up in a mixed-race family, go back 10 years. “I had seen Chekov’s Three Sisters many times, and I loved and identified with it. I thought I’d do a contemporary version with mixed-race girls. Cubby helped me a lot with the early drafts, and the script went from something I wanted to do to something I needed to do.” Mahoney further developed the script at the Sundance Labs and then focused on getting it made. “I removed all distractions, from the script and also my life. I got over a fear of financial insecurity. I said to myself, ‘I will live on people’s couches.’ I was homeless through principal photography and most of postproduction. I don’t recommend it, but it shouldn’t stop you either.”

Yelling at the Sky, which was produced by Billy Mulligan and shot in 35mm by Frozen River’s Reed Morano, stars Zoë Kravitz, Gabourney Sidibe and Tim Blake Nelson. It is currently in post and just completed the IFP’s Narrative Lab. The film’s tale of a tough adolescence has shocking moments of violence but also of tenderness. It conveys the humanity of all its characters, even the ones we begin the movie hating. When asked how much she based the script on her own life, Mahoney, who grew up in Regis Park and Bay Shore, Brooklyn, replies, “I relied on autobiography when it worked and departed from it when it didn’t. When the story became too exclusive, I would open it up. The conflict that occurred in my own life [with my father] wasn’t uncommon, but what was unique is that I made great peace with him in my twenties. He was no longer a person who neglected or harmed me — he was just a person on this planet trying to find his way. I was able to see him as a person.” Indeed, Mahoney, who has drawn fine performances from her actors, has a sophisticated and empathetic understanding of the characters they play. “It was my challenge to keep all my characters multifaceted,” she says. “As a storyteller, you have a responsibility to go past the obvious.” — Scott Macaulay

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