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Filmmaker bares her soul in debut feature

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Rebecca Addelman

Ottawa-born filmmaker Rebecca Addelman cites the comedy film The Graduate as having had a profound influence on her. That film’s final scene, where the euphoria of a young couple running away from authority figures quickly shifts to looks of uncertainty, is a moment that particularly resonated with the writer/director.

Addelman’s debut feature, Paper Year, opens with a similar blast of 20-something bliss. In the film, newlyweds Franny (Eve Hewson) and Dan (Avan Jogia) are in their early 20s and have just tied the knot in a courtroom. The camera bounces around as the couple celebrates in the hallway, capturing their romantic whirlwind.

However, that merriment fades by the film’s midpoint. As Paper Year charts the difficulty of that titular period, Franny and Dan will be as unsure about their union as Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross’s characters from the 1967 classic.

“In some ways, I wanted to pick up on where (The Graduate) left off,” Addelman tells The CJN over the phone from Los Angeles, where she currently lives.

Addelman began jotting down ideas for Paper Year not long after she and her ex-husband got divorced. Initially, the ideas for this feature-length film – one that glides between comedy and drama so much, it is hard to discern an exact genre to describe it – resembled her own experiences.

“I didn’t have some of the maturity to handle all of life’s obstacles and handle a marriage,” she reveals.

After the divorce, she says, “the world just took on a different hue and I had a different perspective on things … I really felt like I needed to write about it.”

Eve Hewson in Paper Year (Pacific Northwest Pictures)

The shooting script did reflect aspects of its author’s life. In Paper Year, Franny lands a coveted job working in the writers’ room of a Hollywood-based game show. Addelman spent several years honing her chops as a writer for television, before working as a scribe for sitcoms like New Girl and Love.

Addelman says that she can relate to Franny’s experience, as the character tries to figure out how to reconcile landing that dream job, with the disappointment of what it eventually becomes.

The story of a young woman trying to find her way in a male-dominated showbiz environment fits right into the current cultural conversation around the #MeToo movement.

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One storyline that becomes uncomfortable to watch at times is the relationship between Franny and her 30-something co-worker, Noah (Hamish Linklater). There is also an excruciating scene where Franny’s boss freaks out after realizing that she is already married.

These moments feel potent, deriving from the sexism that still permeates the film and television industries.

“When I started working in writers’ rooms around 10 years ago, there was still kind of a quota system,” Addelman says.

“One person who was interviewing me said, ‘Darn it, I wish I had met you sooner because I already hired a woman.’ He actually wound up hiring me, too, so he had two women writing on his show. But he had no qualms sharing that opinion. That was a pretty normal thing to express.”

Even with a long resume of writing for the screen, her leap into the director’s chair was not immediately apparent to Addelman. It took a friend’s recommendation that she direct her screenplay to motivate her to take that job. She believes her trepidation was closely tied to gender norms.

“I didn’t realize I could do it,” Addelman says of directing. “I think there’s kind of a culture in our society of women having less of a template for self-nominating.…

“Looking back, it was a somewhat logical step for me. It’s not all that different from when I said, hey, I’m going to do stand-up comedy, or I’m going to write scripts and try to get hired as a writer for television. Those are all things that take self-motivation.”

 

Paper Year opens in limited release in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver on June 22 and will be broadcast on CBC in September.