“Hold On” premiered and continues to screen at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival as a part of the Short Film Program 4. Writer and director Christine Turner tackles the communication divide not only between the generations, but between a young man and his elderly grandmother who suffers from dementia. The film stars the up and coming actor Jimmie Jeter and the fashion activist Bethann Hardison. “Hold On” is a film that will certainly resonate with viewers of any age and just might open your eyes to your own interaction with family members.
I had a chance to talk with Turner, a filmmaker with a documentary background, who finds that although this is a fictional tale, it brings light to this real social issue within our society. Here’s what she had to say:
Reel Honest Reviews (RHR): What inspired you to create “Hold On?”
Christine Turner (CT): I was very much inspired by my experience as a hospice volunteer here in NY. Over the course of about a year and a half I came to know an elderly woman who suffered from dementia. It was really my experience and serving as a caregiver that inspired me to make this film.
RHR: Tell me about your time with this woman.
CT: I visited her once a week for an hour at a time so it was very limited, but in that small window, over a considerable amount of time, I did start see and start to observe some of the effects that Alzheimer’s has on individuals and their families. I was touched by her and discovered that I had to adjust to her way of being. The storyline and characters are fictional [in the film], but there are moments in there that are true to life. I think it will be familiar to a lot of people whether they have a parent or grandparent suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s
RHR: Your film brings to light how much our cell phones interfere with everyday communication, not just with someone who has dementia, but with everyone.
CT: I’m technically a Millennial, but also a Luddite in some ways as I have trouble communicating with my own friends and my own family because of cell phones. One of the things in the film that I wanted to explore is the generational difference. On the one hand you have this young man and he uses the language of Twitter, Instagram and Tinder and you have this grandmother that is 50 years older. Not only is she of a different generation, but she also suffers from dementia and no longer is able to express herself verbally…at least until the very end of the film when he sings that song to her.
RHR: Tell me about casting Bethann Hardison in this role. Her background is quite extraordinary.
CT: I came to learn about her through her activism and advocacy in the fashion world. She has advocated for several decades now for the inclusion of women of color and African American women on the runways. And she herself broke barriers in the 1970’s as a runway model. She’s very much an icon in the fashion world. I was thinking about who I would want to play this woman, take on this non-speaking role and she was one of the first people that came to mind, but I didn’t know if she acted or was interested in acting. I reached out to her [and] we clicked immediately on the phone. She invited me over to her apartment in NY and we talked about the film and we talked about life. I think she was intrigued about the challenge of the role and taking on a new experience in life. I’m certainly honored that she wanted to participate in the film. I think she has a presence not only as a model, but as a human being. She has this very radiant, warm quality to her and I thought she’d be right for the role.
RHR: In 9 short minutes, your film and the actors give us such emotions: loneliness, frustration, anger, humiliation and such a need for interaction. How do you do this in such a short time?
CT: As a filmmaker, I’m always trying to say as much as possible in the least amount of time. I hope the film resonates beyond its 9 minutes. It’s also about being able to say things without being able to say them because she is unable to speak. It does become all about the gestures and the nonverbal communication that happens between them or doesn’t happen between them. The film is all about these subtle misunderstandings. Troy is not attuned to her needs so he misses a lot of clues. Ones to you and I might be obvious, but to him he doesn’t see that. And part of that is because he is wrapped up in his phone and he’s distracted and multitasking. We see him struggle with that. And then we see, in his own way, him attempt to connect with her.
RHR: Jimmy is a perfect representation of the Millenial. How did you find him?
CT: Jimmy is a recent graduate of Juliard. 2 weeks prior to graduating, he came in for an audition. He was the first person we saw and auditioned for the role. I knew immediately he was going to be our Troy. He could not be more unlike Troy. He is an incredibly warm, and thoughtful and perceptive human being. Initially he had played Troy in that manner. When I asked him to do an adjustment in the audition, he was able to take it the complete opposite direction so I knew immediately that he had incredible range.
RHR: Where does the song at the end come from?
CT: The film is heavily scripted, but I had not identified specifically what the song would be at the end of the film. I just called it a lullaby. Jimmy and I talked about it on the phone…I asked him if he would bring in some ideas in rehearsal. He came up with about 5 different songs, a mixture of lullabies and African American spirituals. He grew up in the church and so the idea of the spiritual really resonated with him as well as with me. In the end, he proposed the very song ‘Hold On Just A Little Bit Longer” which the film closes with. The three of us all agreed that was the most fitting. And of course I retitled the film to reference that song…It was very collaborative [which] made it really fun.
RHR: What message do you hope this film will send home with the viewer?
CT: Some feeling of understanding what that feels like whether you’re standing in the shoes of Troy or the grandmother…that feeling of recognition; not being alone in that experience. I think it would be wonderful if it opened a conversation amongst family members about these challenges. In some ways the film is really about everyday ordinary experiences, caring for ones’ parents or grandparents. I hope it’s something that resonates with people [and] prompts them to think and communicate better.
“Hold On” can be seen tomorrow, Thursday, January 26 at 4 pm at the Holiday Village Cinema as a part of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s Short Program 4. www.sundance.org/projects/hold-on