From the horror of Weinstein to the strength of the #metoo movement, it’s been difficult to have a conversation about acting in the past year without the shadow of sexual harassment looming large. Tapping into this atmosphere, short film Krista by director Danny Madden explores the low-level threat constantly levelled at women and the empowerment that can come from reclaiming those experiences. The film tells the story of Krista, a high school student using her theatre class as catharsis. “The idea came from a combination of stories we’d heard from friends and that first point of realising that the world has teeth,” explains Danny. “It aims to show that helpless feeling of not knowing where to point frustration and anxiety, and how the theatre can create a space for releasing it.”
Peppered with powerful cut scenes between Krista’s performances and the emotional experiences she’s channelling, the atmosphere of the film is made all the more intense by its sound design. Foot stomps, claps and vocal exercises from the drama group’s warm-up were crafted into a rhythmic pattern which builds in momentum as the film progresses.
“Our approach was a lot about headspace – how do we feel what Krista is feeling?” says Danny. “For me that gives the opportunity to incorporate elements from around the story – details like the stick clinking along the fence or the chaos of the theatre exercises. These are seen and heard from the perspective she experienced them and we can push the cutting and movement of those moments to create the frenzy and weight that the incident holds in her head.”
Nuanced and far from straightforward, the film is complex in its depiction of the relationships between characters. The young man, for example, looks just as terrified by the behaviour of his (we assume) older brother as Krista herself. Despite the intensity, the overall impression of the film is one of empowerment and release, even if with a somewhat unhinged flavour. “What we really wanted to show is a character nurtured with an ability to express herself and how that can teach her to overcome and face the unavoidable shit of the world,” Danny says.
Part of the film’s power comes from the energetic performance of lead actress Shirley Chen, who is incredibly believable in the role of a young woman coming to terms with how her gender may affect the type of behaviour inflicted upon her. Danny also flags Shirley as one of the film’s highlights, recalling when they were filming the strangling scene – one of the most intense parts of the performance. “We moved in for the close-up and set a cushion on the floor so she wouldn’t wreck her knees more,” explains Danny. “After the first take she took me aside and sweetly asked whether it was OK to do it without the cushion. I said, ‘It’s fine, the camera can’t see it.’ She looked at me, ‘Yeah but it just feels like I’m acting when it’s there.’ What other attitude would you ever want to work with?”
As you might imagine, the film below contains scenes that some might find difficult and upsetting, so please be kind to yourself when deciding whether to watch.