Raised in Paris, Ani Simon-Kennedy is a New York-based filmmaker whose work has screened at festivals internationally. She met cinematographer Cailin Yatsko while studying at Prague Film School and together they founded their production company, Bicephaly Pictures. Simon-Kennedy wrote and directed her first feature film, Days of Gray, in Iceland, and she's currently in development on her second feature, slated to shoot in 2017 in New Orleans.
On her first cinematic memory:
One of the movies that made the greatest impact on me growing up was MICROCOSMOS. It’s a French documentary about insects that remains one of the most cinematic works I’ve ever seen to this day. We went to see it as a field trip at an IMAX theater, and I was completely mesmerized by how poetic a movie about bugs could be. It’s had a huge impact on my work, as I’ve always been drawn to stories about outsiders that would typically be overlooked. Also: the scene of two snails having sex will leave an impression on any nine-year-old’s brain.
On her feature film Days of Gray:
Days of Gray is a silent dystopian coming-of-age film that I shot in Iceland three years ago. It was the first feature that I wrote and directed, and it was shown around the world with a live score performed by the Icelandic band Hjaltalin. I first saw them perform in Prague and fell in love with their music. What started as a music video idea snowballed into an epic, album-length music video and finally ended up as a feature-length script. The story takes place in a world where language doesn’t exist anymore and everyone has to wear a mask when they step outside. When a young boy from a secluded home meets a feral girl, he discovers a world that’s been hidden from him. We shot the whole film in Iceland, with an all-Icelandic cast and a shoestring budget. The film score was nominated for an Edda Award, the equivalent of the Icelandic Oscars, and the soundtrack won Best Album at the Icelandic Music Awards. But my favorite story is that our Days of Gray mural that we painted to celebrate our film premiere is still standing after all these years on Reykjavik’s busiest street!
On the power of coming-of-age stories:
They have always fascinated me, because I think that stage of life is something that has an impact on everyone, no matter where they’re from. No one ever completely follows their upbringing to a ‘T’ or completely breaks away from it either. The picking and choosing of what you want to keep and what you want to leave behind from your childhood is what makes you an adult. I also think the stakes are inherently higher because you feel things so much more strongly when you’re experiencing them for the first time.
On facing gender inequality in the film industry:
I can’t say that I feel different as a woman director because it’s the only experience I’ve ever had. I have had the experience of being asked to pitch on commercials specifically because clients have requested a female director, which I have mixed feelings about. I think speaking about gender inequality in film is so important, but so is consistently putting out work. Becoming a small business owner was the best decision I ever made, because I could hire myself as a director through my production company, Bicephaly Pictures. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in some incredible programs, including the Bentonville Film Festival founded by Geena Davis and Through Her Lens, The Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program. I really embrace applying to as many things as possible, and it’s encouraging to see so many specifically geared towards women. I also am a proud member of Film Fatales and NYWIFT: representation is key, and standing together promotes more visibility. It’s a really exciting time to be a filmmaker, because I believe a rising tide lifts all boats, and the more women who are shown in positions of leadership, the more other women will follow.
On her upcoming feature, The Short History of the Long Road:
It’s set to shoot this winter in Louisiana. The story’s about a young nomadic girl who experiences a traumatic event and has to grapple with grief for the first time. It’s a twist on the classic road trip movie where someone breaks with their everyday life and sets off. Instead, our young hero has only ever known life on the road and has to decide whether she wants to get off it… or not.
On the female filmmakers who inspire her:
My holy trifecta is Mira Nair, Claire Denis, and Agnes Varda, but I bow deeply to Isabel Coixet, Kelly Reichardt, Celine Sciamma, Swoon, Louise Bourgeois, Ann Hamilton, Lauryn Hill, Alice Waters, Maira Kalman…
On taking part in Through Her Lens, The Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program:
The program was a really incredible opportunity. As someone who had never had a female mentor before, it was an eye-opening experience to hone my story almost exclusively with successful women at the top of the film industry. All five of us became really close to each other, and in a tough business, every bit of support helps! Spending three days being wined, dined, and celebrated was a huge morale boost! Camp Moonlight is a project that’s still in the very early stages, but it’s another coming-of-age story that would be my first ensemble piece and contains the seeds of what will hopefully be my third feature.
On what’s ahead for her in 2017:
Right now I’m focusing on wrapping up some commercial work as I prepare to start my second feature film. I have a web series episode about the election for Allure that I’m currently editing, as well as some branded content for Bloomingdale’s and MM Lafleur. In a couple weeks, I fly to Uganda for a documentary shoot for Vice and then I’ll be prepping The Short History of the Long Road in New Orleans. Then beyond that, I always have a drawer of ideas that I can’t seem to get out of my head that hopefully make their way from my head to a page and to a screen in the not-so-distant future. Especially in light of our recent political climate, I want to keep showing audiences stories that change the way they think about the world. ★