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Into the wild: behind the scenes of Raven's Touch.

The LGBTQ film genre has evolved rapidly over the span of a few decades. Today, more lesbian and feminist films are on offer than ever before, through independent cinema, fan-funded features, and web series. Boundaries are being pushed to create more roles for queer women and women in general, and numerous crowdfunding campaigns and initiatives aim at increasing diversity on our screens. It's apparent that when women support one another, amazing things happen.

Marina Rice Baders Soul Kiss Films, a woman-empowering production company based out of Glendale, Calif., has just released its best feature so far, Raven's Touch. Written by Dreya Weber (The Gymnast, A Marine Story), produced by Rice Bader (Elena Undone, Anatomy of a Love Seen), and co-directed by them both, this independent film was a completely donation-based project and was made possible by the hundreds of people who chose to get involved and help Rice Bader and Weber bring its story--and the remarkable character of Raven--to life.

Actor-director-screenwriter Weber knew that the main purpose of Soul Kiss Films was to produce films by women, for women, and when Rice Bader approached her with a collaboration opportunity that would create a powerful and empowering piece for the screen, Weber was enthralled.

"[Marina] had been kicking around an idea where a single mom with two teenagers goes camping in an attempt to connect with them, away from the

distractions of technology and the teenagers' burgeoning sexuality," says Weber. "Why is the other woman in the woods? I became interested in exploring our urge to isolate in times of sadness and loss, when we have the greatest need for human interaction for healing. That's how the character of Raven was born."

If that sounds potentially messy--co-directing an emotionally powerful film with the writer, who is also the lead--Rice Bader and Weber's collaboration faced hardly any challenges at all. "We had it worked out where I would direct the scenes she was in and she would direct the scenes she wasn't in," explains Rice Bader. "Once in a while we stepped on each other's toes, but it was barely noticeable, because one of us would mention it and the other would be, 'OK, cool.' Were both very direct women who don't play games, so we get along really well."

Blaming herself for a tragic accident, Raven Michaels (Weber) isolates herself in a remote cabin in the woods. On the verge of a breakdown, she hopes to come to terms with reality through her seclusion, and wanders the woods seeking peace. Meanwhile, Kate Royce (Traci Dinwiddie) takes her two teenage kids camping far from the distractions of technology and young romance, but she's also fleeing and seeking refuge from an abusive relationship with Angela (Nadege August). In the midst of nature, Ravens and Kate's worlds collide--and miraculously the two women offer each other the opportunity to overcome their situations, conquer their demons, and find healing--through intimacy.

I happily accepted an invitation to attend the San Francisco screening of this intriguing film in August because I knew that Marina Rice Bader's Soul Kiss label never disappoints its adoring lesbian audience.

It may surprise fans to learn that the conception of this film occurred over three years ago, in 2012. Ravens Touch, just like many other films, took time to make. But Rice Bader, along with the Soul Kiss team, knew that with this new film she had something unique to offer the women of the world.

"The themes of love, pain, loss, joy, grief, redemption, so many universal emotions run through the film," says Rice Bader. "The truth is always there."

"This film was a great experiment for all of us, if I do say so myself' says the lead actor, Traci Dinwiddie, who was attracted to the role of Raven when she first read the script. "I later realized that Kate would be the greater acting challenge for me, and I really wanted to work with Dreya Weber. She and I bonded several years prior, while sharing a dressing room during a show at The Actors' Gang. Dreya inspired me to take on trapeze, and I knew she would be a powerful screen partner. She's earthy, gutsy, and a true artist in every sense of the word."

Shot on location in Latigo Canyon and the Los Angeles National Forest, Ravens Touch gives the outdoorswoman inside us all a breath of fresh air, offering wondrous views of serene landscapes. "Latigo Canyon is very special to me, as I have proudly ridden my bicycle up that gnarly 9.5 mile switchback several times while training for AIDS/LifeCycle," says Dinwiddie. "The vistas at both locations were breathtaking. Add to that the great company of passionate actors, crew, and directors!"

Dinwiddie elaborates on the experimental experience the film offered the cast and crew. "There were aspects that worked and others that didn't quite land, but we were a team. Our trust in each other made the more challenging times worth every lesson."

This experience has found its way into the film itself. Ravens Touch is anything but cliche when it comes to offering up a lesbian storyline. Inherent in it is evidence that lesbian culture, and therefore lesbian filmmaking, is moving forward: Kate not only is a lesbian mother of two children, she is a single lesbian mother of two children. As a society, we haven't witnessed that in a film yet. The present day, especially for the LGBTQ community, has a lot to do with how we make and choose family. Ravens Touch, although a predominantly lesbian film, has an abundance of family values attached to it. Kates kids, Maya (Victoria Park) and Jack (Chris O'Neal) are part of the glue that holds everything together in this film. Even if they seem like your normal everyday teenagers, wanting to break away from their mother's grasp and get back into the realm of smart phones and tablets, these two are the driving force behind the climax of the film.

Nothing is more important to Kate than her children. They may piss her off, but she is truly a mother hen in the vast woods of her grandfathers old campgrounds. Raven, on the other hand, has never had children of her own but had a special and close bond with her niece, who, we learn, was tragically killed. Raven takes a liking to--and even becomes protective of--Kate's kids. So when Angela emerges from the darkness one night to take them back, Maya and Jack escape into the woods, where it's up to Raven to bring them home to Kate safely.

"I loved working with these kids," says Dinwiddie. '"They brought a whole other level of authenticity to the story. Honestly, they crack me up every time I watch the film at screenings. Playing their mom was a shocking 'aha' moment for me, too. Like, damn! I'm playing a mom of teenagers. Whoa. How did I get HERE?"

If I had to guess, from their honest portrayals onscreen I would think that Dinwiddie, Park, and O'Neal were actually a family.

Raven's Touch also demonstrates that there isn't a difference between dysfunctional or abusive heterosexual relationships and same-sex ones. As the film opens, Kate is taking her two children and leaving a toxic marriage. We understand it's a lesbian couple only after we hear the name Angela.

In mainstream society, and perhaps even in our own community, people aren't coming to terms quite yet with the fact that two women can be stuck in a situation like this. What makes Raven's Touch so unique, and in tune with the post-marriage equality world, is that Kate is actually getting out of a lesbian marriage with children, rather than coming out, falling in love, and getting into one, which has been the mainstay of lesbian cinema for some time.

"I really wanted to present a modern family--lesbian parents, adoption, various ethnicities--without saying a word about it," says Rice Bader. With this screenplay, Rice Bader and Weber creatively nail it in presenting that "modern family" With same-sex marriage riding a new wave of acceptance in this country and the world, Soul Kiss Films wanted to implement it and bring it to life on the big screen.

Another aspect of today's society and culture is the urge to respond to grief and depression with medication, and the film reflects this in the way Raven deals with the knowledge that she could have prevented her niece's death. It is a severely traumatic experience for her, one she is holding on to and blaming herself for. Kate and her children are the "medication" she needs to begin the healing process.

"We all experience devastating sadness," says Weber. "But the beauty that we offer each other with human connection is the balance. Grief isn't pretty or glamorous to look at, but it happens, and sharing the human experience is why art exists."

Raven's Touch certainly opens the door for the next installment of independent lesbian features. Along with the personal and emotional battles these women fight, they can't help but find solace, comfort, and redemption in knowing that someone else shares their struggle--to break free of the past.

Dinwiddie urges viewers to watch the film for "the gorgeous cinematography and the spirit of family, healing, and love." If there was ever an original concept in lesbian filmmaking, Raven's Touch is it. From the raw emotions of its characters, to its depiction of a nontraditional family--which is, after all, just a family--Ravens Touch should be seen and appreciated by all. And if it leaves you wanting more, we have good news: Soul Kiss Films is currently in pre-production for the next feature, Ava's Impossible Things, (soulkissfilms.com).

Caption: Tiraci Dinwiddie (left) and Dreya Weber

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Title Annotation:FEATURES: THE L-LIST
Author:Tedesco, Lisa
Publication:Curve
Date:Nov 1, 2015
Words:1629
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