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Women at Sundance

11:30 AM, Jan 19, 2013   |    comments
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By Claudia Puig
USA Today

Two films written and directed by women made an early splash at Sundance.

May in the Summer premiered on opening night at the Eccles with its writer-director making her first starring debut. Austenland was directed by Napoleon Dynamite co-writer Jerusha Hess.

May is the story of a bride-to-be returning to her home country of Jordan to re-unite with her family and finds herself confronted with much family dysfunction.

Although the film is not autobiographical, writer/director/star Cherien Dabis said some of the interchanges between May and her 2 sisters were inspired by her interactions with her own 4 sisters.

"Everything is inspired by my family," Dabis said. "They're always fodder."

And she shot the film, which she said was made for "under $2 million," in her mother's apartment.

Dabis said when she first came to Sundance with Amreeka in 2009, her mother said " 'Congratulations. That is so wonderful. What is Sunny Dance?' "

Twenty of the members of her cast and crew were on hand for the film's opening Thursday night. The film was shot on location in Jordan despite 114 temperatures, Dabis said.

"This project had been in the works for a long time, then she called and asked 'Can you get on a plane to Jordan in like a week'," said Alia Shawkat who plays May's sister. " I said 'Sure!' "

Bill Pullman, who plays May's father in the film said he skyped for a while with the director when he was in Montana. "There's a hot dry place in Montana called Jordan, but I realized she meant another Jordan altogether."

Austenland shot in less extreme conditions-in a manor house in Henley-on-Thames, England, about 40 miles west of London

However, star Keri Russell had her own delicate condition to consider.

"Keri was a little bit pregnant during that movie," Hess said. "So she was not allowed to ride horses."

The film, in which Russell plays a single thirtysomething woman obsessed Pride and Prejudice, involved various scenes on horseback. The premise is that Russell's character goes to a British resort called Austenland, in which the era of Jane Austen is re-created. Jane Seymour, Jennifer Coolidge and Bret McKenzie co-star.

However, in a scene where a foal is born in a stable, Hess assures "that was a real baby horse."

The film, filmed over 39 days for a budget "under that of the Hobbit," according to Hess, is based on a book by Shannon Hale and produced by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.

Seymour says she has been obsessed by Austen herself. "My obsession with Jane Austen goes way back. I actually bought a large country estate in Bath because of it."

USA Today

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