It’s been a busy summer for AFI Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) alumna Pippa Bianco, the talented, rising filmmaker who adapted her Cannes-winning DWW short SHARE into her first feature film. Produced and financed by A24, the film world-premiered at Sundance, where it was quickly scooped up by HBO.
In the critically celebrated, riveting and resonant SHARE, Sundance-winning newcomer Rhianne Barreto stars as a young woman who returns to high school after an explicit video of her taken during a night of partying goes viral. Bianco delicately traces the ensuing fallout, in an attempt to, as she explains, dignify how her character chooses to cope with the assault. The film has already received critical praise, with The Playlist calling it “an uncommonly knotty and fiercely intelligent story of assault and blame in the social media age.”
Bianco recently made her television directing debut with the sixth episode of HBO’s infectiously entertaining, candy-colored new series EUPHORIA. “I was thrilled to work on the show, but it’s tonally very different from my film. It’s very fun to flex a different set of muscles,” Bianco said. Both SHARE and her episode of EUPHORIA explore the psyches of teens experiencing increasing yet relatable traumas while coming of age on the cusp of adulthood.
AFI spoke with Bianco about SHARE, which is now available to stream via HBO platforms and just completed a short theatrical run at New York’s Metrograph.
AFI: This film began as a short that came out of your time in the DWW program in 2014, and you shot the feature in 2017, which means you’ve been carrying this story with you for a while now. How has the film’s narrative of sexual assault evolved over time given the shifts in our current climate?
The world has changed a lot, and in some ways not at all, or not enough, since I made the short. We were shooting the feature when the Weinstein case broke. It was a weird time in terms of what we were making. I wanted to make a film that dignified an unpopular choice, which to me is a choice that even in our current climate, most people are still making. In a post-#MeToo era, it’s very easy for people to say, “Everybody can come forward now, there’s no shame or complexity now, everyone will be believed.” There is no right way to experience something like this, and no right or wrong choice you can make in service of your autonomy.
In that way the feature film was in conversation with those sociopolitical changes. The short just ends at the moment of how she is going to move forward, whereas the feature then commits fully to that question. It was really important to make a movie that dignified the choice that most people make [to not willingly come forward] and to humanize that choice even if it’s not necessarily visible or a popular one.
AFI: When did you want to make the short into a feature?
I knew I wanted to make a feature version before I made the short. That was the impetus for making the short. How can I convince people to give me millions of dollars for no reason, and to become a better storyteller in the process? Making a short is a lovely test drive for what will or won’t work in a feature, what is sustainable, and what does or doesn’t interest you over time.
AFI: You made the short as part of the DWW program, and went on to win the Cinéfondation prize at Cannes 2015. How did that program empower you as a storyteller?
It was an incredible and profound experience that I cannot recommend enough to others. I wanted to make films. I’d worked as a writer’s assistant, I’d crewed, I was creative-directing a series of short films at Beyoncé’s company, but I really wanted to make a film. The program gave me the framework and the impetus to finally do something I’d been intending to do for a long time, and an incredible network of support and resources. The other filmmakers I met in the program and the mentors were a really supportive family that allowed me to move seamlessly to LA.
AFI: Tell us about the experiencing of taking this film to Sundance, backed by A24 as producers, and having HBO pick it up for distribution.
We made the film with A24, who financed and produced it, and it was a surprising thing for me because at that point I’d been talking to HBO about something else. I naively thought so little about the distribution process, and thought my job was to make the best film possible and concentrate all my energy there. I wasn’t thinking as much as I am now about the landscape for independent film and what your priorities are in terms of who you want to have access to certain content. I, certainly, like a lot of other AFI affiliates, love a theater. So it was a complicated choice for me, but now I can see why this is going to give the film the fullest richest life, and reach a whole set of audiences who wouldn’t necessarily have access to, say, the Angelika or the Metrograph.
AFI: How did you find your lead, Rhianne Barreto? She gives such a subtle, powerful performance as a young woman who’s suffered greatly, but doesn’t want to be treated differently for coming forward.
We wanted to make the movie for an amount of money that wouldn’t make us beholden to stars, so we needed someone who could do challenging work and give a beautiful performance, and somebody who was an authentic teenager themselves and not an impeccably groomed 25-year-old. They had to look like they lived on Long Island. So many young people who have representation, they’re part of the fame machine. There is so much pressure on young actors to be singers, models or influencers.
I was encouraged to consider people from the UK because the underpinning of their craft is theater, and that’s what we were looking for. We did a lot of street casting. We did open submissions, and Rhianne ended up coming through that leg of it, after we’d seen 500 girls.
What I found in her is this gravitas; she has so much dignity and stoicism in such a young face and body. In my mind, my film is such a thin line between an emotional story and a melodrama with this kind of subject matter. It’s tempting for people to give you the biggest, the most, the full arsenal when they read these scenes. She was someone who could really inhabit and appreciate the silences, and the restraint.
AFI: The film is edited so elliptically, leaving the audience to fill in blanks of information rather than spoon-feeding the narrative to us.
I’ve always loved the Dardenne brothers, Michael Haneke, Lynne Ramsay. They are filmmakers where part of the pleasure is the mystery. You engage on a much richer level when you are activated to imagine the same kind of experience in your life. The story is so simple, the way in which information is paced, given or not given to you, which makes it magnetic for me.