I sat down with Shana Feste, animal lover and writer and director of the autobiographical Boundaries, a quirky and heartfelt portrait of her estranged relationship with her sardonic pot-dealing father that puts a new spin on the well-worn road trip genre. I spoke with Feste about the film’s real-life inspirations, use of music, and more. Boundaries opens June 22 in the US.
(I also had the pleasure of meeting Shana’s Feste’s adorable dog Loretta, who also stars in the film!)
SQ: What was it like directing and writing an autobiographical story and working with Vera Farmiga who is playing your alter ego in a sense?
SF: I was kind of in such denial that it was really my alter ego. I didn’t even really acknowledge that until we were actually talking about the film. She’s playing a really exaggerated version of me. But mostly I was concentrating on my father because it was really about a lot of our relationship. The writing process was incredibly therapeutic because one of the most special things about being a screenwriter is that you get to write your own ending. And so you can kind of heal childhood trauma, you can make people behave however you want, and kind of fix things that went wrong. So that was a really therapeutic experience for me, writing about the possibility of having this relationship with my father where we could come to a place of forgiveness. Luckily, it actually did happen in real life. My dad moved in with me right before he died, he moved into our guest house I kind of got to see him parent my son in a way that he probably should have parented me.
SQ: What real life experience did you most enjoy writing into the film?
SF: The actual film was based on a road trip that I went on with my father. We used to drive from Los Angeles to Houston, Texas to El Paso, Texas every summer. It’s not a very beautiful drive, so I changed the location of the drive. There was one particular time when I was driving his cargo van, and I was in grad school at the time. My way of rebelling against my dad was to get two masters degrees. I’ve never done drugs, I never got in trouble—that was my way of rebelling when having a father that’s a weed dealer. So we were driving and he went into the grocery store and I was waiting in the car. I looked in the glove box for some reason, to get a pen or something, and there were these huge zip lock bags full of weed! We had just driven across Texas which is incredibly strict, especially ten years ago, about that stuff and I horrified. My dad comes in and just finds it hilarious; he starts laughing and laughing cause I’m so uptight. “Why can’t I just loosen up?”
I also learned so much about my father by his friends. They were kind of this reflection of him I had never seen before. So whenever we’d go on road trips in the past we’d always make these pit stops and I’d be like “Can’t we just stay at a hotel? Why do we have to stay here?” But then afterwards I’d always find something else about my dad that I never knew.
SQ: The road movie is one of the most popular genres in American cinema. Were there any that influenced or inspired you? What elements of the road movie appealed to you as a filmmaker?
SF: I love Flirting with Disaster, that was one of them. What I love about the road trip genre is that these two people who can barely stay in a room together are now forced in this confined space. We also, as a cast and crew, bonded making a road movie. The actors were stuck in some very tiny spaces. What you don’t see is that poor Lewis [MacDougall, who plays Henry] is with all the dogs in the back of this car with no air conditioning and there’s two animal wranglers at his feet just looking up at him while he’s doing all these scenes. I don’t know how he blocked them out. But it also kind of takes your mind off the scene when you’re just petting this dog.
SQ: The soundtrack really stood out to me in this movie, with classics such as The Zombies’ “This Will Be Our Year” and the disco anthem “Gloria.” I was wondering if you could talk about selecting the songs.
SF: “This Is Our Year” I think it’s one of those cinematic song. I’ve been listening to it over the last fifteen, twenty years and just been like “This needs to be in a movie! What is the right movie for this song?” And I finally shot something and slipped it in there. I was like “Oh my god, I finally found the right movie for this song!” My sister and I used to make dances to “Gloria” all the time; that was one of our favorite songs. I worked with Randy Foster who’s my music supervisor and he’s just so amazing at elevating the material with music. We were talking a lot about what genre of music Chris’ character would listen to and what felt good on the road. The music helped with our tone, solidified the tone. You know when you’re making a comedy/drama, achieving that tone is very difficult, trying not to get those wide slings of emotions. I was aiming for that laugh/cry tone like what Hal Ashby does best—and music is incredibly important to Hal Ashby as well.
SQ: What do you want audiences to take away from Boundaries?
SF: The literal answer is I want everybody to be inspired to rescue an animal. I’m an animal rescuer, I have been for years, and this really was my opportunity to shine a light on something that I’m really passionate about. I was going to shelters on my own and taking an animal every two weeks, rehabilitating it and finding a new home. Then I’d go back to the shelters and feel so overwhelmed because they’re so crowded. And thinking how am I ever going to make it end? And then I thought if there’s an animal lover in this film it will shine a light on something. Hopefully that’s what everybody will take away.
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and her writing also appears on Fandor, Reverse Shot, IndieWire, and Vague Visages. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss and Instagram @crolins