Lina Roessler studied English and Creative Writing at Concordia University, received a Performance degree from the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, and completed an MFA in Film Production at York University. Her acting credits include a recurring role on “Lost Girl,” numerous guest stars on series such as “Private Eyes,” “Murdoch Mysteries,” “Supernatural,” and “Killjoys.” Her directorial debut, “Little Whispers: The Vow” screened at dozens of festivals including TIFF Kids and won the First Prize for Best Children’s Short at Rhode Island International Film Festival. “Winter,” the second film in the “Little Whispers” series, won several awards, including the A&E Short Film Award, had its Canadian Premiere at TIFF Kids, and was selected to screen at the Cannes Film Festival as part of Telefilm Canada’s “Not Short on Talent” program. “Mustard Seed,” her thesis and third short in her series, won top prizes, including a Golden Sheaf Award for Best Student film and Best National Film from the University of Winnipeg, the Heart, Minds and Souls Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival and was named one of TIFF’s Top Ten films of 2017. She was a participant of the 2017 TIFF Talent Lab and was invited to the Berlinale Talents and Short Script Station with her fourth short film project in 2018. Her feature script, “The Rescuer,” placed among the top ten at the Canadian Film Festival Screenplay Competition, the Vancouver Women in Film Screenplay Competition, and was a quarterfinalist in the 2018 Slamdance Screenplay Competition. She was one of ten writers across Canada invited to attend the TIFF Writers’ Studio in 2019. Recently, she was awarded the “Best In” Showcase Award by WIFT.
Tara Karajica talks to Lina Roessler about her debut feature, “Best Sellers,” starring Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza and Scott Speedman, that premiered at this year’s Berlinale, as well as women in film today.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Lina Roessler: Well, I was an actor for a long time and I’m still an actor. But I was also a writer. This is kind of a funny story. I wrote a book of fifty one-page stories and I sent it to this publisher in Montreal, and they were like: “Oh, these are great, but we would really love it if you made fifty more” and I was like: “What?” And, I remember I was acting on a TV show that time and there was this strange procrastination. And, instead of making fifty stories, I read them again, took one and made it into a short screenplay. And then, I ended up making that short film when I was in L.A. for pilot season. It was like a series of happy accidents how it happened. We ended up getting a grant from this awesome post-production house and then, that film won an award at its first festival. It sounds so crazy! It sounds like: “Oh, it just sort of happened!” I worked really, really hard on it and obviously wrote the story and did all this. But it wasn’t like I set out to be a director in that way. It was more like bringing these stories to life in a way that I knew how to just from writing and being on sets as an actor.
How did you get on board Best Sellers?
L.R.: Like the Berlinale Talents Lab, I was also part of the TIFF Talent Lab and for that lab, we had to make a self-portrait film. We then had to show these short films, and one of the mentors was Cassian Elwes, a great producer, and he loved my self-portrait. I don’t know what it was, but he just really, really loved it and then he came to find me afterwards. He was like: “Wow! This is amazing!” He just saw something in it that spoke to him. He then watched my shorts and, at the end of the lab and when the festival was done, he sent me the script for Best Sellers and just said: “Read this. Tell me what you think.” And, that’s the beginning of this crazy story and how I ended up directing my first feature film. It’s amazing! It still amazes me!
With none other than Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza! Can you talk about working with them and achieving this balance in acting between them, sort of downplaying her to let him shine, but also letting her be in the spotlight in another way as well? It’s a wonderful balancing act – remarkable.
L.R.: Thank you so much for saying that! I think it was a big challenge for me as a director to navigate their performances and balance each other out and to help guide these performances. But again, of course, these are exceptional actors – the legendary Michael Caine, the amazing Aubrey Plaza, who, as you mentioned, is more known for her comedic sensibility. So, I think that having the two of them was like a brilliant mix of chemistry, and I’m really proud of their performances and think they got to show talent and sides of themselves that we don’t usually get to see or that aren’t so familiar to audiences from what they usually expect from these two performers.
There’s a lot of subjects that you touch upon in the film and one of them is that nobody cares about the written word anymore and how books hold generations together. Can you expand on that?
L.R.: I’ve always loved books, and this was something that was instilled in my sisters and me growing up, through my parents. We were lucky; stories were told to us, we were read storybooks, and then we were reading at a really early age, and also telling stories quite young. Even though, the script takes this position that the written word isn’t popular anymore, that people don’t care about it and they care about tweets, short blurbs, or people are just reading headlines, and this loss of what could be perceived as a deeper learning which takes you time, you have to read, you have to go through things, you have to get absorbed in something to gather meaning from it. But I think, at least personally, the power of words is there no matter what, no matter their form. We’re changing the meaning of words. We do so every day to our benefit, but also detriment. They have power to change minds, to change hearts. It’s a serious magic – this power of language and the written word. It’s the power of law. I can go way too deep into this! This is an important part of our society and really, ultimately, what it comes down to is storytelling and how we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world. And, to come back to Best Sellers, the main theme of the film is to find one’s authentic self, and the truth of being human with all those foibles and this idea of that being enough. Both these characters feel like they’re frauds, to be okay with throwing off the layers of doubt and perceived ideas of what they’re supposed to be like or how they’re supposed to portray themselves to come down to a certain truth of who they are.
You have just touched upon how these two characters believe they are frauds. It is, I think, deeply connected to another subject of the film, which is sexism and female empowerment – another layer in the imposter syndrome pyramid – especially for a woman who is head of a big company. It is true here, but it is true everywhere and applicable to all industries. Can you delve more into that? And, into the saying “Behind every great man is a great woman?” that also illustrates this example?
L.R.: What you say is completely true and I’m glad you picked up on all those themes because when you think about it, there are a lot of themes in this film, and they’re not the most obvious maybe on the surface because you’re looking at the fun relationship story or deep relationship story between this sort of surrogate father-daughter relationship, but it is also very much about the roles that we’re forced to play. At least, in Lucy’s case, she thinks she’s supposed to play a certain role, to make it in a certain way, to have this exterior of being completely perfect, everything is strait-laced, everything’s buttoned up, and it’s only when she gets to go on the road with Harris’ character that she starts to unravel a bit and starts to shed the layers of this mask of who she’s supposed to be and to be herself and to be okay with that. And then, what you brought up about the editor behind Michael’s character, not to give away the film, but that’s also why he doesn’t think he’s good enough because he thinks and believes that he couldn’t have done it without somebody else who held his hand throughout it, and that person happen to be a woman. We can go into this and it can go in a different direction, but for a man of that age, in this story and, at that time, what it would have meant for her, why she couldn’t speak up, there could be a whole other film just around that relationship and what had happened to that couple. Indeed, it’s something that lies beneath the surface here.
The film is a satire of the internet culture and book publishing, but it can be applied to any sector really. Can you comment on that?
L.R.: Yes, it could be for anything because he becomes popular not because of his artwork or his art, but because of his persona and because of his antics, because of what he is, what he says. He becomes clickbait, something that you just want to see in a meme, as opposed to something of substance, which is the deeper idea of not reading just a headline, of reading this substance behind somebody’s work. So, in the same way, you can make those comparisons everywhere these days, I guess, just looking at things on the surface rather than deep into it. But, at the same time, if you can catch somebody’s eye with a little twinkle or a shiny object, and that gets them to go and dig a little deeper, well then, a lot of people would say that that’s totally valid as well.
What is your take on the situation of women in film today?
L.R.: I’m really happy to have gotten this opportunity to make this first feature film, not only just as a filmmaker, but of course, as a female filmmaker and I recognize very much that we are not given these chances everyday, and not every year, not every ten years. So, there’s still a long way to go and I have no illusions about how lucky I am to have had this opportunity and to have this opportunity right now! This is not a normal case. This is not what happens usually, so I’m really aware of that and I’m grateful for that. I think what Cassian did to take a chance on me was an amazing thing to do! We’re not given those chances, people don’t have that unbridled confidence in women generally speaking; it takes a lot more effort, it takes a lot more trying to convince a lot of people why this is a good idea, why take this risk. So, that is changing hopefully. It changed in my situation so, hopefully, that will continue to happen.
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker?
L.R.: I don’t want to have a favorite because I want to promote a lot my friends, my colleagues, my contemporaries who, like me, are starting out and who I think will have more great things to come not only in directing but, for example, in cinematography. My cinematographer, Claudine Sauvé, she’s a woman as well and she’s brilliant and she’s doing great things! There are no best women, they’re all great at this work they do and I think we should just give them more opportunities to keep doing it.
Do you have anything in the pipeline?
L.R.: The same producers and I are looking at two different projects, two feature films that are really different. I’m excited about both of them! I’m excited to stretch my legs, and to learn even more on the next ones that I do. So, I am really looking forward to that!
Photo credits: Samuel Engelking.