Photo courtesy of Antoinette Abbamonte
The 20th Ashland Independent Film Festival kicked off earlier this month, with one movie shining bright among the others. “Since August” is a film about grief, life, forgiveness, and the strength of the human spirit in the process of moving on. In an interview with one of its stars, Antoinette Abbamonte, she discusses her inspiration for the film and her character Vedette, a deaf woman grieving a very personal loss.
First, I’d like to cover your advocacy of the non-hearing community. You’ve lobbied for more accessible closed captions, the inclusion and casting of deaf actors and actresses in film and theatre, and been a board member with Women in Film, advocating to directors and producers for diversity and the inclusion of actors with disabilities. You even run your own production company, Mermaid Signature Production. Are there any advocacy projects you’re working on right now, in the wake of filming “Since August”?
Wow, yes that’s right. I’ve got many hats, I’ll have to put on the right one. My mother was also deaf, and she immigrated- both my parents were immigrants. She was a very strong lady and I learned that from her. She always told me, don’t be afraid. It’s a big world, you get in there! That was her thing, telling me I could work and make it. Your food and your home is not going to come to you, you have to work for it- she came from that kind of mentality. That really rubbed off on me, and access was always a big thing. So my hope was to get in and work with hearing people, to expose them and make them more comfortable working with deaf individuals. Directors, producers, it was my goal to show them there are different ways to communicate, to go back and forth. I really wanted to break the barriers down for the deaf community, because we’re all humans, with different experiences of course, but we’re all in it to work and work through those differences.
Your well-known roles are mostly comedic in nature, though the tone of Since August seems more somber and reflective. How was the creative process and role preparation different in “Since August”?
It’s been kind of a long journey. I’ve been taking a lot of classes, and I wanted to seize the opportunity and get involved. It was a turn of perspective. I was really excited to get into it, it was a bit of a gamble, but I really enjoyed this more classic role. The studying really influenced me as well, I really liked having that range from comedic roles right down to classic, more serious roles. I took the Stanislavski acting method, and also the Chekov acting method. Stanislavski was all about what’s happening in the moment while Chekov was about the past, and grieving, and the things you’re bringing to the table. Maybe your grandmother passed away, and you’re using that method to kind of incorporate into the role you’re playing. Those two models really inspired me. You have to be a little bit crazy to be an actor, but a good crazy.
The film covers topics of grief, addiction, deafness, and the bonds between women. How does the film handle these topics, and why do you think this story is so relevant right now?
I think first of all, I really liked that script when I was first reading it. Its focus was on everyday life that most of us live. It wasn’t about deafness, it was about life itself. Things that happened to others. Some of those things are awful, to some degree, but it was a script I fell in love with, and I thought to myself, I’ve got to do this. It wasn’t about deafness per se, it was about life. There’s another character that wants to tell a story, and tries to find a way to communicate. She picks up classes in ASL (American Sign Language), and that would apply to any culture, any language. The fact it was sign language doesn’t matter. It’s international, the learning of another language to communicate with someone, meeting someone halfway. This can happen to anyone anywhere. I grew up in New York City, and I saw different cultures and languages everyday. I had been exposed to that early on, and so when I saw the script, I connected to that and really enjoyed the story. It wasn’t about lamenting the poor deaf person, or offering to ‘help’ them. I’ve had those scripts offered to me, but I don’t like deaf people being victimized. I want the everyday, the let’s deal with life, let’s deal with stuff.
How was your experience shooting with Diana Zuros?
She… I’m trying to put it into words. She is everything. She is very skilled, she has specific questions for everyone, she knows what she wants to work with. She started the movie without any money, and she started from scratch which is so commendable. She spent ten years writing, asking questions, getting people to work with her, raising money to pay for staff, and she also had her brother with her to help finance. I am so impressed with her, on all levels. I really enjoyed working with her. When I would have these breakdowns with the script, she knew when and how to film. We worked together really well, we just had that unspoken understanding where she let me do what I needed to do, and had respect for all the actors. I really appreciated that. I think we will connect and cross paths again.
Working along co-star Sabina Ahkmedova, did you have any favorite or especially poignant moments throughout the filming?
I really enjoyed working with her. She is a very serious actor. She studied acting in Russia, at one of the best schools in my opinion. She has a great understanding and a great gut feeling as to what needs to happen. We have mutual respect and great chemistry, and I really look forward to working with her again.
What were your reasons for initially wanting to be involved with this film?
The story is about forgiveness, regardless of other people. It was about me, about individuals learning to forgive, so that life can be lived. If you don’t forgive, you’re stuck, you can’t continue, and you’re the one placing those barriers in front of you. This story, I thought, would help others who may be involved in similar situations, provide a way to get around, get under, get over, and move on.
[End of interview]