There's something exciting about when Hollywood comes back home to Indiana or, in this case, when Indiana born and raised Jess Berry visits Indy Shorts International Film Festival for the Midwest premiere of her debut directorial effort Daughters.
Daughters feels like an Indiana film, a poignant and occasionally tension-filled exploration of the mother-daughter relationship and what happens when the daughter decides that the life she grew up in is not the life she wants for herself. The genius stroke of Daughters is the casting of non-actress but very maternal Janae Berry, whose first time on the big screen is inspired by her own desire to champion Jess' filmmaking career.
It's this lived in relationship between real-life mother and daughter Jess and Janae Berry that fuels much of the emotional power of Daughters, which also just so happens to have been filmed on the Greencastle, Indiana farm where Jess Berry grew up and where her mother still calls home.
In the film, Jess is the career-driven Sarah, who has returned home for a birthday celebration only to be informed that she has landed her dream job but has to be on location the very next day.
Unsurprisingly, tension ensues as familial expectations and tensions clash and Sarah is ultimately forced to come to terms with the differences she has with her mother.
Daughters is set to screen in competition at this week's Academy Award® qualifying Indy Shorts where the film will be up for the Indiana Spotlight Award along with Best Narrative Short and Best Directorial Debut. Indeed, Daughters is quite the directorial debut for Berry. Beautifully photographed by Emmy Award® winner Scott Hanson, Daughters captures the beauty of rural Greencastle, which happens to be where my own parents are from, but that same precise lensing captures what almost feels like an unspoken discomfort that Sarah feels as the tensions rise and as she's confronted with the fact that if her mother had her way this is the very life she'd be living.
You can feel in Berry's Sarah that she simply can't imagine it.
The production team for Daughters includes Michigan City native turned New Yorker Jenny Montgomery as colorist, legendary Skywalker Sound collaborators Erin Grote (sound mix) and Liz Marston (re-recording mix), and Sebastian Fritze with a top-notch original score.
However, when it comes down to it Daughters ultimately succeeds on the strength of Berry's simple, honest storytelling and the ability of both Berry and her mother Janae Berry to bring that story to life with an integrity that never feels maudlin and never feels histrionic in its tensions. There's a couple of scenes, in particular, as the tension builds that just sort of reverberate across the screen with such emotional force that you can't help but wonder if these words have been spoken before.
While Jess Berry is tasked with a good majority of the heavyweight acting here, one simply can't dismiss the work done by Janae Berry whose entire being radiates maternal even as she's hearing words that you know wound her. She possesses a steadiness onscreen that's actually quite remarkable and leads to a climactic interaction that I'll confess may have moistened the eyes a bit.
Okay. Okay. I cried. There, are you happy?
Jess Berry is an award-winning writer, director, producer, and actress now living in Los Angeles. With several major successes already under her belt, including co-producting the Emmy-nominated Hulu Original doc Changing the Game, Berry is most definitely an up-and-coming filmmaker to watch.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic