Producer Annick Jaëgy sheds light on anorexia in award-winning film “Mackenzie”

A child’s imagination is what makes them so special. The ability to envision all new worlds while in sitting alone in a bedroom is something that tends to dissipate as we age. However, artists still possess such imagination for their entire lives, and filmmakers not only have the capability to imagine new worlds, they create them. Annick Jaëgy knows this well. As a producer, her creativity knows no bounds, and it is because of this that she has quickly become one of Europe’s most sought-after in her field.

Throughout her career, Jaëgy has worked on a variety of high-achieving projects, showing the world what she is capable of. She has worked alongside Oscar winners such as Mahershala Ali in the critically-acclaimed film Gubagude Ko, and her work on the musical That Frank garnered international attention.

Another highlight of the producer’s career came from making the film Mackenzie. The film tells the story of a teenage girl who is dealing with the emotional distress of moving to college and leaving behind her severely anorexic sister. On the day of her departure for college, teenage Alison wants it to be about her for a change and not her sister Mackenzie, who she thinks is extremely self-centered. But, as the day progresses, Alison’s true feelings about her sister come to surface. She worries about how Mackenzie will battle her anorexia without her around. And when the time comes to say goodbye, an honest confrontation between the two could jeopardize the future of their relationship. It’s a teen drama with a lot of heart and also some humor. Such a story required a producer who was not only dedicated to their work, but also the message the film was trying to convey, and Jaëgy was the ideal woman for the job. 

Because this script was about a woman struggling with anorexia, Annick was very concerned that we go about the task of casting this actress very carefully, making sure we found not only a good performer but one who would not herself become anorexic in order to do the role. ​I was very impressed with how protective Annick was with her director’s process, making sure she was not rushed to make any decisions, making sure I allotted plenty of time for callbacks and work sessions with the actresses. This is very rare in a producer, most want casting to happen as quickly as possible without a thought to the nuances that a director needs to see in order to make a decision. I’ve worked on many AFI films, but Annick stands out as particularly talented at her job. I had such a positive experience doing Mackenzie with Annick that I jumped at the chance to work with her again on her next project.  I hope to continue to work together,” said Lisa Zambetti, Casting Director.

The idea for Mackenzie came from Sofia Åström, the Writer and Director. Initially, Åström had an idea for a feature about two sisters going on a road trip, which eventually transitioned to a film about two sisters separated by anorexia. She wanted to explore anorexia from the point of view of a family member, in this case the younger sister Alison (Jessica Wingenbach). Such a stance is uncommon in films tackling the disease, which are more often than not told from the point of view of the anorexic person.

Åström struggled with anorexia as a teenager, and now having long recovered, she wanted to use her tools available as a Director, educating audiences on the impact of the disease. However, when Jaëgy came on board, she wanted Åström to work with another writer to give Åström some distance to her script and allow her to direct more clearly. The decision, although sometimes challenging to work with multiple writers on one project, proved to be the right one, as the story is told with the protectiveness of Åström’s connection but also her artistry as Director.

“A lot of people wrongfully think anorexia is a vanity thing when it’s actually a deeply psychological struggle,” said Annick.

Åström and Jaëgy had previously worked on the film Soledad Canyon together prior to Mackenzie, a beautiful short about mourning and grieving. The two had a perfect collaboration, calling it “professional love at first sight”. Therefore, when Åström wrote a film that was as dear to heart as Mackenzie, she knew she needed Jaëgy as her producer to bring her idea to life. Åström was always impressed with Jaëgy, and had faith in her as a producer, trusting her taste and the fact that she could rely on the producer for every step of the filmmaking process. Jaëgy is known for her ability to create an environment where the talents of the cast and crew can flourish. In addition, she raised almost 75 per cent of the funds for the project. Each and every one of her decisions was backed by Åström, knowing that the producer’s instincts would prove fruitful and beneficial for her film.

“This is a story where women have a tendency to recognize themselves or at least their relationship with their siblings. Our main team is almost entirely female apart from William, the cinematographer. Sofia wanted an entirely female main crew. I am glad that William stepped as I think it is important to have the balance of the two genders. I am not in favor of an entire female crew to be honest. On set, we had a good balance men and women,” Annick described.

Jaëgy spent almost two years working on Mackenzie, from start to finish. Finding the correct location took some time, as they were in search of a house with a “jack and Jill bathroom”, a bathroom shared between two bedrooms, with doors entering from each room. This was extremely pivotal to the film, as it is where the sisters have most of their issues, such as Alison making fun of Mackenzie, and Mackenzie struggling with her image in the mirror, and also where they reunite. It was essential to find the right home with such a bathroom. After finding a fit, one of the rooms was too small to shoot, but Jaëgy and her team used a green screen to manipulate the footage. Both bedrooms were entirely repainted and redecorated to make it look like two teenage girls’ rooms and show the two different worlds the two girls are evolving; Alison’s being a messy teenage world and a tom boy with Mackenzie very neat, meticulous, and very girly.

The only leading roles in the film were that of Alison (Jessica Wingenbach) and Mackenzie (Reid Cox). Because of the nature of the project, Jaëgy and her crew also had to cast models to be able to replicate magazines covers. These models animated themselves when Alison was facing them and the mirror, a representation of what Mackenzie wants to be. Although these models had a few lines that made them cast, the film is essentially supported by two female leads. Engaging an audience with such a small cast can sometimes be difficult, but everyone’s commitment to the story translates to the screen.

“It was a very long process but the result is there. We have a beautiful film entirely financed through fundraising, that has gained recognition in renowned festivals around the world,” said Annick.

After its premiere, the film was an Official Selection at prestigious festivals like the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner, HollyShort Film Fest, Newport Beach Film Festival, Madrid International Film Festival, and Palm Springs International ShortFest – The ShortFest Film Market. It received a Silver Palm Award for Narrative Short at the Mexico International Film Festival, a Platinum Remi Award Winning for Short Subject Film Award/Dramatic Original and a Remi Winner at WorldFest Houston, and it was nominated for Best Short Film at the California International Film Festival and Davis Chinese Film Festival. Mackenzie has also just been selected to the Academy Award-qualifying Bahamas International Film Festival and we are thrilled as it is a very important film festival. It also pleased the investors. Once the film premiered, one of them told Annick that she would invest in her next film, and is now helping finance her next project. As a filmmaker, such validation is invaluable.

“To see months of work unfold in front my eyes when I was looking at the monitor watching the scenes while on set, these short moments made me think that when you are passionate about narrative visual storytelling, never give up. The road is bumpy and sinuous. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, but there is nothing more magical to see months, years of work to unfold in front of your eyes while you’re on set,” said Jaëgy.

Annick is immensely proud of Mackenzie, not just with what the film accomplished amongst festivals, but how it resonated with audiences. Each and every member of the cast and crew felt what they were trying to convey in the film, and one of the most rewarding moments for Jaëgy was when one of her leads, Reid Cox, sent her a note.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity you gave me to work on such an incredible project with amazing people. Thank you for creating a safe environment for me to go to an extremely vulnerable place within me. You are such a bright light and I can’t wait to work with you again,” the note read.

Cox was one of many that was impressed with Annick Jaëgy.

“Annick is one of the most qualified people I’ve ever worked with. Her job requires a rare personality, involving management and creativity. There are no models to make a good artistic project. The ability to adapt to each unique configuration is therefore required. Economic and artistic understanding, time management, identification and resolution of often unprecedented problems, social skill, knowledge of the different jobs specific to the movie industry, ability to act for the project and not that of the ego, huge work capacity , especially in rush phases, which often exceed expectations, reliability, intelligence, project appropriation, passion and great humor, are all qualities that allow me to consider Annick as the best collaborator that anyone may wish to have to carry out on a film project,” said Marc Chouarain, a celebrated Composer who worked on Mackenzie.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more of Annick’s work in the future.

 

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