Patricia Rozema
Director Patricia Rozema

Out director Patricia Rozema on her radical new film with Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood.

When actor and producer Ellen Page asked Patricia Rozema to direct her upcoming film adaptation of the psychological thriller Into the Forest, Rozema knew she had to get on board.

“I came to know Ellen through another project and we got along great,” she says. “We realized we had similar values and choices of work. I loved that Ellen was the producer on the film because it would mean that it was artist-driven. I just knew that the right things would be respected.”

With an award-winning body of work spanning both decades and genres,  Rozema’s resume is as diverse as it is lauded, from short films to television series. In 2009, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her film adaptation of cult documentary, Grey Gardens for HBO, starring Drew Barrymore.

Her film debut I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, premiered at Cannes in 1987, winning the coveted Prix de la Jeunesse much to her surprise and delight.

“I didn’t expect to get any kind of recognition, let alone to get into Cannes,” she says. “I imagined I would show it to my friends in my basement. To have it on a huge screen at Cannes was mind-blowing.”

“I really love that I didn’t expect it,” says Rozema of her success in film. “I had no dreams of any kind of glory. I just wanted to see it and I wanted to see what I hadn’t seen yet and it amused me. It moved me. It was a real feeling of connecting with the world. I thought I was more alone than I was. I thought I was very isolated in what made me laugh or think or cry. So many others felt what I felt; it made me feel as though I was a part of humanity.”

“I love that Ellen [Page] is playing the straight girl. We allow straight people to play something other than what they are and we don’t necessarily have to suspend disbelief when it’s from that other side. So, I feel like it’s quite a radical movie.”

That feeling inspired her to keep creating, and the idea of doing something she had not seen done before on screen brought her to Into the Forest.

Set in the near future, Into the Forest, adapted from the book of the same name by Jean Hegland, is a unique survivalist vision. Contrary to male-led blockbusters, the film takes an unsettling look into the reality of what could happen if society is stripped of the security of functioning infrastructure—through the eyes of two young women.

“I felt like this is what the world is thinking about but it is so fresh and new,” says Rozema. “Nobody’s seen two women, and nobody is doing it like this. So character-based and psychological.”

Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood play sisters living in the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest. One night, the power mysteriously goes out. The narrative highlights their journey as they must adjust to their new version of normal.

The dialogue analyzes on a very human level what happens when the clocks stop ticking, the comforting hum of electricity goes silent, and the fever pitch of commerce comes screeching to a halt. Soon, every morsel of food becomes the difference between life and death.

“I love that there are two female leads,” says Rozema. “There is not enough of that around. Ellen knew Evan as an acquaintance and respected her work and she called her up. She got the script over to her. Evan read it immediately and called back immediately and she was in. Ellen and I had talked about it being her, and Ellen opened that door.”

Rozema praises Page’s efforts on the film.

“Ellen is a really great producer,” she says. “She has really great artistic instincts. She really dove into the role, as well, and was very involved with all aspects of the film, including the music. I couldn’t imagine a world in which she wasn’t happy with the movie and she couldn’t imagine a world in which I wasn’t. So, we became friends over time and I have immense respect for her.”

Filming was a new experience for Rozema, as much of the movie was shot in the woods. The environment lent itself to the tone of the film, which fades from comfort to dread.

“That was really exciting to me,” Rozema says of the challenge. “I liked having two brilliant women running around in the forest. How fun is that? I enjoyed playing with the thriller tone. I liked how intimate it was. I thought I could make it beautiful. These two beautiful women against nature.”

As for the actual logistics of filming a movie in the wild, she was slightly more apprehensive but had an ultimate vision in mind.

“I was actually nervous about shooting in the forest. It can be so messy and without structure. It’s not very well organized,” Rozema laughs.

Not only is Into the Forest directed, produced, and acted by three powerhouse women, they are all out and proud members of the LGBTQ community.

“Yes, Ellen and I are both lesbians and we are both comfortably out,” Rozema says. “It’s not a complicated thing.  We created a rapport with us, and with Evan being openly bi we felt as though we understood each other, but it wasn’t what the story was about.”

“That is the next step to equality in society,” she says. “If you’re gay, you don’t always only have to talk about gayness. It’s a part of you and it’s a significant part but it’s not the only part. I love that Ellen is playing the straight girl in this because that’s the next frontier for people to accept openly gay people playing something other than what they are. We allow straight people to play something other than what they are and we don’t necessarily have to suspend disbelief when it’s from that other side. So, I feel like it’s quite a radical movie.”

“I don’t spend that much time convincing other people that women have a right to be leaders in the community. Didn’t we decide that a long time ago?”

As for whether or not she has dealt with any sexism or homophobia in the film industry, Rozema says, “I have been lucky so far. You never know if people have passed over my name because they think that my male characters won’t be treated well. I am careful and am sure to show the love I have for men because I feel like that is going to be a criticism that is brought to my work even if it’s not in it.”

Growing up, Rozema had the support of her family whose encouragement she attributes to feeling empowered as a filmmaker.

“I was very lucky in that my parents led me to believe that I could do anything that I would like to do, suppose I was good enough,” she says. “I operated from the assumption that I have just as much right to write and direct a movie as anyone else. I don’t really spend that much time arguing that. I don’t spend that much time convincing other people that women have a right to be leaders in the community. Didn’t we decide that a long time ago?”

As for women starting in the film industry, or simply hoping for the courage and innovation to take the first step, Rozema has some heartfelt advice.

“Dare to do something that is very different or new,” she says. “Really dare. Do your homework, read. You get a chance at making something excellent that will last forever. So very few people get that chance and if you get that chance treat that as a high and holy vocation. We are so lucky that we get a chance to make something that will last. My gosh, how lucky are we, in our messy little pedestrian lives, we get to step out of those roles and make something glorious every once in a while. It’s an honour.”

Into the Forest is now exclusively available on DirecTV, and will be released in theatres and all other digital platforms on July 29th.

Learn more about Into the Forest