Mindy Bledsoe’s The In-Between is a a film about friendship and those awkward stages in life when it’s difficult to know what comes next. Centred on two friends who take a road trip across the American West to visit a brother and say goodbye to a dead sister, it takes in issues around chronic illness, loneliness and learning to be independent. It recently screened at the DTLA film festival and Mindy agreed to chat about both the film itself and how the festival is helping to raise the visibility of female filmmakers.
It’s her first feature as director, but Mindy took on the additional challenge of starring in it, alongside her friend Jennifer Stone, who as also involved in developing and co-writing it. As they both have chronic illnesses like their characters, this was “kind of a no-brainer,” she says. I explain that I have a chronic illness myself and that I found it refreshing to see a film featuring people in that situation where the illness isn’t the be all and end all of the story.
“We didn’t want to make this story about the issues because you know what? My life isn’t just about my chronic illness,” she says. “Jen’s life isn’t just about diabetes. We get sick of seeing that represented in film, like that’s the only thing that women characters can offer, or that they’re going through. It’s just not true. There’s so much more going on.”
I also found the film interesting because so much of it is about in-between events – the small incidents and everyday happenings that make up real friendships, yet which w rarely seem to see explored in this way onscreen.
“Friends and people come in your life and they come out of your life,” she reflects. “Sometimes a friend comes into your life right at the time that you need them and they’re going to help you through that in-between, that bridge in your life that’s going to help you get to the next point, and you never know how long they’re going to be in your life, and it’s special and important. They may not be there for your entire life but that two years that they’re there, that’s such an important catalyst for change.
“We talked about that. We don’t have to define where their friendship came from and we don’t have to define where their friendship is going. What matters is the friendship right now, in this time and place, is going to help each other. And that was that – very true, very honest to life.”
For different reasons, both characters have abandonment issues. The kind of narratives we’re more used to in cinema and in life often seem uncertain about whether or not friendships are meaningful if they don’t last.
“Yeah, absolutely. I think people very much project what their own fears are, and they end up kind of doing what their own fears are. Especially for Mads [Jen’s character], you know? She does have a fear of abandonment and being alone, and that’s kind of what she ends up doing to Junior [Mindy’s own character] – but it’s also what Junior needs.” She laughs. “That’s kind of beautiful. If we as humans kind of sit back and let it all out and let these emotions happen, our bodies will tell us what needs to happen and what we need to do. So that was kind of there perfectly for both of them.”
There’s also quite a lot in the film about selfishness, real or perceived. I suggest that women and chronically ill people are often accused of selfishness to the point where they find it difficult to articulate what they really need.
“I think when people get sick or when they have come into a world of chronic illness, some ageing stops, mentally,” Mindy says. “Like, you still kind of get locked into this time and place when you were able-bodied. For Junior, she was in her twenties, and so I think during that time she didn’t quite grow up at the exact same speed as people around her did because she was dealing with chronic illness. So that kind of comes back to learning how to choose. As someone with chronic illness you have to learn how to choose yourself and you learn how to choose what’s best for you. And that’s so hard, and I think that is communicated through the film. I think Mads does a great job of saying ‘Yes, absolutely, this is what I have to do and I know I have to do it – sorry to hurt you.’ And it’s the most mature thing that Mads has ever done.”
She asks about my illness and I explain that it’s an autoimmune condition. Until it took away my ability to walk it wasn’t something other people could easily see. She feels that there’s a definite shortage of representation of people with chronic illness onscreen, especially where those illnesses don’t lend themselves to easy visual depictions.
“First and foremost, Jen and I wanted people to see characters onscreen that they didn’t know that they needed. Jen’s a gorgeous girl and we are just normal, regular people. I’m a plus size girl and it’s nice to see some representation onscreen. When I was first diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know of the disease, I certainly didn’t know about chronic illness as something people suffer every day, and as somebody who was in love with film and currently in film school it would have changed my life to see such characters onscreen. So that’s what I wanted to achieve. I hope some able-bodied folks can understand and have empathy for invisible illness. And friendship is awesome!”
That friendship is just one of the reasons why the film is often uplifting and fun despite the difficulties its characters face. Was it important to her to show that being ill doesn’t stop people from having a good time?
“Absolutely. if you can’t find joy and happiness it’s almost impossible to deal with your chronic illness. I myself, as a person and a a filmmaker, don’t necessarily subscribe to positivity can fix everything and that there’s a happy ending. I like balance. I like to find the middle. I like to find the in-between. And that means facing some of the sadness with joy. That’s kind of always what I want my stories to be about because that feels more realistic to me. Because with happiness comes sadness. There is no happiness without sadness. there is no joy without some pain.
“It’s incredibly important to me that the film not be one-sided. I don’t want everyone to walk away from the film like ‘They’re gonna be A-OK!’ Because they’re not. They still have to work through the trauma of their lives. Junior needs to learn to not mask her pain with alcohol and Mads has got to learn to stop eating pizza and doughnuts.”
How did she feel about The In-Between being selected to screen at DTLA?
“You know, I moved here [to Los Angeles] almost four years ago and I moved in just down the street from Regal Cinemas, where we premièred, so for almost four years I’ve been going to this movie theatre and watching movies almost every week. So to have my movie play in the same theatre on the same screen that I’ve sat at for four years” – she pauses – “I cannot explain how amazing that was. that gives you that kind of extra joy and hope that you need to keep going as an artist and as a storyteller and a filmmaker. I’m so excited to go out and make my next film already... It was a little world-changing.”
I note that over the past couple of years the festivals I’ve been covering have added more and more films by female directors to their line-ups. DTLA, however, has had mostly films by female directors for three years now. Does it make a difference?
“You know what? I absolutely loved it. I actually only met female directors at the festival and I just loved that because we all have our same experiences but they’re all slightly different, so we can learn from each other and there’s this whole new respect that’s happening between women filmmakers, and support, and it’s comforting. It’s like a nice little blanket... it makes you feel like you can go out and conquer the world.
“Having women’s stories told by women means that there’s so many more stories that we can get to see, and that should be exciting for people. And I hope it is... We can take all the same stories that we’ve seen but we can then tell them from a female point of view and it’s going to be different. We’re going to bring different experiences.”
I suggest that it’s also a networking opportunity and she agrees but stresses that men need to be a part of that too.
“Women helping women is incredibly important but even more important is men helping women. We don’t want it to be an us against them. We want equality. We want all of us to help each other – but it is useful having a female that is standing up for you and showing you the ropes.”
As for what she’s working on now...
“I’m actually in the midst of writing my next feature. I’m hoping to shoot in Washington State in May, and it’s going to be a psychological thriller. How exciting!”