VARDA HARDY is an award winning writer/director committed to creating meaningful and engaging films. Her shorts have had successful festival runs and garnered multiple awards, including “Crystal Heart Award” for her film “Window” and Grand Jury and Audience Award for “Ode to Los Angeles”. Varda wrote and directed the web series “Runaway Stars”, and co-wrote and directed the web pilot “House of Heather”. Her Branded Entertainment projects include Walmart’s “HD American Portraits”, “Summer Fun” and “Race to the Sky” for Detroit’s automotive industry, and “Rock For Equality” that was awarded “Most Innovative Video” by Youtube’s Non-Profit Video Awards. Following a global search for cutting edge directors, SHOOT magazine selected Varda’s work to be featured in their prestigious New Director’s Showcase. She co-chairs Women In Film PSA Program for whom she directs and produces Public Service Announcements. Varda is currently developing feature projects.
HerFilm: Tell us about your current film project, Big Voice. How and when did you decide to pursue this documentary project?
Varda Hardy: BIG VOICE is a feature documentary about a visionary high school choir director and his determined students. I decided to pursue this project last spring. I’m making BIG VOICE because I want to tell a story about a great teacher, an effective arts education program and dedicated students who work hard and apply themselves, who aspire to achieve “great things”.
There are so many negative stories out there about schools, teachers and teens. There is truth in those stories, but I want to share another kind of truth–the bright side. I want to get young audiences all jazzed up about life and the possibilities that lay ahead of them. I want them to know that though they may have to work super hard to and persevere through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, even though it may be tough, they can still shape their lives according to their “dreams”. I think this is an especially important story to tell during these economically bleak and austere times.
HF: In making this film, what are you learning about stereotypes of teenagers and how the teens themselves deal with them?
VH: I am learning that teenagers are complex just like adults. And that they really do have one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood. The very same teen can be profoundly wise one moment and quite silly or petty another. I am also struck by how “normal” the teens I’m getting to know are. They have strong values, a strong work ethic and poignant philosophical views contrary to the shallow depictions of teens in the hyped extreme world of “reality” shows.
HF: In a time when education budgets in the U.S. are being aggressively slashed, what is your take on the state of arts education today? Also, how do you think these cutbacks will affect the cultural future of American children?
VH: I am seriously concerned about the effect budget cuts will have on arts education. I believe that art elevates our society. It spurs insights, it feeds our spirits, it expands our awareness, makes us question, reflect, see the world in a different way. Art creates space in our lives. Most importantly, art brings joy to the world. When students study the arts, they learn to value this inexplicable, at times impractical, illogical pursuit that profoundly enriches our society.
HF: Teaching, for many, is a “call,” not unlike the inner “call” to become a physician or an activist for some cause. One of your main protagonists is the teacher, Jeffe Huls. Can you talk a bit about him and what you are learning about the craft of teaching?
VH: I came into this project with an intellectual appreciation for teachers and what they do. I have two daughters and I am deeply grateful to their teachers and for the knowledge and life lessons they have provided my children. However, now that I have been witness to the “inner sanctum” of the classroom, I have a whole other level of appreciation for teachers and what they do. Mr. Huls truly cares about his students. He believes that teaching them to read music, to express a song with true artistry, to learn to cooperate so that they can merge their voices to become one “big voice” is a gift that will enrich their lives forever. I gather from conversations I have had with adults who studied choir in high school, being a part of a a high school choir is a precious gift.
HF: What have you learned, as an individual, about teenagers and their passions and dreams?
VH: I have learned that some have passions and ambitious dreams like being a heart surgeon, a famous actor or singer. Others dream of having a family and a nice home, and some silently dream that tomorrow will bring them a stable life and a room of their own.
HF: One of your benefactors is the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation FOR THE ARTS endowment. How were you able to partner with them, and how will their involvement affect the life of your film (distribution, sales, etc.)?
VH: I created a PSA for the SMMEF Save Our School Fundraising Campaign featuring local kids along with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. The PSA was one small cog in a giant wheel of volunteer efforts that raises $1.5 million dollars in six weeks to restore teachers and vital school programs. Through that experience I grew appreciative of the SMMEF which funds many of the Santa Monica & Malibu Schools arts programs as well as academic enrichment programs and sports. I am in awe of what they accomplish under the leadership of Executive Director Linda Gross and I want to continue to support their efforts. Again, I want children to know that they are important and our society cares about them.
HF: What type of role as a filmmaker do you like to take as you are filming? Do you simply observe or do you like to be more active with the people you are documenting?
VH: Mostly I observe. Sometimes I ask them to “do that again”. But rarely. I am doing interviews which I am finding to be extremely thought provoking and illuminating.
HF: What type of production team you like to work with when you are making films?
VH: I like to work with creative, self-motivated, easy going people who have a positive “can do” attitude. I like them to have strong opinions which I openly invite.
To find out more about BIG VOICE, take a look at these links:
• Kickstarter campaign (ends Oct. 10, 2011)
• Facebook page for BIG VOICE
Websites for BIG VOICE:
• Trailer for “ODE TO LOS ANGELES” (PSA) — click here.
Oct. 10, 2011
BIG VOICE is now a fully funded project on kickstarter, having surpassed its $40,000 campaign goal today by over $2,700 and receiving the support of 430 backers, the majority of whom were at the $25 or more, $40 or more and $100 or more donation levels.