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Making movies

Heather Brawley and Kirstie Muñoz find success at New Hope Film Festival

‘Loving Lenna’ from Heather Brawley and Kirstie Muñoz won the LGBTQ Spirit Award at the recent New Hope Film Festival. Image | Heather Brawley and Kirstie Muñoz

Heather Brawley and her fiancée, Kirstie Muñoz, recently had two short films in the New Hope Film Festival – one in the 2020 screenings, and one in 2021. Their two films have racked up a cumulative 16 festival selections in the past year, and they also took home an award at the New Hope festival.

The comedy “Feminist Theory and How it Relates to the Patriarchal Dividend” was filmed pre-pandemic with director Katie Oliver. It was nominated in two categories in the New Hope Film Festival – Female Eye Filmmaking, and LGBTQ Spirit. 

Their second film, drama “Loving Lenna,” was filmed by just the two of them in quarantine and is written and directed by and stars Muñoz. Brawley produced the film, and the music was “Inward” by East Forest.

PW recently caught up with Muñoz to talk about the films and the film festival.

Tell us a little about how you each became interested in making films and then how you came to work together in their production.

I’ve always had such a wild imagination, often running around by myself, pretending to be in my own world. I loved the excitement of escaping reality. That was my happy place! The magic of the movies always sparked something in me, and I had always been full of curiosity when it came to the creative process of making films. When I decided to become an actor, my mind was set.  If others could do it, so could I. 

When Heather and I started dating, I was the first assistant director on a web series called “Keeping It 100: The Series.” Heather works in international film sales and was also moving into film production, so we brought her on the project. We quickly realized our chemistry on set was just as good as it was off set. From then on, we’ve been fortunate enough to work together on several productions, and create two of our own.

You recently had two short films in the New Hope Film Festival. Can you talk a little about each film?

Our first short film was filmed pre-pandemic, “Feminist Theory & How It Relates to The Patriarchal Dividend,” and was in New Hope Film Festival’s 2020 edition. It’s an LGBTQ comedy about a lesbian couple who go out to have some drinks and a series of unfortunate repetitive events take place, leaving them to wonder if they can go anywhere without getting propositioned. It’s a hilarious film written by Matt Morillo and directed by Katie Oliver that New Hope Film Festival described as an “uncomfortably good and socially relevant film!”

Our second film, “Loving Lenna,” was in the New Hope Film Festival for 2021. It is a short/alternative film about finding your way to self love. The story is told through a meditative narration. I used my original poetry, voicemails and voiceovers, along with original music by East Forest, which is the music that inspired the idea for the film. We are so honored that East Forest allowed us to use his music in the film.

Heather and I made “Loving Lenna” in our apartment over quarantine, in one week, with our iPhone 11 Pro Max! We had planned on submitting to a quarantine film festival that would have made the film publicly available on YouTube. However, after filming, editing the final cut and sharing the film with our mentors, we decided not to enter that competition and submit to established festivals. We were so happy with the film and excited that it had become bigger than we imagined – we are grateful that it has touched people the way that it has. It just goes to show what you can do with little resources and creativity! 

“Loving Lenna” was filmed by just the two of you during the COVID quarantine. What were some of the challenges you faced when making it?

We filmed “Loving Lenna” on Heather’s iPhone 11 Pro Max in our apartment in West Hollywood. We were both feeling stifled and isolated during quarantine, and in the heart of LA, it is never quiet. In addition to that, for the first time ever, we were at our apartment together 24/7. It was great, just a totally different experience from what we were used to working in film. I was also focusing on sobriety and doing a lot of meditation during that time and in the city that never sleeps, time didn’t really exist as a measure. 

When I had my vision of how to shoot “Loving Lenna,” my directorial debut, we had to find creative ways to make it happen with the resources that we had in our apartment. Luckily we had collected a few items over time, including a soft lighting kit, tripods and gels which helped create the look that I envisioned for “Loving Lenna.” There were some challenges, for instance we had to get creative with jimmy rigging shots from above with a makeshift C-Stand, but there were some benefits as well – for example, we got to take advantage of using the empty streets during quarantine.

Between their two films, Heather Brawley and Kirstie Muñoz had six nominations and took home one award at the New Hope Film Festival. Image | Heather Brawley and Kirstie Muñoz

While your films have been selected for 16 festivals in the past year, the New Hope event was the first one that you were able to attend in person. What was that like? We’ve been accepted into festivals in Wexford, Ireland, Maui, Hawaii, Berlin, Germany, Hartford, Connecticut, Dubuque, Iowa, of course New Hope, and several others. We could not attend those festivals due to COVID and either the festivals being virtual, or us not feeling comfortable traveling. Although we couldn’t attend those festivals in person, the virtual festivals were well done with either pre-recorded or live interviews via Zoom, and it was exciting to see the festivals find creative and safe ways to make the events the best they could be. 

This was the first festival we were able to attend in person and it was really amazing to see our films and others on the big screen and meet the other filmmakers. At New Hope it was really great to actually have conversations about everyone’s films, current events, and making art in light of the narrative of our current times – whether it’s the political climate, COVID, etc. Because of the Delta variant, it ended up being a small, intimate crowd. Although we missed the filmmakers that would have attended, it also gave us the opportunity to have a high quality time safely discussing other filmmakers’ stories and making those connections that you hope to get out of attending a film festival. 

In addition to the filmmakers, connecting with Dough Whipple, president of New Hope Film Festival, and his staff in person was great. Between our two films we ended up being nominated for six total awards at the New Hope Film Festival (including a Best Short Film nomination for “Loving Lenna”), and we won the LGBTQ Spirit Award for “Loving Lenna.” We are so honored.

What’s ahead for you? Any new projects?

We are in pre-production on a few projects, including an indie feature film, “Sonny Boy,” that we have been working on for the past four years. It is a story about a Korean-Italian American man, a once promising playwright from Oakland, California, who returns home to make amends with his dying father while picking up the pieces of a broken dream. It addresses the extremely common and relatable question, “What happens when your dreams don’t pan out the way you have planned?” We have some exciting announcements coming soon related to this project, so make sure to follow along at the website (sonnyboythefilm.com), and follow us on social media @sonnyboythefilm.

Aside from that, I have poetry I am recording that I will be releasing, and we have some more short films in development.

What are the best ways for people to stay current with your projects?Our social media and website links are: Instagram.com/Mylastnameismunoz; Kirstiemunoz.com; Instagram.com/Hbrawley; heatherbrawley.com and lovinglenna.com.

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  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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