By Monica Quesada, special to Xpress
Sometimes life imitates art. Sometimes, art and life become so intertwined, it’s hard to tell which is imitating the other.
Britta Sjogren, SF State cinema professor and award winning filmmaker, finished last September the production of her fourth film, “Beyond Redemption,” about bouncing back from difficulties.
For Sjogren, overcoming the difficulties in making the film went hand-in-hand with overcoming her own difficulties.
“Everybody has had a traumatic experience in their lives, when you think ‘How can I go on?’ But most of us do go on,” Sjogren explained.
The first two attempts to produce the film where halted; first by a lack of funding, and then by the filmmaker’s health.
“I can’t say that I didn’t have moments of great despair,” Sjogren said, “but I’m glad now that I didn’t make it then because I think it is a better film now.”
Soumyaa Kapil Behrens, the film’s producer, has been part of this process since pre-production, and looks back with admiration for what Sjogren and the entire production team achieved. Behrens helped Sjogren stretch a $200,000 budget to cover the cost of bringing to the set a cast, crew and two horses, to create the western look of the movie.
The budget will also cover the post-production of the film.
“What we did would normally need four to five times our budget,” Behrens said.
Sjogren has been an SF State professor for 12 years. She is an adviser and instructor for graduate students in the cinema department, and says that they teach her as much as she teaches them. As a feminist and filmmaker, she advises young women to “feel entitled to go for their passions and to believe that their ideas are worth expressing, and not let anybody tell them differently.”
“I learn things from my students all the time,” she said. “They challenge me.”
Through the years, Sjogren noticed that women tend to be more hesitant to call themselves filmmakers than men.
“I have never met a man yet who wasn’t willing to call himself a filmmaker, even if he made a one-minute film,” Sjogren said.
Her feminist outlook has also played a part in her films. Sjogren said she has always had a clear focus in creating the main characters.
“I want to make films that have women protagonists who are complicated, who are multifaceted, who don’t just represent a political agenda and where their strength and freedom are very much at stake for their journey,” she said.
Sjogren said that her experiences as a filmmaker and teacher have shown her that persistence is key to success.
She sees how young and talented filmmakers might give up too soon or settle for good enough, keeping them from rising to a higher standard. She encourages her students and all filmmakers to look for projects that they care about with passion so they don’t give up in the process.
“Britta is the kind of professor who really makes you think deeply about what you are trying to accomplish,” Behrens said. “I have seen her really critical of people in class to try and make them answer tough questions.”
Lex Sloan, an SF State Master of Fine Arts student, had Sjogren during her first year. “She has pushed me harder than pretty much any professor I have had (but) as hard as she pushed us, she always gave feedback to make the story better,” Sloan said.
Sloan also worked on the production of “Beyond Redemption.”
“Britta gave me and other students at State the opportunity to see the theory put into practice,” Sloan said. “Every film I will do in the future will be better because of what I learned in her shoot.”