SLIFF 2015 Interview: Lori Stoll – Director of HEAVEN’S FLOOR
HEAVEN’S FLOOR screen Saturday November 14th at 1:00pm at The Tivoli Theater as part of this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival. Director Lori Stoll and storyboard artist Jeanie Everett Mitchell will be in attendance. Ticket information can be found HERE
In director Lori Stoll’s semi-autobiographical HEAVEN’S FLOOR, LA-based photographer Julia (Clea Duvall) meets an expedition leader who convinces her to join a trip to the Canadian Arctic. Desperate for more meaning in her life, Julia chooses to go despite growing tension with her husband. But a journey that starts on a whim soon becomes a life-threatening disaster, as an ill-equipped Julia finds herself stranded on sea ice with temperatures plummeting to minus 30 and darkness falling. Rescue arrives when Julia spots a lone skidoo racing across the frozen tundra. Malaya, an 11-year-old orphaned Inuit girl, and her uncle take Julia to a small Inuit community by the Arctic Circle, where the child opens the door to a unique and mysterious world. Julia is transfixed, but there’s a dark underbelly to Malaya’s home that troubles the photographer: Like Julia left alone in the frozen north, Malaya seems to require rescue. When tragedy later strikes, Julia decides to return to the Arctic to adopt Malaya. As the expansive north is replaced by the crowded south, the lives of both Malaya and Julia forever change.
Director Lori Stoll took the time to talk to We Are Movie Geeks about HEAVEN’S FLOOR in advance of its screening at The St. Louis International Film Festival
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman October 28th, 2015
We Are Movie Geeks: I watched HEAVEN’S FLOOR a couple of days ago. Congratulations. It’s a terrific film.
Lori Stoll: Thank you.
WAMG: How autobiographical is HEAVEN’S FLOOR?
LS: It is based on a true story. I did adopt an Inuit child and most of the things that happened in the film happene,d but some of the facts were changed around a bit in terms of order and time was compressed.
WAMG: But you did legally adopt the child? I adopted a child from Guatemala so I know how much paperwork is involved.
LS: Yes, a ridiculous amount. We had to have home checks and FBI background checks, it took about a year. But it’s necessary as there can be a black market when it comes to adopting babies, though our daughter was 12 at the time.
WAMG: Yes my daughter was five months old and we adopted her.
LS: How old is she now?
WAMG: She’s 11. How old is your daughter now?
LS: She’s 28.
WAMG: In the movie she is 11 when you meet her. Is that how old she was when you met her in real life?
WAMG: So your trip took place in 1998? And that was in the Baffin Islands?
LS: Yes, I went on a ski sled haul, but it didn’t turn out to be quite the way I thought it would be. It was very similar to how it was in the movie.
WAMG: Actress Clea Duvall plays Julia, based on you, and she really panics and cries during this part of the movie as it’s very emotional for her. Is that how it was for you?
LS: Clea is an amazing actress. I think she played this part so well. Yes, I was terrified! I was sure I was going to die. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to die. But I ended up getting rescued. I went on my own and I was rescued by this Inuit man and his daughter. They came up on a skidoo and I went with them. It took two days to get to town and to an emergency shelter. All that stuff happened just like in the movie. When we finally arrived, I slept for about three days because I was so exhausted.
WAMG: Where did you film the movie HEAVEN’S FLOOR?
LS: We filled it in Iqaluit. That’s sort of the seat of the Baffin Island, where all the government buildings are.
WAMG: Was it cold there?
LS: When we were shooting it was between -20 and -50.
WAMG: What are some of the challenges of filming in a climate like that?
LS: We had lenses that wouldn’t focus, lenses that were freezing, Glass that was breaking, cameras that were going bad. Our cast and crew had to be warned about frostbite and how to keep themselves safe. We were warned not to wear metal on any parts of our body because it would freeze. We didn’t know this stuff. The majority of our crew was from Los Angeles. There were some from Canada and we had to use as many people from that area as we could. But when you’re from Los Angeles, you never even think about dealing with this type of climate ever. We had no injuries, nothing bad happened but boy was it cold.
WAMG: Was this your first time back to Baffin Island since you had adopted your daughter?
WAMG: What is your daughter doing now?
LS: She works now for a publicity firm but before that she was working as a news reporter. She’s moved back up there. She loves it up there.
WAMG: And you have a young son like you like the character does in the film?
LS: Yes, he’s now in his second year at the University of Chicago.
WAMG: Was your husband’s reaction to your adventure similar to the character in the movie?
LS: I told him that I was going to write him as not the most sympathetic character and he said never to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
WAMG: I have some sympathy for him in the movie.
LS: Oh yeah, I mean he’s married to this crazy woman who’s bringing home a child, turning his life upside down.
WAMG: Yes, he was just sort of being the pragmatic one. Has your family seen HEAVEN’S FLOOR yet?
LS: Yes they all have and they all love it. I was a little concerned with my husband, though he was completely open to his character being portrayed as not the nicest guy in the world, but we’re still together and he was completely fine with it. He’s very proud of me. That was perhaps my biggest worry.
WAMG: This is your first film as a director. You’ve been a photographer for many years and HEAVEN’S FLOOR looks great. As a photographer, what was your relationship like with the director of photography George Billinger?
LS: He’s such a talented guy and that made things so easy. He did an amazing job. I definitely had my views on how things should look but I was a first time director and he was such a pro. He’s been around a long time and it has worked with directors like Steven Spielberg so I took his advice as much as I could since he had so much knowledge.
WAMG: You grew up in California?
LS: Yes, in Los Angeles.
WAMG: Did you grow up a movie buff?
LS: Yes I’ve always loved movies. I’ve always wanted to write and direct. I went into photography instead of filmmaking. When I went to college, I could’ve gone with either major but I chose photography.
WAMG: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
LS: Akira Kurosawa probably. DREAMS is my favorite movie of all time. I like Elia Kazan. I like so many of the older movies so much. I like Ingmar Bergman and I really enjoy the films of Alexander Payne as far as current filmmakers go.
WAMG: Have you been to St. Louis before?
LS: Yes I have.
WAMG: I think your film will be well-received here. What is your next project?
LS: I’ve written a script for another film and we’re trying to get that going, which is quite a process. It’s based on a true story about a young boy who grew up with a schizophrenic mother. It’s about all the trials and tribulations that he went through with his mother who was mentally ill but wanted to keep her son more than anything else, fighting the system and trying to figure out how to do that.
WAMG: Is this St. Louis screening one of the first times HEAVEN’S FLOOR will be shown?
LS: Yes in fact we just put some of the finishing touches on it to get it ready for this showing.
WAMG: Good luck with HEAVEN’S FLOOR and I hope you enjoy your trip to St. Louis for the St. Louis International Film Festival.
LS: Thank you. I so look forward to St. Louis!