FROM JESSIE BARR:
Watching my dad die, I learned to survive. For 16 years I was just trying to survive and now - now that I’ve been alive without him for the same length of time that I was alive with him - now I realize that suffering has been an awakener. Suffering is something that has brought me closer to joy.
I don’t presume to be an eloquent reporter on grief as Joan Didion was, but I do feel a kinship with her as I’m sure many people do who have lost and read her words in “The Year of Magical Thinking” and feel seen and comforted knowing that someone else has also experienced death as a kidnapping, a disappearing of a person they love and a brutal initiation into experience.
I feel a kinship with Joan and with that little spider Whitman wrote about the spider “launching forth filament filament filament out of itself Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere…”
This film is that gossamer thread, I guess. My attempt to spin it and fling it out.
The books, films and art I love most feel soul catching. I hope this film is a place for people’s souls to catch.
It's a powerful thing to witness a human being sharing with another a sense of being human; sharing the unfathomable. “Sophie Jones” is a story about that very thing: a young woman's experience of the unfathomable. The script is inspired by my cousin Jessica's true experience of loss but we are not seeking to replicate things that have already happened. Instead, the film is transforming a version of experiences that are real for Jessica and me and the other actors and crew as we make this story real for an audience.
When Jessica first approached me about directing this I didn't say yes right away. I think it was because I knew that saying yes would mean diving into my own trauma. I had to be ready to hold the space for her grief, my own and to captain the ship that would be navigating uncharted territory for us all. When I was a junior in high school I lost my father to cancer which is the same age Jessica was when she lost her mom to the disease. I realized very quickly however that this is a story I had to tell. It had taken me over, completely and from the moment Jess first sent me an early draft and we started working on the script together, it was already happening, in motion, I was on the ride and I just had to fully surrender myself to it and take the leap. “Sophie Jones” is a story I feel called to tell, for our parents and for anyone who has or will experience loss. When I was grieving at 16 I wish there was a film like this so I'd feel seen and understood. I guess I'm trying to do the impossible for someone else. I want to let some 16-year-old girl somewhere know she's not alone and she's stronger than she can imagine.
I believe that the more personal the story the more universal the resonance. “Sophie Jones” explores grief through a very specific lens, but the obstacles that Sophie faces and the themes the film explores are ones that we can all relate to. In the film we get an intimate look at a Sophie’s experience of grief after losing her mother. Sophie uses her sexuality to feel alive and undergoes an artistic awakening as she struggles to transition from girlhood to womanhood. Ultimately, Sophie finds that numbness doesn’t last forever and the pain we feel from a profound loss can actually be a strange gift that transforms and opens our hearts to a deep and everlasting tenderness, a blown open rawness. “Sophie Jones” explores the idea that our grief isn't something that ever goes away, it evolves. Grief can be a source of awakening to vulnerability. It creates a rawness that shifts how we see the world and can be a strange gift that transforms our humanity. This isn't the end for Sophie Jones, it's just the beginning.
“Sophie Jones” is a story about loss but also about the unexpected comic moments that go hand in hand with heartbreak, healing and high school. The film embraces both the comic, awkward fumbling and the bold directness that comes along with a teenage girl discovering her sexual agency but does so within the context of grief, with reverence and without judgment. I’m inspired stylistically by the Norwegian coming-of-age comedy Turn Me On, Dammit! by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen and by Marielle Heller’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, with their honest, comic, and raw moments woven seamlessly together. The look of the film is hand held, visceral, and immersed in Sophie’s point of view. Andrea Arnold’s visual style of documentary-esque, character-based narratives with professional actors and first-time actors is a huge influence for the film as are the photographers Rania Matar, Nan Goldin, Rineke Dijkstra, William Eggleston and the authors Joan Didion and Mary Oliver.