Photo courtesy of Antoinette Abbamonte
The 20th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival kicked off earlier this month, with one brilliant film among the many. “Since August” is a film about grief, life, forgiveness and the strength of the human spirit moving on. In an interview with one of its stars, Antoinette Abbamonte, she talks about her inspiration for the film and her character of Star, a deaf woman grieving a very personal loss.
First, I would like to cover your advocacy for the deaf community. You have lobbied for more accessible closed captions, the inclusion and casting of Deaf actors and actresses in film and theatre, and served on the board of Women in Film, advocating with directors and producers for diversity and inclusion of actors with disabilities. You even run your own production company, Mermaid Signature Production. Are there any advocacy projects you are working on at the moment, following the filming of “Since August”?
Wow, yes that’s true. I have several hats, I will have to put on the right one. My mother was also deaf and she immigrated – both my parents were immigrants. She was a very strong woman and I learned that from her. She always told me, don’t be afraid. It’s a big world, you enter it! It was his thing, telling me that I could work and succeed. Your food and home won’t come to you, you have to work for it – she came from that kind of mentality. It really rubbed off on me, and access has always been a big issue. So my hope was to come in and work with hearing people, expose them and make them more comfortable working with deaf people. Directors, producers, it was my goal to show them that there are different ways of communicating, of coming and going. I really wanted to break down barriers for the Deaf community, because we’re all human, with different experiences of course, but we’re all here to work and work through those differences.
Your well-known roles are mostly comedic in nature, though Since August’s tone seems more dark and thoughtful. How was the creative process and preparation for roles different in “Since August”?
It’s been a long journey. I took a lot of classes, and I wanted to take the opportunity and get involved. It was a change of perspective. I was really looking forward to it, it was a bit of a gamble, but I really enjoyed this more classic role. The studies also influenced me a lot, I really liked having this range from comic roles to classic and more serious roles. I took Stanislavski’s method of acting, and also Chekov’s method of acting. Stanislavski was talking about what’s going on right now while Chekov was talking about the past, grieving and the things you bring to the table. Maybe your grandmother passed away and you’re using this method to fit into the role you’re playing. These two models really inspired me. You have to be a little crazy to be an actor, but a good crazy one.
The film tackles subjects of bereavement, addiction, deafness and bonds between women. How does the film deal with these topics and why do you think this story is so relevant right now?
I think first of all, I really liked this script when I first read it. The focus was on the everyday life that most of us live. It wasn’t about deafness, it was about life itself. Things that happened to others. Some of this stuff is awful, to a degree, but it’s a script that I fell in love with, and I thought, I gotta do it. It wasn’t about deafness per se, it was about life. There’s another character who wants to tell a story and tries to find a way to communicate. She takes ASL (American Sign Language) classes, and that would apply to any culture, any language. The fact that it’s sign language doesn’t matter. It’s international, learning another language to communicate with someone, meeting someone halfway. It can happen to anyone anywhere. I grew up in New York and saw different cultures and languages every day. I had been exposed to this early on, and so when I saw the script, I connected to that and really enjoyed the story. It wasn’t about lamenting the poor deaf person or offering to “help” him. I was offered these scripts, but I don’t like deaf people being victimized. I want everyday life, to take care of life, to take care of things.
How was your filming experience with Diana Zuros?
She… I’m trying to put it into words. She is everything. She is very competent, she has specific questions for everyone, she knows what she wants to work with. She started the film with no money, and she started from scratch, which is so commendable. She spent ten years writing, asking questions, getting people to work with her, raising money to pay staff, and she also had her brother with her to help fund her. I am so impressed with her, on every level. I really enjoyed working with her. When I had these breakdowns with the script, she knew when and how to film. We worked really well together, we just had this unspoken understanding where she let me do what I had to do and had respect for all the actors. I really enjoyed that. I think we will connect and meet again.
Working with co-star Sabina Ahkmedova, did you have any favorite or particularly poignant moments throughout filming?
I really enjoyed working with her. She is a very serious actress. She studied acting in Russia, in one of the best schools in my opinion. She has great understanding and intuition as to what needs to happen. We have mutual respect and great chemistry, and I’m really looking forward to working with her again.
Why did you initially want to participate in this film?
The story is about forgiveness, independent of others. It was about me, individuals learning to forgive, so that life could be lived. If you don’t forgive, you’re stuck, you can’t go on, and you’re the one putting those barriers in front of you. This story, I thought, would help others who might be involved in similar situations, provide a way to move on, get under, recover, and move on.
[End of interview]