Sundance 2021 Women Directors: Meet Carlson Young – “The Blazing World”

Carlson Young’s first short film, “The Blazing World,” premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Also an actor, she has appeared in “Scream: The TV Series,” “Key and Peele,” and “Emily in Paris.”

“The Blazing World” is screening at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which is taking place online and in person via Satellite Screens January 28-February 3.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

CY: “The Blazing World” follows a young woman named Margaret (played by me) as she is about to take her own life. Before she gets the chance to, she is dragged into a secret inner world by Lained (Udo Kier) to confront the trauma that is keeping her under water.

In my mind, the film is about grappling with depression and the inward journey that one faces to overcome such a force. I wanted to explore where that sadness came from for this character and approach it through a sort of warped psychological-thriller-fantasy perspective, and of course I love horror, so there’s a bit of that sprinkled throughout.

We create the inner workings of our own reality — a lot of times that reality is limited because of unresolved trauma. How do we move through that? Is there light at the end of that tunnel?

W&H: What drew you to this story?

CY: It started as an idea — a recurring dream I kept having. I made it first into a short, then developed it from there into its current iteration — always having the bigger idea in my head, but really needing to dive deeper into my own experiences in order to find the energy to really catapult the film into existence and then completion.

As I studied Margaret Cavendish in school, I was inspired by her daring piece “The Blazing World,” which led me to consider and construct what my own version of world-building would look like.

W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?

CY: It would be wonderful if the film made people consider their own childhoods — how something back there may be affecting their present in a negative way. The idea of “we repeat what we don’t repair.”

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

CY: It was psychologically excruciating at times getting this film made, and then a global pandemic came along. In the years of script development leading up to actually shooting, it was an uphill battle, involving basically just getting people to trust my vision and give me a chance a first-time filmmaker. I had to fight tooth and nail.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

CY: Financing is really challenging. We were fortunate enough to find private equity partners who supported the film.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

CY: What I love is world-building, editing, creating something out of nothing. I’ve been incredibly inspired by the great filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and Luis Buñuel, and have just watched as many films as I could over the years. I’ve always wanted to make films that have a sort of surreal quality and explore the human condition in a unique, brutally honest way.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

CY: I think the best advice I got in this process was to make the project into a short first.

And the worst: I had someone close to the project who made me question my instincts all the time — I think the worst thing you could be told is anything that makes you question what you know in your bones to be true.

W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?

CY: Based on my experience, my advice would be to outright block out all the things that are old-fashioned strikes against you and relentlessly trail-blaze what you’re passionate about making. We need female voices more than ever.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

CY: I’d have to say ” Cléo from 5 to 7″ because discovering Agnès Varda was big for me. She opened up a whole new world of experimental style and always explored female protagonists in this bold, unapologetic way that was so magnetic and groundbreaking.

W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?

CY: The pandemic has been really hard, certainly for everyone. While bunkered down, I’ve been working on my next script and diving deep into Czech New Wave cinema.

W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?

CY: Hollywood needs to champion underrepresented POC’s stories and embrace scripts that have been written by POC. The Oscars mandate feels like a good start.

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