Rose McGowan Reaches for Oscar With Short Film Directorial Debut (Exclusive)

Starr Whitesides

"Dawn" will be playing for a week in L.A. along with female-driven films picked by the director

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When Rose McGowan’s short-film directorial debut Dawn premiered at Sundance this winter it took many by surprise. It didn’t look like the work of someone who had been acting since she was a teenager (TV’s Charmed, Grindhouse, The Black Dahlia), but rather the work of a cinephile who had spent a lifetime feasting on the classics.

"I am a big film and art buff, I think better films would be made if more people were," McGowan tells The Hollywood Reporter. "My three inspirations for Dawn were the look of the original Parent Trap, the tension of Night of the Hunter and the loneliness of an Edward Hopper painting."

The highly stylized short, set in Kennedy-era America, tells the story of Dawn (Tara Barr), a teenager living a sheltered existence. When a hunky and mysterious gas station attendant (Reiley McClendon) innocently flirts with Dawn, the door to all her teenage dreams swings open. What follows is not your typical story of sexual awakening, but rather a surprisingly twisty film of heightened reality that could best be described as Douglas Sirk-meets-David Lynch.

After generating some acclaim for Dawn earlier this year, McGowan is now hoping the film can nab an Academy Award nomination. To qualify for best short it must be publicly exhibited for paid admission in Los Angeles for three consecutive days, but McGowan has decided to turn her qualifying run into a week long “Dawn Festival” and will be setting up residency at the Downtown Independent on Sept 19.

For seven nights, Dawn will be accompanied by a movie picked by McGowan. According to a statement, the films were chosen because they “feature iconic performances by actresses that prove rich, complex and layered roles can and should be written for and by women.” The films will screen with McGowan and special guests in attendance.

For the former Charmed actress, Dawn and its Oscar run are her first steps towards directing features. "I have three features in the works right now," McGowan tells THR. "Two are in rewrites. One is a bigger film, one smaller. After conservatively estimating my time on sets at over 17,000 hours, I’m more than ready." 

Here’s the full "Dawn Festival" lineup, along with McGowan’s reasoning for picking each film:

Safe: "Todd Haynes directed Julianne Moore in a haunting study of a woman's life."

Thelma & Louise: "Ridley Scott directed two substantial actresses in two substantial, inspiring roles."

Harold and Maude: "Hal Ashby directed Ruth Gordon. Two creatives on a creative journey."

Sixteen Candles: "John Hughes directed Molly Ringwald. He made a teen's hopes and hurts real."

Rosemary’s Baby: "Roman Polanski directed Mia Farrow in a virtuoso breakdown performance."

Silkwood: "Mike Nichols directed Meryl Streep and Cher. They showed us women can change the world by finding their voice."

The Silence of the Lambs: "Jonathan Demme directed Jodie Foster. She showed us what a person can do when they go forward despite their fear."