'The Tale's' Jennifer Fox, Laura Rister on Making a "Challenging" Memoir Film

Sundance panel — Salkin - Publicity - H 2018
Allen Salkin

Kering and Women in Motion hosted a talk with the female forces behind the much-buzzed-about Sundance film.

The makers of one of the most talked-about films at Sundance this year, The Tale, went into more depth about it at a Monday night panel at Claim Jumper on Main Street in Park City.

A memoir-film, The Tale recounts the story of writer-director Jennifer Fox coming to terms with the fact that what she long remembered as a consensual sexual relationship she had at age 13 with a 40-year-old was in fact rape.

Difficult scenes showing acts of abuse have spurred complex reactions. At screenings, some audience members walked out during the scenes. Those who stayed to the end gave the film standing ovations. The subject matter did not make financing the film easy, said producer Lauren Rister.

“A film with a female protagonist, combined with very challenging subject matter is not exactly catnip for financiers and advance foreign sales,” Rister said.

Ten years in the writing and a half-decade in production allowed just enough time to pass that the film seems to have arrived at the perfect moment, said Fox. The Tale is her debut effort working with actors and a script after a long run as a successful documentary maker. “If we started this movie now, it might be easier to make,” Fox said. “It just means that everybody involved in this had to have more courage.”

“The world is ready to take a challenging look at this dark subject of child sexual abuse,” Fox said. “To us, it’s a miracle.”

Putting together the financing involved support from donors, grants and tax breaks from Louisiana, Rister added. The panel was held as part of Kering’s Women in Motion series that aims to showcase the contribution of women to the film industry. Fox said that among the challenging ideas the film addresses is that adult perpetrators often subject children to “grooming,” showering them with love before the abuse starts. Thus, it is often the case that survivors struggle with lingering feelings of love toward their abusers, she said.

When an audience member asked Fox to give her thoughts on Woody Allen and his daughter Dylan Farrow’s assertion that he molested her, Fox demurred, saying her goal with the film was never to point fingers at anyone, not even the figure portrayed in the film. 

“My goal was to understand the context of what happened and to help others,” she said, but she discounted the idea that it was especially therapeutic. “I’m a little bit resistant to the idea that ‘oh, you’re doing film therapy,'” Fox said. “It’s always a tough process working with any material and finding the depth of the story. So all film is therapeutic. I don’t want to say it’s special because it’s memoir.”

Rister noted that she’s hopeful that the conversations The Tale and the #MeToo movement have spurred will make a difference. “A lot of us want to form an ecosystem of collaborators to support women filmmakers and woman in all levels of the business.”