Yesterday I got word that my drama feature Ronja of the North made it through to the quarterfinalist round of the Academy’s Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship. Been touched by the notes of congratulations from friends and well-respected peers, and quite a few have asked me about this story, as it was a back-burner baby of a project last fall and winter.
So, here’s a bit about why this story, now, and why it and me?
Many of us have parents or grandparents with liver spots, tissue-paper-thin skin covering gnarled hands, and eyes and minds that move a bit too slow for our younger, impatient, life-is-busy selves. It is nearly impossible to imagine them as once being young, with their own dreams and tales of heartache.
This screenplay, Ronja of the North, emerged from two threads of inspiration. First, this deeply personal theme of aging and connections to loved ones through time drew me in…
In essence, Ronja became a letter of apology to my grandmothers for not getting to know them in my youth.
Oddly, however, the second thread of narrative inspiration was an innocuous blog post I stumbled across: an out-of-the-blue rant of Twitterdom on why Interview with a Vampire was such a bad film. Vampires were never my thing, but the chief complaint lodged in my brain: “If you were so miserable, Brad Pitt, why not walk outside on a sunny day and save us two hours of misery?”
If I was a woman trapped in an elderly body with little resemblance to my former self, what would I do before ending it all in a blaze of glory…?
And so this story began.
At the end of our lives—if we’ve been lucky enough to make it to ripe old age—we’re often facing existence as a forgotten person. But what if that state of loneliness never ended? What if the humiliating weakness of an old age you resented went on and on? As beauty faded over time, and all you had were the labels “mother,” “daughter,” “lover” to your name—how would you define yourself when physical action became difficult?
You’d have one hell of a story to tell.
In Ronja, a sweeping tale with a supernatural twist, I wanted to explore this double-edged theme of living a dismissed life as an elderly woman. By breaking open a character-driven drama about female agency, I sought to showcase a lifetime of lessons learned as the past, literally, comes back to haunt my protagonist.
Like my structural and emotional inspirations The Imitation Game, The Debt, and Saving Mr. Banks, Ronja layers different timelines into the plot to show how one woman finds herself and her calling—but only after having lived a life rich in heartache. Here, interwoven flashes of present-day interrogations, childhood memories, and the guilt of past mistakes, culminate in knowing who you should have been in the past, but most importantly, who you are now.
Ronja of the North is the story of one woman’s chance for atonement—to finally act on the life of experiences she has collected. From escaping a nursing home in modern-day Germany, to revisiting the horrors of WWII Denmark, she eventually returns home to the sun-bleached Scandinavian landscape where the only things keeping her company are the moss-strewn rocks, the churning grey waves… and the strength of her will.by