Director April Mullen on how “Below Her Mouth” is all about the female gaze

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One of the films that’s demanding the attention of queer women at the Toronto International Film Festival this year is most definitely Below Her Mouth. This sexy drama about two strangers who fall in love and lust over the course of a weekend is described by its director, April Mullen, as “a landmark in terms of its female gaze.” Let me tell you; her description is very telling.

2016 Toronto Film Festival - Portraitsvia Getty

We recently sat down with April to talk about the film (written by Stephanie Fabrizi), its numerous sex scenes, her hopes for it and much more. I think you’ll find our chat really insightful.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

AfterEllen.com: What attracted you to this script as a director?

April Mullen: When I first read the script I was blown away because I had never read anything like that before, in terms of its sex and its boldness and what happened between women. I loved that it was not a statement on anything. It was just love for love’s sake. And there wasn’t a huge turmoil or complex plot shifts. It was just this gorgeous depiction of this connection between two people and how that happens. I’m always so curious. I’ve been through that, and I always think, “How does it happen so fast and so ferociously that it changes your life forever?” That you can spend three days with somebody, and you literally jump into a whole new you and a whole new world, and you’re willing to go there. That really drew me to the material.

And there was these gorgeous moments of silence between them, and I felt I could bring a lot to the project. I felt I was ready to, as an artist, bring so much to the project in terms of sharing myself and my experiences and my female perspective with that take on what that instant is like when you meet somebody and sparks fly and you can’t live without them.

 

AE: How much of that was just a great script and how much of that was genuinely wanting to take on a queer love story as well?

AM: It was a bit of both. I feel so blessed that I was able to do a film like this because it’s not every day where a drama and a love story comes across your desk and it’s financed. I’ve been a genre girl, and I tend to always get pitched a lot of genre scripts because it sells, it’s international and, you know, they’re very successful. And they can be with a low budget and without stars.

So to be able to have a project with such substance and such depth and a special story and meaning to it, I felt incredibly blessed that the project came my way. It was definitely a challenge and something I had never tackled before, at all, in any way, shape or form. But I knew that I had a lot of that side waiting to come out of me, and I couldn’t wait to explode that onto the screen. I was dying for material that was this beautiful and this deep and this honest and raw.

 Natalie Krill, April Mullen, Erika LinderGettyImages-603202474via Getty

AE: You made this film with an all-female crew. Can you tell me about when the decision to do so was made, who was involved in that conversation and why this was so important to your team?

AM: The decision was made right away. Very, very early on. Our original goal for this film was to show audiences something they had never seen before on screen. Because most of what we experience in terms of the general public and as audience members is predominately sex directed by men, written by men, and usually to turn men on. Now that’s fine because that’s just the way society is and it’s been like that for a really long time. But we really felt underrepresented in terms of the female perspective of what is sex for us, what defines our pleasures, our desires, What turns us on? And how is that depicted onscreen? If it was written by a woman, if it could be directed by a woman, played for women, and if we could have every key person creatively giving that female touch throughout the whole film, what would that look like? What would that truly look like? So that was our goal, was to really bring something new and fresh to the screen. We didn’t know what it would be or how it would turn out. You could only hope for the best and hope that everybody is bold enough and brings the most honest depiction of themselves creatively to the screen. I feel like we were successful in that original intention.

That’s what’s so exciting. It was difficult to find an all-female crew. It wasn’t easy. We’re talking everybody top to bottom. And there are very few females in the entertainment industry and in general, let alone the crew and behind the scenes. So we really worked for five months on never giving up on this idea of finding every single position to be a female. On the floor and behind the scenes. Even for score, editing. Everything. It was so important for us to stay true to our original intention. Everyone was involved in that decision and it happened very early on.

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