QUEEN OF THE DESERT Director Mary Ann Rotondi “Everyone really Showed up for me and this story. I believe the story itself – finding a way to talk to one another; make room for one another’s humanity; heal some of the angry divisions around us right now – touched a lot of people and made directing easier”

This evocative short film was inspired by the director Mary Ann Rotondi‘s visit to her home state of Montana, where she frequently encountered the Confederate flag, despite the state not having a large black population or any meaningful connection to the Civil War. What is it about this symbol that is so powerful, and what does it say about the loneliness and isolation so many people feel today? When so much of the national dialogue seems aimed at pitting people against one another, QUEEN OF THE DESERT aspires to create a situation where lonely people might find a way to talk and make room for one another’s shared humanity. 

When a lonely long-haul trucker picks up a young black hitchhiker, an encounter with the police forces them to push through their prejudices to find a connection as human beings.

Mary Ann, to start off this interview I just want to congratulate you on such a phenomenal short film, you managed to capture the audience right from the start. I wanted to know what your personal experience was like going back to Montana. What experiences inspired this film? 

Thank you so much for the congratulations! 

I was born and raised in Butte, Montana by parents who had come to Montana from New York. So, from the very beginning I’ve always been steeped in the beauty and character and culture of both Montana and New York. I have great loyalty to and love for both places. I wanted to tell a story that might help bridge the growing divide between the two.

Was there anything particularly challenging or uncomfortable to film? 

There were lots that was challenging and uncomfortable. It was always important to me that I not create an incendiary story, but I wanted to create a thought-provoking story that might encourage dialogue. I also wanted to make sure that I didn’t overstep with the Livy character, and I made sure I had lots of input on her character from many different sources. She’s a young character, and vulnerable and I wanted to make sure she was safe and not just there to make people angry. The point was always to inspire constructive, caring dialogue on a difficult subject. 

From a practical standpoint, getting a truck to film in that I could afford was really challenging, and then filming in the truck was also a big challenge. Fun, but challenging!

I wanted to create a thought-provoking story that might encourage dialogue

What was the dynamic like between the two lead actors Jade Radford and Robert Eli? I can imagine race/prejudice is never an easy task to bring to life on the big screen? 

This was a difficult subject to film with lots of sensitivities, especially since we shot not long after George Floyd was murdered. We were all aware that filming this story for Jade, who is young and black, was going to be difficult. She was incredibly brave, and Rob was protective of her, and they had a lovely dynamic. We made sure she was not the only person of color on set. Everyone on the crew was aware of how difficult it was for her and wanted to be as supportive as possible. 

We were all aware that filming this story for Jade, who is young and black, was going to be difficult. She was incredibly brave

What was it like directing a film that holds personal reflection on your own experiences? 

It was amazing. Everyone really showed up for me and this story. I believe the story itself – finding a way to talk to one another; make room for one another’s humanity; heal some of the angry divisions around us right now – touched a lot of people and made directing easier. Everybody was all in, and I am so grateful and proud of the work we did together. 

What was the atmosphere like on set? 

Queen of the Desert was mostly shot in a dirt field alongside a highway about an hour out of Denver. We arrived at dusk and then worked through the night till sunrise to get both ends of magic hour. It was cold and dark and very isolated which helped support the idea of the narrative. People were hard-working and kind. I believe in a fun atmosphere on set, and I try to set a calm tone. It’s such hard work, with such gruelling hours, it’s important to me that it feels emotionally safe, and yes, fun. But it was still 3 in the morning on the side of the dark road!

I believe in a fun atmosphere on set, and I try to set a calm tone. It’s such hard work, with such gruelling hours, it’s important to me that it feels emotionally safe, and yes, fun

Lastly, what can we expect next from you? 

I’m currently developing Queen of the Desert into a feature, and am also working on production deals for the two screenplays I’ve written, both romcoms. 

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