“To Make an Independent Movie is Delusional in a Way”: Alaska is a Drag‘s Shaz Bennett and Melanie Miller at US in Progress

US in Progress is a biannual event held in June during the Champs-Elysées Film Festival in Paris and in October during the American Film Festival in Wroclaw. It’s a five-year-old industry event that aims to strengthen transatlantic film collaborations and partnerships between European industry and emerging American filmmakers. The fifth US in Progress recently held in Wroclaw featured six films in various editing and post-production stages. The participants included:

Mike Ott and Nathan Silver, Actor Martinez

Shaz Bennett and Melanie Miller, Alaska is a Drag

Zachary Shedd and Daniel Patrick Carbone, Americana

Benjamin Kruger, It Had to Be You

Joel Potrykus, The Alchemist Cookbook

Daniel Y Grove, Seth Caplan, and Reza Sixo Safai, The Loner

Over the course of three days in Wroclaw, amidst the American Film Festival, the participating filmmakers and their producers watched each other’s private screenings and attended one-on-one meetings with European buyers and festival programmers from Tribeca, Locarno, Edinburgh, and Wroclaw’s New Horizons Film Festival. At the final night’s closing celebration, three films were awarded various awards, including a TV acquisition offer forActor Martinez (Ott and Silver) and digital post-production services for The Loner (Grove, Caplan, and Safai). The biggest prize of post-production services, including a 5.1 sound mix, a TV acquisition offer, and an original score composition, went toAlaska is a Drag (Bennett and Miller).

Written and directed by Bennett and produced by Miller and her Fishbowl Films partner Diane Becker, Alaska is a Drag tells the story of Leo and his twin sister Tristen (Martin L. Washington Jr. and Maya Washington) as they overcome their hometown struggles in Alaska and plan to find their long-lost mother in LA. It’s the first feature film for Bennett, who has worked as a television writer and film festival programmer. She is also the current LA co-chapter leader of The Film Fatales, a collective of female directors that was founded in New York in 2013 and now has over 400 members.

A native “Mormon kid” from Salt Lake City, Bennett has been devoted to film since she saw her first movie at the Sundance Film Festival when she was fourteen years old. When Bennett and her producer sit down with me in Wroclaw, Bennett identifies the shift in her life trajectory as this first movie experience at Sundance with strangers in the dark. And though 2,000+ submissions vied for sixteen slots in the US dramatic competition this past year, Bennett dreams of premiering her own work someday at her hometown festival. The idea for her film itself emerged from a daydream she had during her time working in a fish cannery in Alaska. Bennett sets her protagonist at a similar job in a fish cannery, filling his working hours with the daydreams he shares with his sister in his free time. Otherwise, he’s rehearsing for a drag karaoke contest and learning to box…

Read the rest of this article and interview from Filmmaker.