Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo is the up-and-coming director of After.Life, her first feature film opening on April 9. In her first year at school, her award winning short film, “Paté,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2002 and, after being unsatisfied with the scripts she was offered to direct, wrote After.Life. She sat down to do a phone interview to discuss the film and her experiences.
So, just tell me a little about yourself.
I had this fascination with death since I was a very young girl. I was kind of always terrified of death and at the same time really, really intrigued by it … I was always trying to figure out what happens after you die and is there maybe an afterlife or is there some sort of transitional period when maybe your consciousness or your soul kind of stays with you and you’re able to reflect on your life and come to terms with your death so I always had that fascination and that’s why I decided to pick this subject for my debut.
That’s pretty much where the whole idea for the movie came from…?
… It started with a woman lying on the slab and the mortician preparing her body for the funeral and she opens her eyes and she says ‘Where am I?’ and he says ‘you’re dead. I’m preparing you for the funeral.” But really, it’s exactly what you said in that last paragraph. It’s really about that kind of very thin line between what does it really mean to be alive and if in fact your heart and your lungs are pumping blood and oxygen but you’re not really living in a fulfilling way, that doesn’t mean you’re alive.
You seem to be kind of the opposite of Anna, at least from what I’ve read about you so far. How do you take to people like Anna, how do you interpret living your life without actually living it?
I definitely try to be not like Anna … my father died when I was 10 years old and he was only 33 and he was living his life to the fullest. He died very young but he really lived life so if there was anything at all positive about my father’s death … that I learned very early on is … make the most out of the moment. If you love someone, tell them today. Don’t wait. If you regret something, if you’re sorry, apologize today. Don’t wait.
And what was it like to actually work on this movie, to actually make it?
I mean it’s extremely thrilling. We only had 25 days to shoot so it was very, very quick and very, very intense. Honestly, you don’t even have time to step back and reflect on the experience. You are so in the moment of making the movie but obviously it was the most thrilling experience and extremely invigorating. You’re constantly just living on this adrenaline and no matter how hard you work and how little you sleep, it’s the best thing that I’ve done. I had a wonderful crew and obviously amazing actors.
Did you ever feel like that your inexperience would come into play? Did you ever questions yourself or did you find that other people might be questioning you?
I was working with people who were so much more experienced than myself. There’s that, but I never felt intimidated because, Steven Spielberg was once making his first movie. You have (to) start somewhere and I think everyone was very — especially the actors — were very supportive of me which obviously helps. And at the same time I think you have to earn their respect.
How was it finding financing in this economy? It couldn’t have been easy.
No, it’s hard. Finding the funding for an intelligent, independent movie is difficult these days. Ironically, our financing actually came through I think it was Sept. 15, 2008 when basically all the banks crashed. It was pretty ironic, I think. We’re saying that this is the end of independent movies. Now, it’s getting better again. We had lots of interest in the script and we had interest from even studios in the script but everyone wanted to dumb it down a bit. I really wanted to tell this story so I had to find the right partner. And I found that partner in Bill Perkins, the financier and the producer. He absolutely got the script the way I saw it and helped me make that movie. That was very, very important to me, not to compromise the story.
What was it like when you saw the movie from beginning to end for the first time?
It actually happened with 500 people in the room at the AFI (American Film Institute) film festival. We were invited to the closing night film for the festival in November 2009. So it was extremely nerve-wrecking. But again, there’s nothing like watching your movie with an audience because you’re able to really see people’s reactions. And it’s fascinating when people were jumping or closing their eyes or people being terrified. There’s nothing better than this.
So the big question, what did happen to Anna?
For the purpose of the interview, I can’t tell you because we don’t want to give that away… Everyone asks me this question, was she dead or alive? I think the whole nature of life and death is, I wouldn’t say ambiguous, but it’s not a clear cut thing for me. This was something I purposefully wanted from the beginning of this movie, when I was writing the movie … It’s not really about knowing the answer, it’s more the understanding of the process of her reflecting on her life.
So what’s next for you? Do you have any projects planned or are you currently working on anything?
I am. Since the movie premiered in November, I’ve been getting a number of offers through my agent and I’ve been reading scripts but really I’m still very much concentrated on After.Life until April 9th when it comes out and I’ll be making decisions after April 9th. I have some of my ideas as well that I’ve been toying with but I do want to be on the set very quickly. I just love the experience of it. So I think my next project is not going to be something I write but most likely, someone else’s script that I’ll collaborate on with the writer.