“Maybe we aren’t alone.”
Miguel Matias, an International Emmy award winning producer and film-maker, wants to hit a nerve. The creator and show runner of two Portugal television series, “Strange” and “The Last Treasure,” submitted and was recognized for his first feature film, a ten-minute short titled “Emma’s Fine.”
The film premiered at the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg and was recently selected by the New York Portuguese Film Festival, which is currently taking the film on a world tour.
About a year ago, Matias began writing the script for a screenplay that he hoped would inspire people to look deeper into the grieving process and demands that society puts on them to seem happy and in control.
The film’s storyline is about a woman named Emma who uses social media to portray herself desirably but secretly struggles to make it through each passing moment alone in her home. Unfortunately, it seems that Emma is anything but what the title suggests, and Matias had the sinking feeling that his character is not alone in that struggle.
Because there is limited dialogue throughout the piece, Matias had to be intentional with every shot throughout the entire film. He was also in need of a talented actress, one who could portray an entire story full of hope, anguish, strength and weakness, without uttering a word. When he found Rachel Burttram, he knew he had found his star.
“Let me tell you one thing about Rachel,” Matias said. “I had a very specific idea of the shots I wanted already planned out visually in my head. The first scene I wanted to film was with the windows closed and showing the immense pain that Emma is in, which I knew would be very hard. I thought, ‘If she can’t do that scene, well then, I don’t have a film.’”
“Sometimes you can love an actor because they are so talented, but in certain roles they just can’t deliver. But when we took the first take I knew that everything was going to play out perfectly. I had the best actress ever.”
Burttram apprenticed through the Actors’ Theatre of Louisville Acting and received her Bachelor’s degree in theatre from the University of Alabama. She has since built a vast resume of experiences in stage plays, television commercials and sitcom roles including the hit show “Burn Notice.” Burttram has made quite a name for herself locally as a frequent ensemble season actor at the Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers.
“I have a much more experience on stage than in film,” Burttram said. “In this stage a year ago, I was really interested in broadening my horizon with more on-camera time. When this opportunity presented itself, I was really interested particularly because it’s the role of Emma in a movie called ‘Emma’s Fine,’ which told me there would be a lot of on-camera time.”
Because Burttram was in Maine at the time that she received Matias’ audition request, she had to interview with the Bonita Springs resident over Skype.
“We immediately seemed to have sort of a kindred spirit,” Burttram said. “When he offered me the role I was totally excited. The story is exactly the kind of story I‘m drawn to: a strong, interesting female character going through something and coming out of it even stronger.”
Burttram and Matias met soon after to begin filming with an unusually small team of ten people. The entire movie was shot in Matias’ house over a period of just three days.
“I wanted to let the location inspire me,” Matias said. “So as I lived in my house, I spent months envisioning each scene in detail. I wanted to present Emma as confined in her own prison. I didn’t want our staff to be overwhelmingly large either. I like to work with groups that become family, where the hearts touch each other.”
Matias always knew he wanted to become a filmmaker in America. After moving to California from Portugal and meeting his wife, Amy, the two moved to Bonita Springs in October 2013.
“It’s a passion,” Matias said. “I cannot do other things. I remember when I was very little that people would tell stories and I would go blank because I would visualize everything. When you talk, my eyes shut down and I see pictures.”
Both Matias and Burttram were careful to portray the main character’s pain in a way that anyone could relate to. Because viewers do not know what caused Emma’s pain or why she is struggling, they are left with an opportunity that invites personal experience to fill in the blanks and make her struggles relatable.
“The idea of timing and grief are often disagreed upon in society,” Matias said. “After someone goes through a tragic event, when is it going to be time for a person to be healed in eyes of other people? Does she have to have the same timeline as other people think, or will people think she will let go and heal herself?”
“She is fighting. We are all fighting. The world doesn’t see it and understand everything we’re going through when we are fighting and sad and down. Whether it be a break up or a death or any kind of loss, they often assume that we’ve moved on because no one wants to seem broken, but so often they’re wrong.”
Because pain looks different to different people, Burttram did a lot of research in order to accurately portray what Emma was feeling. She read articles about panic attacks and anxiety and talked to friends and family about grief. In the end, Burttram came to a conclusion.
“Unfortunately we stigmatize people going through hard events and it’s easy to judge people during those times,” Burttram said. “But when you’re in the thick of it, when you’re in the dark soul of the night, you are fighting. It doesn’t matter who you are. Sometimes we win, hopefully, and sometimes, unfortunately, we don’t. But I think what we see in this snapshot of a film is someone who really fights for it. In the end, she will be okay.”
“Emma’s Fine” has had screenings in St. Petersburg, Florida, Tribeca Cinemas, New York, Cascais, Portugal and Lisbon, Portugal. Upcoming screenings are scheduled for the following locations internationally through October: London, Macau, Sydney, New Bedford in Massachusetts, and Vancouver. Matias hopes to schedule free screenings in Naples at some point in the future as well.
“I hope the film creates an open dialogue for any viewer,” Burttram said. “I hope it creates conversations that help people understand that everyone has something they go through, and what does that look like when you’re alone? I think our film is what it looks like.”
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