As a writer, the concept of remaking or basing a new film on a classic immediately rears cynicism. With an endless well of themes to explore in this apprenticeship we call life, the notion of recreating something that’s already proven successful seems somewhat safe, if not lazy.
Yet, in struggling with my personal bias and my own hypocrisy–I’ve seen every adaptation of Little Women and often enjoy song remakes–I found myself challenged watching the “new” lesbian flick Loving Annabelle with an open mind. But that’s the challenge writer/director Katherine Brooks presents to her audience; walk a mile in another’s shoes before judging.
Based on the 1931 German classic Maedchen in Uniform, Loving Annabelle is the story of a teacher-student romance. Set in a Catholic girls’ school, where non-Catholic Annabelle is sent by her senator mother after being expelled from previous private schools, the film explores a series of relationships–the friendships and rivalries among the dorm-sharing students, their interactions with young and attractive teacher Simone (Diane Gaidry), and the slow-building love affair between Simone and Annabelle (Erin Kelly).
Award-winning Brooks seems undaunted tackling this multi-layered, controversial material–sex with a minor, sex between a teacher and student, lesbianism and Catholicism–portraying it in a beautifully shot film with excellent performances by Gaidry, Kelly, Gustine Fudickar as tough wannabe-dyke Cat, and Laura Breckenridge as social outcast Colins.
Brooks told Xtra West that Loving Annabelle, which took seven years to produce, has a clear message: “Not to be so quick to judge a situation that you’re not directly involved in. I think the world would be a much nicer place if we just focused on our lives and left people alone. We’re all on our own personal journey and when you have people judging you and ridiculing you, it just makes it so much harder. Most teachers that are involved with teacher-student affairs are usually made out to be the villains. That’s not always the case.”
No stranger to controversial endeavours, the 30-year-old Louisiana native has an extensive and impressive list of credits, including reality shows Temptation Island, The Osbournes, The Simple Life (starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie), Newlyweds (with Jessica Simpson), MTV’s Meet The Barkers, plus her short films Finding Kate and Dear Emily.
So why base her first feature length film on an old movie?
“In the classic, Maedchen in Uniform, it is a motherly love–a young girl whose mother has died [is] reaching out for intimacy to the beautiful, older teacher,” says Brooks. “I was frustrated nothing ever happened between them. I love the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a beautiful film, but I was inspired to stretch the envelope further. Loving Annabelle is much more sexually driven and emotionally charged. The student is more aggressive and mature and the teacher more conflicted.”
Fresh from a trip to India, Brooks admits that even though homosexuality is more widely accepted now, Loving Annabelle was not easy to make.
“Even today, with movies winning Academy Awards like Monster, Boys Don’t Cry and Brokeback Mountain, actors are still scared to get typecast. I had an actress, a rather famous one, point blank tell me in the meeting she loved the character of Simone, but just couldn’t come around to playing a lesbian. Investors also wanted me to make Annabelle 18. They were scared of the controversy. I tried to explain that I felt controversy sold tickets. Some agreed. Some didn’t.”
Brooks’ road to success was paved with sheer talent, unwavering determination, and her passion for hard work and risk taking.
“I dropped out of school when I was 16, left Louisiana [with] $240 in my pocket, and moved to Los Angeles. My ‘film school’ was putting money together with a group of people and making a movie. That’s where it started for me.”
Today, the gutsy woman lives the good life in southern California, earning big bucks and calling her own shots. But being career driven has its downside.
“I’ve made a lot of changes with my career and what I want. I’m not directing reality [shows] anymore, and I’m focusing on writing my next script and developing projects that inspire me. In the past, I sacrificed a social life, but I’m okay with that.”