On Saturday, February 29th the Athena Film Festival held the New York Premiere of director Liz Garbus’ first narrative feature Lost Girls at Barnard College in Manhattan.
Lost Girls is based on a true crime novel by the same name written by Robert Kolker. The film follows Mari Gilbert as she searches for her 24-year-old missing daughter Shannan. Through tracing Shannan’s last known steps, she discovers information that leads her to push law enforcement to uncover over a dozen unsolved murders of young sex workers.
The film stars award-winning actress Amy Ryan as Mari Gilbert. The cast also includes rising star Oona Laurence and seasoned actor Dean Winters, amongst many other wildly talented actors and actresses.
Before the screening started we had the opportunity to interview the director and two of the cast members on the red carpet.
The Knockturnal: How did you come across this story and what made you want to tell it on the big screen?
Liz Garbus: The story came to me through my agent. She sent me a script and the original producer was Kevin McCormack, who had optioned the book Lost Girls and worked with Michael Werwie on creating the script and I got on board after that.
The Knockturnal: As a documentary filmmaker you are always telling real-life stories and this film is based on a true story. What was it like switching over to leading a narrative feature? Was your process different working on this film as opposed to documentaries?
Liz Garbus: Yeah the process is really different. Obviously a lot of time is spent working on the script. Researching, getting that right, tweaking it. And then of course there is a lot of time spent on casting. All of these things are totally different from working on a documentary. The thing that I found the most similar, the most familiar was the editing process. You get into the editing room and your job is to tell a good story and it’s the same in documentary filmmaking too.
The Knockturnal: What do you hope will come from telling this story right now?
Liz Garbus: This is a film about believing women and elevating women’s voices. And these women even in death were not taken seriously. Their dignity was not afforded that and that was not afforded to their families. So this film is about elevating their voices and hoping people listen and hopefully people will not let go of this case.
The Knockturnal: What does it mean to you to be here today screening this film at a festival that is all about celebrating women in film and telling the stories of fearless women?
Liz Garbus: It’s so perfect. It’s a great place to be. We all just feel really happy and excited to be here.
The Knockturnal: What initially drew you to this role?
Dean Winters: Basically I got a call from my agent and they sent me the script and I read it. I know this story, I remember this from twelve years ago and I wanted to be part of it. So I went in and I read for it and luckily they cast me. I read Robert Kolker’s book Lost Girls and I started doing all the research that I could. I actually went out to Suffolk County and road around with the original detectives that worked on the case initially. So I got their whole point of view because I was pretty much playing one of them. It was just one of those stories that was so prescient during that day and so fascinating that I wanted to more a part of this movie than most movies that I read for. Because most movies you read for are made up but this is a true story.
The Knockturnal: Did you feel any added pressure in playing a real-life person?
Dean Winters: Ironically my character in the film is the only character who is not a real person but he is based on two other detectives. So it was kind of like an amalgamation of the two. I wanted to get it right. But it’s not like I was playing one person specifically which was good for me because it gave me a little bit of wiggle room to make it my own.
The Knockturnal: What are you hoping comes from this film?
Dean Winters: I think what everyone wants is for this case to be solved. There have been instances over the years where a movie or a TV show has solved a case. If we do that that would be fantastic. I just want people to see the movie. It’s a really, really, really good movie.
The Knockturnal: What specifically about your role in the film interested you?
Oona Laurence: I’ve never really played a character with a mental illness before so I think that was definitely appealing. And I love parts that I really have to research. Liz sent me a bunch of YouTube videos about schizophrenics and I think that was really cool.
The Knockturnal: What was your favorite part of working on this film?
Oona Laurence: I think just being around the cast. Amy is incredible. Thomasin is incredible. I think the cast is just so star-studded and incredibly inspiring to be around as a young actor.
The Knockturnal: What does it feel like to be here today at this festival that celebrates female filmmakers and lifting women up in the media?
Oona Laurence: It’s great. All of these women are so inspiring and we all have voices. This movie especially just really tells you that you should use them and no matter what just keep on pushing, just keep on pushing.
Lost Girls will begin streaming on Netflix starting Friday, March 13th.