Sudeshna Sen explores feminist themes in crime-based short

Sudeshna Sen looks at photos she has taken in the Arboretum in Seattle, Wash. for site development on a future video project. (Photo by Rayna Stackhouse)
Sudeshna Sen looks at photos she has taken in the Arboretum in Seattle, Wash. for site development on a future video project. (Photo by Rayna Stackhouse.)

An article about the FBI discovering a grandmother’s financial scam after losing her life savings helped Sudeshna Sen, a former Japanese literature professor, build her idea for her first short film “Julia’s Farm.”

The 15-minute film is about two women who find true friendship and happiness, after one of them discovers that her boss has lost her pension, and the two turn to crime to recover her money.

Sen’s fascination with women committing premeditated crimes is related to not only the film she made but also to her feminist views and voice.

Kate Witt-Julia Morton on the right and Meaghan Halvorson-Jenny Pollitto on the left act in a scene in Julia's Farm during the summer of 2014 in Seattle. (Used with permission of Sudeshna Sen)
Kate Witt-Julia Morton on the right and Meaghan Halvorson-Jenny Pollitto on the left act in a scene in Julia’s Farm during the summer of 2014 in Seattle. (Used with permission of Sudeshna Sen)

Sen grew up and got an undergraduate degree in Japanese literature in India. She also worked and studied in Japan for several years, where attitudes toward women in the workplace also influenced her feminist views.

Sen says her ideas may be a little too loud for the gender expectations where she grew up.

“When I was living in New Delhi from 1991 through 1996, my experience was that people loved hearing from me and my thoughts, as long as I wasn’t too strident about it and not too disruptive,” Sen said. “As long as I was not too out there. There is still this assumption that girls in general will conform to social expectation and that bothered me intensely.”

From that point on in her life, she decided she was a proud feminist with strong opinions.

Sen wanted to speak out about against gender roles with “Julia’s Farm” and to address the global phenomenon of women making decisions, “relating to their own lives that may be unconventional and that may not conform to society’s expectations.”

Sen’s screenplay of “Julia’s Farm” raises the question, what happens when a woman works towards a dream only to lose it all? The answer is she completely turns her life around and does something different, no matter the social constructs of society.

After almost nine years teaching Japanese literature at the university level — including some years as an affiliate associate professor of Japanese literature in the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington — Sen left her profession to pursue her passion of film.

When she was 19 she watched “Rashomon,” a 1950 Japanese film. She has since seen it more than 40 times, and she says it never gets old.

“I was thinking ‘God, why do I like this movie so much? I can’t imagine.’ Then I realized it’s not just the movie, I just like watching movies. I love looking at every single frame and knowing the exact minute when that guy is going to turn his head or the camera is going to turn,” Sen said.

After quitting her job, she developed “Julia’s Farm” at a screenwriting class at the TheFilmSchool in SeattleIn the year-long process of working on the screenplay, she worked as a production assistant to gain work experience in the Seattle film industry.

Julia's Farm filmed in locations around Seattle, most notably Bonney-Watson funeral home. (Used with permission of Sudeshna Sen)
Julia’s Farm filmed in locations around Seattle, most notably Bonney-Watson funeral home. (Used with permission of Sudeshna Sen)

She convinced award-winning Seattle director and cinematographer John Jeffcoat to shoot her movie, when he could find a few days in his extremely busy travel schedule.

“Julia’s Farm” was filmed over four days around Seattle during the summer of 2014 at locations such as Bonney-Watson funeral home on Capitol Hill, which served as the work location of one of the characters.

“Julia’s Farm” premiered on April 5 at the Riverside International Film Festival in Riverside, CA. The Northwest Film Forum plans to show “Julia’s Farm” in the Seattle area early this fall, though an exact date has not been set.

Sen hopes to make more shorts in the future and eventually a feature film. She wants the stories she tells to cultivate communities and discussion while empowering women worldwide.

Through the long editing process of making “Julia’s Farm” Sen hopes to show women around the world that if they want the feminine narrative in the media to change, more women need to be active in the film industry.

“I see myself as a female filmmaker,” Sen said, “I would do anything to make more women interested in making films, not just working on them. I definitely think the industry would benefit from more female perspectives.”

Sudeshna Sen takes photos in the Arboretum in Seattle, Wash. while doing site location research for an upcoming video project involving her son’s school. (Photo by Rayna Stackhouse)
Sudeshna Sen takes photos in the Arboretum in Seattle, Wash. while doing site location research for an upcoming video project involving her son’s school. (Photo by Rayna Stackhouse)

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