Oscar-winning filmmaker Julia Kennelly and “Saturday Night Live” alum Rachel Dratch have made a sweet and surprisingly poignant short film about a schoolteacher-turned-dominatrix.
“Marcy Learns Something New,” starring Dratch as an emotionally flat-lining widow who finds some joy after a suburban BDSM workshop, is making its world premiere in Program Three of the virtual 2020 Aspen Shortsfest, screening online through April 5.
The 16-minute film offers some welcome laughs and features a brilliantly modulated comedic and empathetic turn from Dratch, which has the viewer rooting for Marcy as she wields a whip while quizzing her submissive partner on American history trivia.
“We wanted to cast someone who was known as a comedic performer, so they could nail those scenes and so it might be more approachable,” Kennelly, who wrote and directed the film, explained in a recent phone interview. “Working with Rachel was amazing.”
Support Local Journalism
Kennelly first learned about the existence of BDSM workshops at a live storytelling event a few years ago, which piqued her interest as a filmmaker. She went to some of the classes and was surprised at what she found.
“People think of BDSM as a dark and scary thing,” she said. “But especially in a community setting, it’s lighthearted and fun. It’s like the environment of an improv class.”
The idea of someone like Marcy in the suburbs finding a wholesome joy as a dominatrix is based in the reality that Kennelly found in this subculture.
“It’s amazing seeing the kinds of people who are interested in it,” she said. “It takes a lot of bravery to go into a workshop and say, ‘Sure, I’ll try dominating someone in front of a group of people.’”
Kennelly most recently produced “The Neighbors’ Window,” which won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in February. Producing an Academy Award-winning short obviously opened a lot of doors for Kennelly, though her career – like all of the film world – is largely paused amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I had a great month-and-a-half where everybody was reaching out to me and saying, ‘Let’s talk about doing something,’ mostly feature projects, which are all now on hold,” she said. “But it’s great. They will come back to life.”
While Kennelly’s film projects, commercial shoots and work as a television line producer is halted amid the coronavirus shutdown of the film industry, she’s volunteering with a grocery deliver service for the at-risk and quarantined in New York.
“I’m managing our call center, so I’ve been very busy doing that,” she said. “And I may get some writing done, which seems like what everybody thinks they’re supposed to be doing now.”