‘Soft and Quiet’ Film: Director Beth de Araújo Interview

Now a Gotham nominee for Breakthrough Director, the filmmaker tells IndieWire how she built her revelatory and terrifying “Soft & Quiet” with real-life monsters.

As a short filmmaker, Beth de Araújo explored dark material — love affairs at any cost, the price of drug addiction, sorority hazing. But that’s not horror, right? She didn’t think so. Then she made her feature debut with the terrifying and ambitious “Soft & Quiet,” a one-shot, real-world white-power nightmare. And that’s the kind of feature that should scare anyone.

“It’s funny now that people pin me as a horror director, because I’ve never shot horror in my life, but I love it,” de Araújo said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “I love crossing over expectations. The film is certainly horrific, and I think a lot of my work leans into that.”

“Soft & Quiet,” which debuted at SXSW in March and will be released Friday by Momentum Pictures, follows a single afternoon and evening in the life of an elementary school teacher (frequent de Araújo collaborator Stefanie Estes, who starred in de Araújo’s Oxycontin short drama, “Chevy Chase”) as she brings together a group of, say, like-minded women (including co-stars Olivia Luccardi, Eleanore Pienta, Dana Millican).

Hell, let’s tell it like it is: Estes plays Emily, who is building her own little white power organization with a variety of women in her small town who dream of doing everything from starting a magazine to dividing local Black families. Their meeting features cookies, tea, wine, and a homemade pie emblazoned with a swastika. Later, the group later runs into a pair of POC sisters (Cissy Ly and Melissa Paulo) and they became the target of their misplaced rage.

For de Araújo, whose mother is Chinese-American and father is Brazilian (the San Francisco native holds dual citizenship in the States and Brazil), the story is personal. Inspired by her own experiences with a racist teacher, fueled by the Amy Cooper birdwatching incident, and bolstered by deep research into the “Tradlife” movement, the film is a dramatic and frightening heartstopper.

Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

To capture its one-take feel, De Araújo shot the film in consecutive order four times. She’s now been nominated for the Gotham Awards’ prestigious Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award alongside including Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”), Elegance Bratton (“The Inspection”), Owen Kline (“Funny Pages”), Jane Schoenbrun (“We’re All Going to the World’ Fair”), and Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovi (“Murina”).

While De Araújo said she doesn’t feel like a horror director, Blumhouse Productions saw “Soft & Quiet” differently: After screening an early cut before SXSW, the company came on as a producer. “Having Blumhouse attached has been nothing but helpful for us,” she said. “They have such brand recognition, and they have such a following, and I think with a tiny film with no huge, heavy-hitting stars, that you can rely on [that] for marketing [is wonderful]. It’s going to get to live and breathe with a bigger audience.”

That bigger audience also may have a big response, and de Araújo said she is prepared for that. “I think it’s polarizing, by design. It’s meant to make you feel very uncomfortable,” she said. “There’s either the reaction to sit in that discomfort and ask why, [or] there are people who don’t like feeling the discomfort and they quickly disengage and run away from it. I don’t think there’s necessarily a wrong way to feel and respond to this. It’s very heavy, and I’m just happy that people are engaging with it in any way.”

Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

While researching the ideas that inform “Soft & Quiet,” de Araújo looked into the Ku Klux Klan (a supporting character is gleeful when she tells the group that she hails from a long line of KKK members). That led to the “Tradwives,” which are part of the “Tradlife” movement. “The idea is traditional women, traditional family models, which is the guise for saying, ‘We want strong families,’ meaning ‘We need Aryan families, Aryan Christian families,’” she said.

“Tradlife,” which has been aligned with the Alt-Right movement, champions a return to “traditional” values that hinge on making lots of white babies in an attempt to “preserve” the “European race” (read: white). That’s why de Araújo chose to make Emily a schoolteacher. The horror of “Soft & Quiet” is firmly rooted in real life — no FX required.

“Women in the Trad movement are very specific about what jobs they’re most effective in until they have as many Aryan white babies as possible,” de Araújo said. “They’re very clear that, in order to influence society the most, they should either be elementary school teachers, nurses, or public registrars. They encourage these wives to do that until they start having babies, and then their main focus should just be raising them and being their full-time mom.”

Social media provided insight with the hashtag “#tradlife” leading her down all sorts of rabbit holes to find the kinds of women who would inspire her characters. Most were “soft” and “quiet” white women.

“I noticed all the people who had the most followers and were trending, they were all very pretty, very sophisticated, college educated white women,” she said. “They were now this face of this movement. They could get their agenda out more easily because they look soft. They even say basically, ‘We’re giving this message that is really strong, but it’s because we’re soft that we can get it into the mainstream more easily.’ That is their whole model for it.”

Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

De Araújo and her cast and crew were often reminded of the real-world implications of the terror they put on screen. The first day of production was March 16, 2021, the date of the Atlanta spa shootings that saw eight people killed, including six women of Asian descent.

“It was just so, so tough, but it reminded us why we wanted to tell the story,” she said. “We were all crying. We showed up to set, we just all cried, and then we just got ready. They actors went to makeup, got their makeup done, and they showed up pros. I don’t know how they did it, honestly. I think acting is the hardest job in the whole world. I have no idea how they could do it, but they did, and they were just so good to each other too on set.”

To make set feel like a safe space amidst so much pain, she created daily check-ins. “We would sit in a circle and check in with feelings and hear how everyone was processing the day,” she said. “There was a lot of tears every day, from myself included. Everyone had different hard days for different reasons because the material was so demanding of the actors, and they had to commit so much to these very challenging roles.”

The secret, it seems, is one that’s both obvious and essential. “Making sure everyone felt really loved on set was very important, because it’s just not a safe space emotionally,” the filmmaker said. “We had to hear how people were feeling on the days and just allow for that space that no feeling was wrong when you’re in the face of telling a story of a hate crime.”

Momentum Pictures will release “Soft & Quiet” in theaters and on VOD on Friday, November 4.

Source: https://www.indiewire.com/2022/11/soft-and-quiet-film-director-interview-1234774464/