Making its New York premiere at the 6th Annual Woodstock Film festival, Hannah Beth King’s short film “Wet” eloquently captures the summer of 1985 when Madonna ruled the airwaves and Florida experienced a heat wave. King, who wrote and directed this film for her Columbia University MFA, tells the story of innocent Jane, a 12 year-old on the brink of her sexual awakening, with conscious sensitivity and uncompromising reality. Having made the rounds at numerous film festivals, most notably Palm Springs, the Florida Film Festival, the Rhode Island International Film Festival, and Seattle, King was on hand at the Woodstock Shorts Q and A to discuss the creation of her film.
“Wet” centers on the life of Jane, who loves Madonna and swimming in her grandparents’ pool with her best friend, Sandy. However, this simplistic world threatens to crash around her. As the film develops, Jane is forced to choose between the competing influences in her life: that of her single-mom, who lies about her seedy bar job to her parents, and that of her strict grandparents, who have registered Jane for baptism at a revivalist church. Shot on film using artistic underwater sequences and effective close-ups, King has created a tasteful rendering of a pre-adolescence’s rite of passage into teenhood.
Aside from the beautiful cinematography in the film, the poetic score by Dickon Hinchlife and music by Nick Niles further enhances the telling of Jane’s journey in which she confronts the shame of sexuality and the reality of redemption. King’s script thankfully avoids sentimentality, as evident from the title. Clearly leaps and bounds above those insipid after school specials of the 1980’s, King’s screenplay captures the complex nature of pre-adolescent sexual exploration. As King notes, the social climate in a girl’s life and the confusion rendered from outside sources who pass moral judgment on the experience makes the understanding of sexuality mystifying and sometimes even painful, which is expertly shown in the acting of her young stars.
A Winter Park, FL native, King wanted a Florida shoot for her semi-autobiographical tale of a girl’s first personal coming of age experiences. For the starring role, King chose the Anna Paquin-esque child actress Alexandra Lowcher, who deftly navigates through the growing complexities of her character. In the role of Jane’s wise-beyond-her-years friend, Sandy, King cast the precocious young, Nastassja Schmiedt. When asked how these young actors handled the challenging subject matter, King was quick to point out that the parents of both actresses gave “their full support to the film,” which allowed her to tell the story without compromising any of its mature content. Now two years later, and for the young girls two years older, King wonders how her stars feel about their work on the film, and if their acting has shaped their understanding of this “confusing time” that touches all young girls’ lives.
“Wet” ends with a riveting sequence on the day of Jane’s baptism. The suspense builds as the audience questions whether Jane will follow her mother or her grandmother’s moral path. Unlike some shorts that fail to provide an adequate resolution, King’s is both satisfying and open-ended. Like the topic of sexuality itself, she forces the viewer to place his or her own judgment on Jane’s fate.
In addition to her role as director, King has written several feature length films including "Paper Horses" and "Dirt on My Feet." As well, King is no stranger to the documentary, having directed and shot a film for the Nicaraguan Relief Coalition about the effects of Hurricane Mitch. King is currently at work in Connecticut on her latest documentary about the equestrian world.