Beyond Cinema - Issue 11, 2016: READY. SET. GO!



Continuing its festival run through 2016 (following successful debuts at the Venice Film Festival and at Sundance), The Fits is being released in the U.S. by Oscilloscope in June. We sat down with the film’s writer/director Anna Rose Holmer and her young and impressive newcomer Royalty Hightower at the AFCI/Beyond Cinema Studio at Sundance.

The film is about a young boxer whose day-to-day dreams transition from the masculine environment of her brother and their boxing gym to a desire to belong to her school’s strong, socially savvy dance team. Lensed beautifully in Cincinnati, Ohio, the film presents its world with a balance of cinematic energy and a starkness befitting a town in the midst of a health scare. Though the film is a fictional tale, the audience’s knowledge of the contemporaneous and newsworthy water scare in Flint, Michigan is never far from mind, and ground the film’s fantastical elements with a disturbing dose of reality.

Beyond Cinema: Anna, Royalty, how’d the two of you find each other?

Anna Rose Holmer: I found Royalty's dance team, the Q-Kidz from Cincinnati, on YouTube. I decided really early on that I wanted to cast a team for the film, so I went to Cincinnati to do our first round of auditions. Actually, our age [minimum] was 11, and Royalty was 9. Her friend asked if 9 year olds can try out and I was like, "Sure." I wanted everyone to experience the audition, and Royalty was the eighth girl that we saw read. You want to take it from there? What do you think about me?

Royalty: I was scared at first when I went in there. I just answered the questions to the best that I could, and we actually did improv with a partner. So, that was fun and the next day, they called my mom, but I don't know why because we didn't have practice that day. They said they wanted me to come to the studio and they told me that I had the role… it was exciting.

Anna: When I met Royalty, I asked her what kind of movie she likes, and she was like, "Chuckie. Chuckie's my favorite movie." I was like, "Okay. [Laughter] I can work with this kid. I think she's into movies."

There are some elements in this film that are dark and mysterious too.

Anna:   Yeah. I knew she could go there.

And the crisis in Flint, Michigan is now adding a heightened element of water awareness.

Anna:  I wish it weren't an added element, what's happening with Flint is pretty horrific, and that they were ignored so long by the government is atrocious. For me, the water was always a throw away in this script – there was no political intention behind that. Unfortunately, there's a reality now that connects them, but I know the Q-Kidz in Cincinnati have been doing water drives, and bringing water up to Flint and so they're doing what they can.

It’s great that it’s adding social-impact involvement to the film now that there is this relatable issue that's happening nearby. Interesting, too, because your previous feature was a documentary – tell us about the switch over to narrative.

Anna:   Yeah, also, for me, the crossover was coming in and meeting real people, listening and involving them in making a community effort. I couldn't have made this film without the West End community in Cincinnati, and the Q-Kidz especially were so generous with their time. It's like a sisterhood, and that was a big part of it. I lived there for 9 weeks total during prep and production, and they're my family for life

Have you shown them the film? Did you show them a cut?

Anna:   Yeah, we did a big screening, we rented out an AMC in Kentucky, right over across the border and showed the girls. It was like the most emotional for me. I don't know how it was for you.

Royalty: It was exciting because the first time I saw it, it was just me, my mom, and Miss Anna there. It was exciting because I sat next to my friends, we're just watching the movie, and everybody loved it.

Anna:   The screen curved around, it was so big, they’d bumped us up to their largest cineplex. It was crazy. At the end of the film, all the girls who were in the film, which was 45 girls, they were all doing the chants along with it. I cry a lot, so I was crying – it was a very powerful screening.

There’s such an absence of adults in the movie. So having a group of kids watching it – it’s them being represented back to them without other authoritarian voices dictating the conversation.  Let’s talk about the issue of diversity, which is such a big part of the culture conversation right now. Women Make Movies got behind the film, Kasi Lemmons is in the credits, can you talk a little bit about how that community came together.

Anna:   From the beginning - I co-wrote it with two other woman, and we are really different types of women, from really different types of background, so we were just trying to find that Venn diagram of that moment in girlhood that we all connected to. And we've just had incredible partners along the whole way, we did a lab with the [Sundance] Institute, my editor Celia Davis and I had the privilege to go up to the resort. And we had a bunch of different advisors – Lee Percy – who is an editor, who edited Boys Don’t Cry, was our key mentor. Kasi Lemmons was also up there, it was so amazing to connect with her. And Jurnee [Smollett-Bell] came to our screening in Salt Lake City – and she’d been about Royalty’s age when she was in [Kasi Lemmons’s] Eve’s Bayou, so that was a cool little circle.

Cinereach also came on as a supporter, and they support such diverse content, and really encourage artists from all backgrounds to take big risks – I think the non-profit world is ahead of the game in terms of putting money on the table for diverse filmmakers, and we’re just really grateful for the support.

And the images of Cincinnati. Royalty, It must've been interesting seeing places you're so familiar with represented in different ways as part of the film. Is the empty swimming pool still there?

Anna: It's empty again, but we went back for pick up shoots, and I was like, "Oh, right, the pool is a pool. It was full of water." But the Q-Kidz really practiced at the community center at the time, and pretty much the whole movie was shot in that one building.

The Cincinnati Film Commission has a credit at the end of the film--

Anna:   We were a micro-budget film, so we fell below the state incentive but they were so supportive and they want independent filmmakers to come, so they helped connect us with production support and a locations scout. A lot of our crew had just worked on [Don Cheadle’s film] Miles Ahead, and on Carol; It's a very small film community that's so supportive. I would go back to Cincinnati and shoot again. I loved it there.




USA TODAY claims the Dustin Hoffman-Tom Cruise buddy-brothers movie “Rain Man put Cincinnati on  Hollywood’s map” – though the film shot in multiple locations, and originally slated for production in Chicago, Rain Man was based in Cincinnati for about four weeks. Key locations (Pompilio’s restaurant and the St. Anne Convent, though accessible from Cincinnati, are actually located across the Ohio River in Kentucky). Their childhood home is in the East Walnut Hills area of Cincinnati, and the airport scene takes place in the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. Tom Cruise was only 26 years old when he shot the film.


The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, closed for business in 1990, making it perfectly suited for filming as the Shawshank State Prison in the Morgan Freeman-Tim Robbins juggernaut. The location was also used for Tango & Cash, and Air Force One. The notes for the $12 tour of the facility note: “See the office of the Prison Warden from Shawshank Redemption, the Parole Board Room and Andy Dufresne's escape tunnel.“



Worldwide gross on Marvel’s The Avengers eclipsed a massive $1.5 billion! The film moved around the state a little, reportedly touching down in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Wilmington, Fairborn and Parma. The NASA facility at Plum Brook in Sandusky, Ohio, stands in as SHIELD headquarters, and was utilized for a number of Loki moments; another key sequence was shot in the viaduct beneath the Detroit Superior Bridge. Cleveland’s downtown buildings feature throughout (often juxtaposed in post-production with New York landmarks).


In this epic DeNiro, Streep, Walken classic, the deer hunting scenes took place in the state of Washington, and Thailand stepped in for Vietnam, but much of the fictional steel town of “Clairton” was in Ohio - Welch’s Bar (since demolished) was in the old steel mill town of Mingo Junction, Ohio, and many scenes were shot in and around Cleveland. The wedding’s Russian Orthodox-style cathedral is in the Tremont area of Cleveland, at 733 Starkweather Ave.


This Mexican drug war film that landed an Oscar for Benicio del Toro had multiple storylines and took place in a combination of Mexico, Southern California, Texas, New Mexico, Washington D.C and Ohio. In the film, Michael Douglas’s on-screen character resides in the affluent suburb of Indian Hill (part of the Greater Cincinnati) but the house used for the scenes is actually in Hyde Park in that same city.

Additional fact: Our cover hero, John Legend, was born John Roger Stephens on December 28, 1978, in Springfield, Ohio.

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