Ani Simon-Kennedy is a director and writer from New York City. She’s a breath of fresh air in the cinema industry thanks to her unique concepts and well-written motion pictures.
Though she’s mainly known for her feature films Days of Gray and The Short History of The Long Road, she’s also directed campaigns for The New Yorker, Colgate and Glamour.
In such times of female directors barely getting nominated for Oscars, it’s clear that there’s a need to put a spotlight on creatives like Ani Simon-Kennedy more often. The New York-based director admits that when she went to Prague Film School together with her soon-to-be producing partner Cailin Yatsko, they were “the only two women in the cinematography track.”
Lucky enough, Ani Simon-Kennedy and Cailin Yatsko founded Bicephaly Pictures in 2011 and it’s a “full-fledged production company” right now. Ani herself directs and writes the films, and Cailin shoots them.
Interestingly enough, filmmaking wasn’t something Ani was thinking of pursuing from a young age. “When I was little I wanted to be a chef, a rabbi,” she says, then adding choreographer as an option, too. “Filmmaking feels like it borrows a little bit from all three.”
“I picked up a camera and got into photography but felt like it was too lonely,” Ani Simon-Kennedy explains. “Cinematography seemed like the best of both worlds, as a way to be visual in a group setting.” She then reveals that at the end of the same year that she went to Prague Film School she realized that she was a director all along.
Ani Simon-Kennedy’s most recent feature film The Short History of The Long Road first premiered at Tribeca Film Festival last year. Ani admits that she came up with the concept for it as she “was coming off the festival” circuit for her first motion picture Days of Gray.
“I was thinking about my next project and I couldn’t shake the image of a girl alone behind the wheel of a van, driving at night,” Simon-Kennedy tells me. “I wondered where she was going and how she got there in the first place?”
With that in mind, the director started researching the “world of vandwelling” and meeting people “who had turned their vans into homes on wheels” then realizing that this “would be a really special universe to explore.” Ani Simon-Kennedy also admits that it took a while to make this film happen as “raising the financing took close to four years.”
The Short History of the Long Road sends quite a political–and empowering–message and Ani clarifies that by saying: “I think every personal film is political because every character is shaped by their environment.” As a matter of fact, trying to understand one’s environment seems to be an occurring theme in this film.
“For teenage Nola (Sabrina Carpenter), home is the open road. Her self-reliant father (Steven Ogg) is her anchor in a life of transience. The pair crisscross the United States in a lovingly refurbished RV, relishing their independence and making ends meet by doing odd jobs. A shocking rupture, though, casts Nola out on her own. She makes her way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in search of a mother she never knew. When her motorhome unexpectedly breaks down, she forges a bond with an auto body shop owner (Danny Trejo), and senses the possibility of mooring her ship in this storm.”
“I wanted to explore what a father-daughter relationship looked like when both people only have each other,” Ani explains the concept of her film. “It’s just the two of them against the world, they’re partners-in-crime and Nola’s [played by Sabrina Carpenter] entire world view has been shaped by him.”
Though the film revolves around this daughter-father bond more or less, Ani Simon-Kennedy admits that the story is solely Nola’s as “the whole film happens through her eyes.”
“Each person that she [Nola] meets is a chance for her to reinvent herself,” the filmmaker tells me. “She carries them with her and some encounters become more lasting than others.” When asked about the meaning behind the film’s title, Ani answers that it’s “about a moment in time that shapes the course of one’s life.”
As told by the director herself, the timespan of The Short History of the Long Road is a “three-month window in Nola’s life.” She then adds that “in that small but defining slice of time, Nola steps into her own–but it’s just a sliver within the long road of her overall life.”
“Sabrina is an exceptional actor,” Ani Simon-Kennedy later reveals about her experience working with Sabrina Carpenter. “She doesn’t have to say a word, because you can read emotions so clearly on her.”
Ani Simon-Kennedy also mentions one more thing: “She [Sabrina] really took what I had written on the page and made Nola wholly her own.”
Yet Carpenter isn’t the only artist to shine in the film. “We had such an exceptional cast and everyone went above and beyond the call of duty,” Ani next tells me.
And there’s no lie–every cast member is familiar with the craft. Steven Ogg (The Walking Dead, Westworld) plays Nola’s father and he’s not on his own. Acting veterans Danny Trejo (Machete), Maggie Siff (Billions, Mad Men), Rusty Schwimmer (A Little Princess) and Jashaun St. John (Songs My Brothers Taught Me) also make impactful appearances in The Short History of the Long Road.
The Short History of The Long Road has already won multiple awards and nominations, such as Tribeca Film Festival’s Jury Mention for best screenplay, SCAD Savannah Film Festival’s Jury Award to Sabrina Carpenter for her performance in addition to many others.
“It’s been such a joy to have the film be this well-received,” Ani Simon-Kennedy confesses. “You never know, as you’re putting something together, how people will respond to it.” She then says that this is “a wonderful encouragement to keep going.”
Ani Simon-Kennedy tells me that “cinematography is hugely important” to her, being “first love.” That’s why she tends to “like quieter films, that rely more on visuals” than dialogue and, because of it, her debut film Days of Gray has got no dialogue at all.
Ani additionally mentions that the films which had the biggest impact on her are Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, Rebecca Miller’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose as well as Agnes Varda’s Vagabond.
“I also owe a debt of gratitude to Justine Kurland’s photography,” Ani Simon-Kennedy later adds. What an exceptional taste!
If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, Ani Simon-Kennedy has got great advice for you: “Start today!”
“If you feel intimidated by writing, try telling the story of your film to one friend at a time,” Ani then continues. “Films borrow so much from oral storytelling, and you’ll be able to get instant feedback on what’s working and what’s not.”
In all honesty, it couldn’t be said any better. Now’s your time, so experiment with ideas, try doing something new and eventually you’ll be able to produce something wonderful.
The Short History of the Long Road will come to selected cinema theatres on June 12th and be available via VOD on June 16th
It’s obvious that Ani Simon-Kennedy’s one of the most talented, inspiring and warmest creatives in the world. Make sure to continue her journey from now on.
We know we will.