Get to Know Emma Seligman’s Family Drama Shiva Baby – SXSW Filmmaker In Focus

The 2020 SXSW Film Festival is just days away! Take a closer look at the films in our lineup a little bit better with our Filmmaker In Focus series.

Check out our Q&A with director Emma Seligman as she tells us about her film Shiva Baby, which will World Premiere in the Narrative Feature Competition.

“It means so much to me to see this story grow into a feature and continue to be supported by SXSW. Adding lox bagels and nosy Jewish women to this important turning point in a young woman’s life has been the most joyous and cathartic process, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has been part of it.” – Director Emma Seligman

In your own words, what does this film mean to you?

Emma Seligman: I made the short film this feature is based on during my last year of college, when I was 21. At the time, I channeled my anxieties about my future and my feeling of powerlessness as a young woman into this story.

To me, this is a film about a young bisexual woman grappling with her family, tradition, and independence. More importantly though, it is about that bitter realization many young women have when they realize that their sexual power isn’t as powerful as they thought and that their self-esteem can’t be entirely fulfilled by sexual validation.

It means so much to me to see this story grow into a feature and continue to be supported by SXSW. Adding lox bagels and nosy Jewish women to this important turning point in a young woman’s life has been the most joyous and cathartic process, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has been part of it.

What motivated you to tell this story?

ES: When I made the short film, a lot of my friends were sugar babies, and like many girls at NYU, I tried being one very briefly. For my final film school project, my professor encouraged me to write something I knew and I felt that I knew Jewish functions and sugar babies very well.

Growing up, I always found shivas amusing because despite the fact that someone just died, people still eat bagels, complain, show off their children and cross boundaries. I love that contrast and thought it could add hilarity and more anxiety to a story about sexual insecurities. Family events can be filled with the utmost love and warmth, but they are also filled with generational differences that make you question your untraditional or non existing career path and your queerness.

I wanted to put Danielle in an environment where she’d be confronted by a symphony of all her deepest insecurities. I wanted a place where her neurotic family, her accomplished ex-girlfriend and her sugar daddy could all watch her crumble.

What do you want the audience to take away?

ES: For many young women, trying to be nice girls with secure careers ahead of them while also trying to be independent young women with liberated sexualities can be insanity inducing. I hope young women are able to watch this and feel seen in their insecurities and recognized for putting up with the contradicting and suffocating pressures put upon them. I hope they are able to find some humor and relief in this story.

What made you choose SXSW to showcase your film to the world?

ES: Claudette [Godfrey] took such a chance on this story when she accepted the short two years ago, so I couldn’t imagine a better home to premiere the feature version. SXSW takes such risks by giving so many opportunities to first time filmmakers, female filmmakers and really unconventional comedies or other hybrid genres. I remember seeing such a wide range of independent movies two years ago and feeling encouraged to adapt my short in a different kind of way.

Do you have a past experience at SXSW that impacted your decision to come back?

ES: I had such a wonderful first festival experience two years ago when the short film premiered. I was so nervous before but once I got there, I quickly met so many welcoming and kind filmmakers. SXSW does such a great job fostering a community of supportive storytellers and I feel so excited to be part of that again this year.

Add Shiva Baby to your SXSW Schedule. Stay tuned as we share more interviews with our SXSW 2020 filmmakers!

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Shiva Baby – Photo by Maria Rusche

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