Female Film Fest 2018: Australian director Cara Stricker premieres experimental short film ‘Maverick’

Stricker is a musician, photographer and film director known for her work with media outlets including Fader and i-D Magazine and artists like A$AP Rocky and Lil Yachty.


                             Female Film Fest 2018: Australian director Cara Stricker premieres experimental short film ‘Maverick’

By Ryan Aliapoulios

Although you may not have heard of Cara Stricker by name, you’ve almost certainly seen her work if you spend much time on the internet. In brief, Stricker is an Australian-born, multi-disciplinary artist with many creative credits. Through her work with Fader, she directed 'A-Z' of Aaliyah, a video exploring the late artist’s creative vision and influence on modern R&B. She’s directed short docs on A$AP Rocky for MTV Labs as well as music videos for Kacy Hill, a former backup dancer for Kanye West and a newly-minted singer-songwriter signed to West’s GOOD Music imprint. Stricker has also released two musical projects, DOWN and DROOL, the latter of which was a collaboration with John Kirby of Blood Orange.

Through all of these disparate works, what shines through is Stricker’s refined taste as a curator of both sound and image. Stricker’s short film ‘Maverick,’ a 20-minute meditation on toxic relationships and female identity, fits neatly with that trend and announces Stricker as an up-and-coming talent. The film stars Victoria’s Secret fashion model and actress Abbey Lee as Maverick and Rhys Coiro, of ‘Entourage’ fame, as her ex-lover Richard. The non-linear story begins with Maverick living in a progressive commune in LA before being visited by Richard. Trapped in her apartment by her charismatic but manipulative ex, the story punctuates every shift in their power dynamic with evocative visual flourishes to match. Though it requires some interpretation on the viewer’s part, the film has atmosphere and style to spare.

It all begins with a montage of Maverick’s life in her commune and her confusion about her place in it. In some scenes, she chops vegetables and prepares food, and these mundane moments are underscored, literally, with menace—all thanks to an evocative musical styling of Stricker herself, Lorely Rodriguez of Empress Of and other talented musicians. In another scene, Maverick floats idly in her pool and listens to a cassette to learn French. Though it may seem like background texture on the surface, some of the dialogue snippets are particularly pointed: “Did you leave the gas light on?”

Cara Stricker and Nina Soriano
Cara Stricker and Nina Soriano

When Coiro’s character Richard enters the picture, things start to take shape. The two have a tense conversation up against a wall. The camera forces the viewer into Richard’s point-of-view, uncomfortably close to Maverick’s face. He tries to seduce her and she avoids eye contact. Plenty of time is spent wrestling around in Maverick’s bed in what is not quite a full sexual encounter and also not-quite consensual. By the end, and through a series of tonal and visual shifts, Maverick seems to have regained her sense of self.

The screening ended with a Q&A with Stricker, as well as Nina Soriano and Meagan Judkins, who helped produce the film. Rounding out the group was Rodriguez. As the audience asked questions about how to interpret elements of the film, what emerged was more detail on the logistics of how a high-quality short film actually comes together. “I reached out to everyone,” Stricker said. Judkins chimed in as well: “There was a lot of cold calling.”

Still, despite the members not knowing each other beforehand, everyone agreed that the production crew felt like a family at the end of the project. “What was nice about this film was at the end of shooting, people would stay for four hours afterward which I didn’t understand,” Stricker said with a laugh. On the final budget and shoot days, the production team stayed silent and grinned at one another. “We shot three days but we would’ve liked to shoot four or five,” Soriano said. Shortly after, Stricker added: “What was the final budget? Let’s say somewhere between 15 and 75.”

Lorely Rodriguez and Meagan Judkins
Lorely Rodriguez and Meagan Judkins

What was clear is that the work onscreen was a collaborative process completed by a team of filmmakers who gave it their all. “The truth is everybody did what they could to get it done,” Soriano said. “But with the funds we had access to, if everyone hadn’t brought their passion it wouldn’t have been possible.” Though Rodriguez was mostly quiet during the discussion, Stricker made sure to give her a special mention. “If we had to pay Lorely,” she said, “we’d be screwed.”

The production process, like the film itself, seemed more an accumulation of like-minded energy than something overly calculated. “The film took a massive curveball in the edit,” Stricker said. “I don’t like things that spell everything out for you.” Of the original script, Stricker noted that the guidance of Samantha Taylor Pickett, another of the team’s producers, was integral in shaping it into something salable. “[Maverick] went in a little more of a non-linear direction,” Stricker said, “but it was written very linearly. Without [Taylor Pickett’s] guidance, I would have been shooting in the dark.”

Beyond her aptitude for connecting sound and image, the premiere seemed to prove Stricker an apt curator of people as well. Following up on the question of how to get so many people to say yes on a shoestring budget, Soriano spoke up: “When you have a leader like Cara, it’s easy.” The same can be said of ‘Maverick’ itself: not everything is entirely clear on first viewing, but on a scene-by-scene basis, viewers will feel like they’re in good hands.