Rakefet Abergel is no stranger to filmmaking. With dozens of acting credits dating back to the late 90s, Abergel has made appearances in television series ranging from My Name is Earl to iCarly to Shameless as well as several feature films over the years. “I’ve been in this business for like 30 years,” she says. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m due for something good to happen!”
Abergel’s new short film, Still, which has just recently wrapped principal photography, may be the catalyst she needs to establish herself as an emerging talent. After years of working on other people’s productions, she has been focusing on pursuing her own projects, writing, producing, directing and acting in them. Her recent shorts Jax in Love and Boo both had successful festival runs, picking up awards and accolades along the way. Building upon the lessons she’s learned on those shorts, Abergel hopes that Still will solidify her reputation and will lead to more opportunities.
Making Still has taken an emotional toll on Abergel for all the reasons that go along with wearing multiple hats on a production, but also because of the deeply personal inspiration for the story. In Still, the lead character Aliyah (played by Abergel) finds an infant alone in the woods but in real life, the story came from Abergel’s own experience of losing a pregnancy last year. “It’s really about imagining a life and it not happening and how you move forward from that,” she says. She describes the experience of her miscarriage as almost surreal. “It all happened so quickly by the time I wrapped my brain around what was happening, it wasn’t anymore. It felt like a nightmare and I started to think, did this really happen? I almost questioned my sanity.”
In the turmoil that followed, Abergel felt a need to share the whirlwind of emotions she had experienced and was determined to find a way to visually portray her feelings. She wanted her work to ensure that others who have similar experiences realize they are not alone. “Nobody talks about it and it upsets me,” says Abergel. And while she’s clear that Still is not her own story, that she did not suffer a loss that far into pregnancy or in the same manner, “it wouldn’t matter if I was 8 months or 8 weeks pregnant; I don’t know that the feelings of loss would have been that different.”
While she found writing the script to be cathartic, Abergel says the actual filming of Still was much harder. Having to tap in to those difficult feelings and project her private self publicly was a challenge in multiple ways. First, Abergel was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to access the emotions needed to act the role. “I was worried that I was too numb to all of it because I had to work on it and write it and market and crowdfund it,” she says. “I had to keep pushing my feelings down so I was worried how am I going to act in it?” Realizing she could, in fact, channel her emotions enough to cry during pivotal scenes, led to the problem that sometimes it was hard to stop crying. “There must be a well of sadness sitting in there somewhere. It felt good to get it out and not have to ignore it, which I had been doing.”
Not only was the topic heavy, but since an infant was cast for Still, Abergel had to turn in a maternal, caretaking performance while still processing the trauma of her own loss. Though they initially had planned to use a realistic doll for the majority of the shoot, Abergel said that having the baby on set elicited more of a realistic response from her. “You can’t fake it. You’re dealing with a moving baby versus a doll that’s not doing anything,” she says. “I don’t care how good of an actor you are, it’s very difficult to make that look the same.”
Abergel appreciates how she was surrounded by a supportive crew. Not only were they sensitive to the emotional aspects of the project, they were there for her technically, as well, with first AD Vincente DiSanti and Cinematographer Sophia Cacciola going the extra mile to help Abergel juggle her dual role on set and shoot the scenes as she had envisioned. With this being her second directorial project, Abergel had a better idea of what she wanted to achieve. “I really knew what I wanted it to look like, the tone, the visuals. I studied up on shots before. I literally watched Studio Binder videos and made a list of the looks that I loved.” The production did have some complications though. “We went way over budget,” says Abergel. “We ended up adding an extra day. We lost our location twice. We didn’t include visual FX in the budget, which we might need.”
Even with successful crowdfunding to cover the bulk of the production, the increased expenses leave her just enough for post-production, with little leftover for festival fees, travel, and marketing expenses. Abergel plans to strategically submit Still to key festivals next year, hoping to reach beyond the genre fest circuit and break into heavy hitters like TIFF, Sundance, Tribeca, and South by Southwest. “If there’s ever going to be a film I have that can compete,” she says, “this is the one.” That said, she still plans to bring the short to genre film festivals next year, an experience she’s enjoyed with her other shorts. Despite the dramatic premise, Abergel says Still has enough horror elements to satisfy those audiences as well.
In the coming year, Abergel will get to see how those audiences respond to her film. “I’m worried about triggering the very people that I want to see this,” she says. With some bloody scenes paired with a sensitive topic, she’s toyed with the idea of a content warning and includes support group information in the film credits. “I’m sure I’m going to get backlash from some people that I’m exploiting my story and I’m going to hear negative things. But I’m sure I’m coming from the right place.”
Still will premiere at film festivals in 2024.
Jax in Love can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ0CmDeyJiU
Boo can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_3I03XbMag
Photos courtesy of the subject.