The short film genre and female filmmakers are usually two areas that don’t get enough attention…till now. Just ask Susie Singer Carter. The current quadruple threat of filmmaking is right in the middle of the festival circuit with her short “My Mom and the Girl”. The story about a young woman dealing with a parent suffering with Alzheimer’s is both a professional and personal project for the writer/director/producer and actress.
Susie Singer Carter started in the entertainment industry as an actress, landing roles in “Columbo,” “Knots Landing” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” At the time it was just work, but it gave her an education in how to approach characters, the art of production and life on a set. She would eventually use all these experiences as a television writer and screenwriter. She also co-produced a film, the inspirational “Soul Surfer.”
Eventually, however, she decided that she wanted to be behind the camera. “I felt that I could be a more effective storyteller as director.” And like many auteurs, she wanted her first project to be about a subject she knew. Thus, the personal “My mom and the girl.”
Carter spent a year living with her mother Norma, a woman who had been diagnosed with the chronic neurodegenerative disease. “Nobody teaches you how to deal with Alzheimers,” she told me during our interview. Working on her mother’s story led to catharsis. Carter would not only document hers and her mother’s experiences, but did so in an entertaining and honest way. “One hundred percent of the film is true.”
To portray her mother, Carter met with television icon Valerie Harper (also known as Rhoda Morgenstern) of “Rhoda” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” fame. Harper not only bears a resemblance to Norma, but she also had experience with the subject matter. “I was attracted to the material. My husband Tony and I have been touched by Alzheimers when his mother suffered with the disease, and I liked that the script was both humorous and touching. Then, when I met Norma, that sealed the deal,” Harper said. Also in the cast is Latina actress Liz Torres, in the role of Norma’s caregiver.
Another piece of diverse casting took place thanks to an actual incident that occurred when Norma wandered into the streets of Los Angeles. She came upon what she believed to a be a statuesque and attractive woman who was in fact, a transgender. Portraying “the Girl” in the film’s title is Harmony Santana, the first openly transgender actress to be nominated for a major acting award. It should be noted that the events in the film preceded those surrounding a certain transgender story that recently made headlines because of the connection to a certain television-reality family.
“My mom” chugs along on the strength of a tight script and welcome touches of humor. Kudos for Harper’s performance which is completely void of any previous typecasting. Carter also added many personal touches, like personally picking out the jewelry Harper would wear.
At present, this short story about how three different women influence each other so positively was selected in the LA Shorts Festival, IndieFest (which won Harper a Merit of Excellent Award for Best Leading Actress award), Best Short Film Competition (Carter earned a Merit of Excellent Award for Women Filmmaker award for it), LA Femme Int. Film Festival, Connect Film Festival in Australia (where it won for Best Film and Best Director), Anchorage International, Sedona International Festival and Cinequest.
However, the most salient reward for Carter has been the new focus that her film brings unto the disease of Alzheimers. “People come up to me and say ‘Thank you for showing a different side of this disease.’ Even doctors tell me [that] I portrayed it so well.” She adds, “I’m glad I had this experience.”
“My Mom and the Girl” will be shown at the upcoming Cleveland and the Newport Film festivals in April. Hoping to continue to train the spotlight on important subjects, Carter is currently working on a documentary which highlights the accomplishments of female writers in the film and television industries. “I take writing seriously, as I think it’s actually harder than directing.” Judging from the success of her short, it’s apparent Carter makes directing look easy.