How Sara Crochet accidentally won an international film contest

Stills from "Exulansis," a film by Sara Crochet.

Lafayette filmmaker Sara Crochet had a wild hair to submit her short film Exulansis, her first official work, to the annual Nikon Photo Contest, after what she politely recalls was a “Louisiana Saturday Night.” Months later, by the time she forgot about the submission, in fact, Nikon picked the film for a gold prize. Now, Crochet’s packing up for a trip to Japan. Shot guerrilla style over two takes in an undisclosed bathroom, Exulansis evokes triumph over trauma in a tightly packed, silent narrative. She spoke with The Current about the film, the power in putting on makeup and emotional interpretation. 

What happens next, now that you’ve won this award? 

Well, next on the agenda, Nikon has invited me to receive my award in Tokyo, Japan! The award ceremony is in less than a month, Aug. 23, and there they will announce the Grand Prize winner, which was selected from among gold prize winners in each category. 

I’m so honored and excited to be winning a new camera from Nikon. This film was actually made on a borrowed camera. I haven’t owned the tools I’ve needed to produce my creative film ideas, so this will open so many doors for me. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Was the contest something you went into with the feeling that winning it was a longshot?

I can honestly say I wasnʼt in the best frame of mind when submitting my work. I happened to see the contest late after one good ol’ “Louisiana Saturday night.” It sparked my interest, so I submitted a few pieces. Months had passed, and within the hustle and bustle of everyday life and work, I can sincerely say that I forgot about the contest. To my surprise, I received an email notifying me of winning a prestigious award for my efforts. This whole experience has been cathartic. I can’t express how much I had been looking for a sign that I’m on the right path. This was it. I’m so excited to continue to make good work and share light with our community, our world.  

OK, let’s talk about film. You pack a lot in here with very little. It’s a natural set, a stirring vignette that’s quiet and terrifying. The woman in the mirror is kinda punch-drunk, so you feel the internal specter of trauma long before it arrives on screen. How did you accomplish that? 

I had been pitching this idea to Kamille [Taylor, who plays “the woman”] for a few months before we actually shot it. As soon as we got to where we were shooting it became second nature. Two takes later, we had our shot. 

Was there a film language or filmmaker that you drew from in thinking about how to frame this? 

Not framing per se; my initial idea for treatment for the film was very dark yet colorful with some Edgar Wright-esque [Baby Driver, Hot Fuzz] cuts. Being that we were limited in time and only had two takes to work with, I dropped all those ideas of quick cuts and just pieced it together how it felt right. The scenes in red were all improv from both me and Kamille. I’m very happy with how things turned out. 

The first thing that strikes me here is how decrepit that bathroom is. You can hear the lights buzz. It’s got that gross hospital green on the tile walls. Where did you shoot it? 

This is a bathroom that I stumbled upon in town. (We were actually kicked out so I’m nervous to disclose the location.) I felt the dingy nature of the bathroom fit the setting well. Also, green is my favorite color and represents strength to me. I wanted to make sure Kamille’s character still had a “shield” in this trauma-driven story. 

As you note in the film’s bio, “exulansis” means essentially to stop talking about something you think folks can’t relate to. What experience were you drawing from here? And do you think folks can’t relate to it? 

Exulansis is “the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.” Used as a juxtaposition, many people share experiences that mirror mine; trauma is very relatable. I don’t quite like to talk about these things, but I wanted to create something visual that would be up to complete emotional interpretation, showing people they are not alone in their experiences. 

Is it wrong to read some kind of sexual violence in what she dealt with? There’s just enough obscurity in her memory to make that artfully unclear. But the film trope of a woman putting makeup on the mirror can draw sexual connotations that connect to recent and very public narratives about sexual violence. 

I like to view a woman putting on her makeup as something that fuels her confidence and strength. Doing this in a public space becomes something more intimate and vulnerable, opening a space for her fears, but shows she’s ready to embrace the next experience. She’s brave. Her subconscious reminds her to stay alert of all potential threats. Her traumas are part of her. You’re not wrong in reading into it that way, but I wouldn’t narrow it down to just that.

Does dealing with a subject like trauma exhaust you emotionally? Or is it therapeutic? 

Maybe not exhausting, but I do find myself frozen in my tracks trying to talk about the subject. Making the film was a form of therapy. I’d much rather share something than tell something. I find it very comforting and therapeutic that people are sharing stories and reaching out.  

I walk away disturbed and concerned. The girl seems broken but copacetic. She may not be in immediate danger anymore, but there’s damage there. Is that the effect that you wanted? What did you hope that viewers took away? 

Ultimately, I wanted the film to be ambiguous and up to interpretation. I did want there to be a sense of something controlling inside of her that she’s learning to live with — anxiety and trauma. But that trauma is the viewers’ blank to fill.