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'Deidra & Laney Rob a Train' director says her leads don't need boy crushes

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Filmmaker Sydney Freeland with The Frame host John Horn at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Filmmaker Sydney Freeland with The Frame host John Horn at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Her latest film, “Deidra & Laney,” is a coming-of-age story about two teenage sisters who go down an unusual path to support themselves.

Director Sydney Freeland's comedy "Deidra & Laney Rob a Train" (on Netflix March 17) is about two African American sisters from a lower income family who rob trains to pay the bills.

Unlike other coming-of-age movies about teenage girls, these heroes aren't also trying to land a boyfriend. But Freeland tells The Frame that this was something she and screenwriter Shelby Farrell grappled with at first.

When I was still working with the writer on the script, we kept [including] a boyfriend character or a crush character. And then the writer and I were talking one day and I was telling her, I can't tell if I just feel like I need to have a boyfriend character because every other teen movie about girls has that, or do we even need it at all? My writer said, You know, I don't think we do. And it was this weird subconscious thing, but we made this active choice to not make it about getting a crush or getting a boyfriend and I'm really happy with the result

This is Freeland's second feature film. Her first was “Drunktown’s Finest” — about young Native Americans escaping life on the reservation. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014. "Deidra & Laney Rob a Train" was at Sundance this past January which is where The Frame's John Horn caught up with her.

Looking at her two feature films and the web series "Her Stories" – which is about the love lives of trans women in Los Angeles– Freeland says she's looking to tell stories that reflect her experience as a trans Navajo woman.

I come from multiple minority backgrounds myself. My girlfriend calls me a minority "turducken" because I'm a minority of a minority of a minority (laughs). I think one thing that's interesting to me is that I never see my experience portrayed on screen. And so when I have the opportunity to do that, it's really important for me to focus on the humanity of these characters because that, to me, is what people ultimately relate to. And if they can relate to it, they can connect to it, and I think that's how you open up a discussion.

Freeland tells The Frame that she didn't grow up around the film industry or people who aspired to be filmmakers but she did always want to do something with the arts.

I was born on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Filmmaking isn't really a thing that people do back home. What I grew up being exposed to was more like painting, weaving, silversmithing, pottery — things like that. I originally went to school to study painting and drawing. While I was an undergrad trying to get a BFA, I was exposed to a number of things: computer art, computer animation, photography, creative writing — even creative writing was a brand new concept. I was like, Wait, you can just write for the fun of it? So my final semester of undergraduate, I took a class called "Movies." Not to sound cliché, but I was like, This is what I want to do. What I loved about that class is that it combined all those things I just mentioned into one. 

"Deidra & Laney Rob a Train" is on Netflix.

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