Interview by Paul Salfen
Summering was born from a desire to make a film for my children, and especially for my daughter. It grew into a film about fears and anxiety – and ultimately, hope – in the age of Covid.
We’re only just beginning to understand the impact that the past couple years have had on the emotional and mental health of young people, but this feels like a time of uncertainty – one where kids are both growing up too fast and are at same time…stuck.
But haven’t we all felt a little bit stuck?
Over the past two years, as the world has been radically altered (social distancing, online learning, mask mandates, vaccines, etc.), it has become a lot harder to look your child in the eyes and say:
“Everything is going to be okay.”
Because at times, it has felt like everything is not going to be okay.
While I’ve always loved films about childhood, our first encounters with death, and how young people use imagination to process trauma in a way that’s different than the logic of adulthood, I’m not sure I could’ve made Summering until I became a parent.
As the parent of three young children, I find myself constantly in this delicate gray space of both needing to protect my children and wanting them to live fearlessly. Of course, I can’t help but project my own hopes and anxieties onto my children – filtered, of course, through my own (probably unreliable) memories of childhood.
When I was a child, I sought out stories and movies that echoed my own darkest fears about friendship, loss, and death. I found seemingly endless coming of age stories with protagonists that were like me: a boy.
As my daughter began seeking out more complex narratives, ones that mirrored her own hopes and fears, I became acutely aware of the privilege I enjoyed when I was her age:
I could easily see myself in stories, because the protagonists were boys and young men.
My sister didn’t always enjoy this same privilege. Neither did my wife. Or my mother.
There are notable exceptions, of course, but in many instances the “classic” coming of age stories about friendship and first brushes with mortality involve boys. In most of the movies of my sister’s childhood, or my mother’s, the female characters were love interests, or the main character’s sister. And female friendship was often defined by trauma – a victimization, or a rupturing of a friendship (when boys or men enter the story).
I wanted to make a film in which my daughter could see herself. And her friends. I hoped to dignify the emotional inner lives of young female characters, to explore their imaginations and fears and hopes while they’re on the cusp of adolescence.
No longer kids, but not yet teenagers, the protagonists of Summering still have the imaginative tools of childhood without the baggage of adolescence (when playing kid games seems, well, kind of lame). The film uses some genre conceits of fantasy and horror, because the ping-ponging emotional reality of going into middle school is one that can occasionally feel like a horror film.
I hope that audiences who watch Summering, regardless of their age, might see a version of themselves in the film’s young protagonists – or perhaps in those characters’ parents, who find themselves cautious, hopeful, and lovingly mystified, wondering:
Was I really ever that young?
— James Ponsoldt
ABOUT JAMES PONSOLDT (Director, Writer, Producer)
James Ponsoldt has been making films for the past 20 years, including the award-winning and critically acclaimed film The Spectacular Now. A Special Jury Prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival, the film was named one of the top ten independent films that year by the National Board of Review and was nominated for Independent Spirit and Gotham Awards. Additional films include The End of the Tour, The Circle and Smashed. He’s directed and executive produced episodic series including “Master of None” and “Sorry for Your Loss.” Most recently, Ponsoldt executive produced and directed the pilot and multiple episodes of Amazon’s upcoming series “Daisy Jones & The Six,” with Riley Keough, as well as “Shrinking” for Apple TV starring Jason Segel, Harrison Ford, and Jessica Williams.