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Healing after trauma: Director Shoval Tshuva discusses her debut short film

Cap City News spoke with New York-based director and actress Shoval Tshuva, whose debut short film "Funky" is set to be presented at the 2024 Wyoming International Film Festival.

Shoval Tshuva. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Michael)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — As the Wyoming International Film Festival is set to kick off July 9, dozens of independent filmmakers will soon premiere their short film projects across a variety of genres. One such director drew upon her own past trauma to produce a movie about healing.

Shoval Tshuva is a New York City–based indie filmmaker who recently completed her first short film, titled “Funky.” Tshuva’s debut film, which she also stars in, follows the story of a woman who is the victim of sexual assault. Much like her character, Tshuva is also a survivor. 

In a December 2023 article for the Jewish feminist publication “Hey Alma,” Tshuva states her film depicts a romance that illuminates “the struggle of letting someone in when you are consumed by trauma.” Behind the film’s production, though, the project served as the final step to therapy for Tshuva.

“Funky” will be shown at WIFF on Sunday, July 14 during the festival’s “Drama Short Films” period. Cap City News had a chance to sit down with Tshuva to discuss her project, artistic influences and personal background.

The following conversation has been edited for length, clarity and continuity.

Can you tell me more about your personal background? You were a journalist before making movies?

I did get trained as a journalist, and I feel like it does influence the way that I make films because I feel like I try to stay as true to reality as I can and I don’t try to manipulate an image too much. Yeah, so I feel like that definitely kind of affects my aesthetic as a filmmaker.

A shot of the characters Ela and Dean from Tshuva’s debut short film, “Funky.” (Photo courtesy of Jessica Michael)

What other professional and life experiences have prepared you to make this film?

I did a lot of production work in fashion, actually. I remember I graduated college in 2020, and I was in Israel actually for about nine months. I was trying to see what I can do in the time that I was there, and I remember an agent — an acting agent — was like, “I think you can get a job in fashion.” I produced a lot of campaigns and stuff like that while I was there. 

So I learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes during that time — because I feel like when you produce something, it doesn’t matter if you produce a commercial campaign video or you produce a film. It’s still the same production process. You still have a budget, you still have to reach out to people. It’s very similar.

Can you talk more about your creative process and the steps you take to fully bring your vision to the screen?

I was listening to “Funkytown,” and I had this idea and I was like, “That’s it. That’s exactly the kind of story that I want to tell.” … It was very clear to me that the film starts in a gallery from the very beginning, because I love art and I was trying to have as many different mediums that I can into the film. And I wanted to stay true to who I am while making it. 

I didn’t know what the art’s going to be, and I ended up finding the artwork in the Armory Art Show; it was about two months before filming. And I’m so, so lucky and so honored that they let me do it. [The gallery] had to take down what they currently had in the gallery for me to film the exhibition of Chuck Ramirez in the film.

Who worked with you on this film? How did these collaborations come about?

Matt Canada is the director of photography — the cinematographer — for the film. And he introduced me to Kat Donachie, who’s the producer. And so it’s kind of like us becoming a team. I’m also working on other projects with them.

The actors, I honestly found both of them through social media … from pictures or videos that I saw. And I was like, “Oh my god, they look exactly like what I envisioned.” And there’s a dog in the film. One of my actors actually got the dog. He’s friends with the owner and was like, “What do you think about this dog?” I was like, “He’s perfect.”

The film starts in a gallery scene, and in the gallery there are multiple people. One of the actors is a friend, and the other one I met in an event.

A shot from Tshuva’s debut short film, “Funky,” which will be screened at the 2024 Wyoming International Film Festival in July. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Michael)

You also play the main character, Ela. Was it always your intention to play her, or did that decision come later as development progressed?

I think it was the main idea from the very beginning for me to play Ela. … If I would have found someone that I thought would be better, I would have cast them, but from the beginning I was like, “I will play this character because I also act.” So it’s easy — it made sense.

What locations in New York did you shoot the film?

From the moment I started writing the film, I really wanted to film the bar scene at Emmett’s on Grove. I ended up getting approval to do that two days before filming, so that was great and I was really happy about that. 

We also filmed in Pleasure Chest, which is a sex shop that actually “Sex in the City” filmed in. They opened the store two hours before opening hours just for us to film, and they were very accommodating and let me do whatever crazy ideas that I had. With that specific location, we didn’t get to scout that location before. It was kind of like figuring out as we go.

A shot from Tshuva’s debut short film, “Funky,” which will be screened at the 2024 Wyoming International Film Festival in July. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Michael)

Are there any filmmakers you have taken cues from or strongly admire?

I love [Quentin] Tarantino. I actually was listening to a lot of his interviews about directing before making “Funky.” And not just about directing, because he’s also a writer–director, so I was listening to a lot of his interviews, which were very helpful. And I also admire his work. One of my favorite films of all time is “Pulp Fiction.” We actually share a birth year, so I’m always very proud about that.

Also Sofia Coppola, which is one of my favorite directors — I was actually in an event for her book. I heard her speak about her process, and I found out that my process is very similar to hers without even knowing. She makes a playlist for every one of her films. She collects images that she wants to refer to or kind of fit the aesthetic of the film. I kind of work in a very similar way when I craft the script and I craft the project.

I also love Greta Gerwig. I mean, there’s so many. I really like ’60s/’70s French cinema or Italian cinema.

What message or feeling do you want viewers to take away after watching “Funky”?

I think that the message of the film is about healing. It’s about getting your power back. And I want viewers to feel better. I know that sexual assault is tough and it’s a heavy topic, and whenever I say what the film is about, people are like “Oh.” And I’m like, “No, but it’s about healing.” I didn’t want to focus on the assault; I want to focus on the life after.

It was really important for me to stay true to my experiences, like I wanted the flashbacks to feel like flashbacks. … When I think about the audience for “Funky,” there’s the survivors and there’s the people who didn’t experience sexual assault. And for the survivors, I hope that it will make them feel better, and for the people who didn’t experience that I hope that I may be sharing a light about something that you don’t understand.

The Wyoming International Film Festival will take place July 9–14 at Laramie County Community College, 1400 E. College Drive. To purchase tickets to the event, click here.