‘Bare’ Sheds Hair and Light on Breast Cancer Awareness
29 Oct, 2017
‘Bare’, a short film by director Kerith Lemon (‘A Social Life’), brings awareness and understanding of breast cancer for women under 40. The newly released film, inspired by the short story and experiences of Lemon’s long-time friend Rebecca Hall, comes during Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the aim of reaching as many young women as possible to let them know that they need to be vigilant about checking their breasts monthly and about their risks of breast cancer under 40. The film centers around Ellie, diagnosed at age 25 with metastatic breast cancer. Shocked by the news, the movie takes the viewer through the main character’s emotional roller coaster of fear, doubt and courage as she symbolically shaves her head and navigates coming to terms with the tragic news with the support of her three best girlfriends. We spoke with the talented director about ‘bare’ to discover her inspirations for making the film, the symbolism of Ellie shaving her head, a main focus of the piece, and the impact she hopes the picture will make with audiences and society at large.
Watch Kerith Lemon’s short film, ‘bare’:
Dig In Magazine: What inspired you to make this film ‘bare’?
Kerith Lemon: This was one of those projects in life that I had to make. I’ve known Rebecca Hall since she was a young teenager. We rode horses together and I coached her from time to time. Ten years ago, through social media I heard she had breast cancer. I remember thinking she was so young to have that happen and I was one of those people that didn’t reach out, I watched from afar. Last year, she posted a short story chronicling her experience, detailing the events leading up to her first day of chemo, deciding to shave her head and the importance of having her closest friends to support her. The story was of identity, of friendship and of empowerment—I was swept away by the truthfulness of a 25 year old going through this breast cancer experience, one that is mostly portrayed in mainstream media as an older woman’s disease. I immediately felt the depth of the emotional journey that had to be traveled for someone so young and I knew that I wanted to share her experience with the world.
DIM: How did you come up with using the symbolism of Ellie shaving her hair?
KL: “Who will I be without my hair, without my breasts.”
The first time I read those lines in Rebecca’s short story I was struck by what a feminist story this was and that though the words were said with breast cancer in mind, it was just as universal for any woman. Societally there is a pressure to outwardly express ourselves through our hair and breasts. They’re still glamorized in film, TV and commercials and if you choose to not have them or are forced to lose them your identity is called into question, because you know you will be judged.
Losing your hair and breasts to breast cancer is not a new story, but I wanted to approach the discussion differently to show how it’s tied to our identity and isn’t just some “superficial” worry that women have.
DIM: What did shaving her hair represent?
KL: Rebecca and I spent a lot of time speaking about this while we worked on the script. First and foremost it represented that she was sick, there was nothing hiding that fact from the outside world and that she would have to admit it not only to everyone else but also to herself. Then it called into question her womanhood, she asked herself if she was still a woman because she didn’t have hair or breasts. We also spoke about how badass she felt after shaving her head, that it was this big daunting hurdle that was standing in her way to really face the challenge of her treatment ahead. Once that was out of the way she felt empowered and strong.
DIM: The scene with Ellie and all her friends was very touching and interesting how the bulk of the film surrounded the conversation between Elle and her best girlfriends. How did you come up with that scene and focus?
KL: Friendship is another theme in the film, one that isn’t always celebrated in mainstream films. At that young age, you need your closest girlfriends to be vulnerable with. Family is a wonderful support system, but it doesn’t compare to your closest friends who you can be silly with, you can talk about dating with and you can speak the absolute truth in front of. Visually I wanted the friends to be surrounding her during this experience, almost like a big hug, supporting from every side as she took this next step. That is to me what friendship is like, something that protects you during life, through the thick and the thin, the joy and the sorrow.
DIM: You are releasing the film during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What impact do you hope ‘bare’ will make with audiences and society?
KL: Breast cancer for women under 40 is just different. We knew that we wanted to reach as many young women as possible with this film, to let them know that they need to be vigilant about checking their breasts monthly and about their risks of breast cancer under 40. Compared to older women, young women generally face more aggressive cancers and lower survival rates. And, the incidence of metastatic breast cancer (stage 4 terminal) at the time of initial diagnosis is apparently rising in women under the age of 40.
We hope that this film will reach young women who are going through this experience to remind them that they’re not alone, that sometimes you need to ask your friends for help so they can show up for you and that you need to be breast aware, every month. 80% of young women find their own lumps—it’s so important that we raise our voices and be advocates for our own health.
DIM: Where do you plan to have the ‘bare’ shown?
KL: As we wanted to reach as many young women as possible, it was important that we release the film on a broad platform where they could see it for free. We’re also partnering with a number of breast cancer organizations—Young Survival Coalition and Metavivor—so that screenings can happen in support of groups nationwide.DIM: How long was the filmmaking process?
KL: We took our time working on the script as Rebecca and I were not living in the same town, she was up north in Santa Cruz and I was in Los Angeles juggling a few other projects. But once we started the casting process in April things moved very quickly. We had one day of rehearsal and 2 days of shooting. The opening scene where Ellie is cycling through memories was done in one long take with live lighting changes—we needed a full day to film just that three minute scene alone. The second day was completely focused on the scene with the friends and shaving her head.
DIM: How did you decide on the cast of the film?
KL: From the get go Rebecca and I were on the same page, that this was not meant to be a reenactment of her life. We wanted to make sure that it was inspired by her experience, but would be something that could be embraced by anyone watching. I had a tremendous partner in our casting director Barbara McCarthy who took to the script right away. I shared with her our desire to have diversity in the cast as breast cancer can strike at any time, it does not discriminate, it affects all colors, ages and incomes. Our cast was tremendous and our lead Aurora Perrineau gave us everything, she was so committed to being authentic to the story and is so talented I fully expect we will see more of her coming soon.
DIM: What is it about film that motivates you to continue creating?
KL: Film is a place where we can see ourselves through a different lens, to escape and reconnect at the same time. It’s such a beautiful medium to explore characters and locations and subjects, I love the flexibility especially in the short film genre. I feel strongly that we can use entertainment to educate and inform, just coming at it from a different angle.
With this film, we’ve been able to create a platform for Rebecca to educate people about her story, about her experience with metastatic breast cancer and expand the number of people she can reach. That to me is what makes creating worth it.
DIM: Where can people see ‘bare’?