‘Saint Frances’ tackles abortion issues with authenticity, wit

In film school, every student or future filmmaker plans their ideal dream scenario of how they will move into making and releasing their feature-length debut in the industry. Everyone’s dream scenario is different, but they all usually have to do with telling a personal story that comes from deep within and then making that story a reality with a close crew of people that you know and trust. After that the dream continues with you then submitting the film into whatever [insert prestigious film festival you want here], it then goes on to receive universal praise and, maybe if you are lucky, a couple of awards.

Most of the time, this dream scenario narrative doesn’t pan out the way you want it to. But in some cases, like that of Alex Thompson, Kelly O’Sullivan and their new film “Saint Frances,” sometimes it just seems to all work out that way…or does it?

“Don’t buy into the myth of the overnight success,” said Thompson, director of “Saint Frances.” A Chicago-based production, it held its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival, where it went on to win the Audience Award for a narrative feature and the Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Voice.

While it might seem like Thompson and O’Sullivan, who wrote the screenplay for “Saint Frances” and also star in it, are just blowing up, this is something they’ve been working toward for quite some time. For Thompson, it started professionally with coming to DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts for his master’s in directing, where he worked with Professors James Choi and Raphael Nash. Choi and Nash would both go on to be key producers for “Saint Frances.” But Thompson’s time at SCA served as an incredible opportunity to build a network of collaborators and make wonderful mistakes.

“There is no art to tyranny. It’s all in the collaboration. Having your work workshopped with you classmates and then working-shopping their work is so important,” Thompson said. “It’s always important to make as big mistakes as possible so you can learn as big as possible.”

“I was able to make so many huge mistakes at DePaul,” Thompson joked.

This all came in handy when it came down to Thompson and O’Sullivan making the film. The crew was made up of some of Thompson’s closest frequent collaborators and the cast was almost entirely from Chicago-based theaters.

“Even if the film was a first for the both of us, it was easy in a way because that network of trust and collaboration was there,” Thompson said. “This was the easiest film I’ve ever seen made.”

The film is a tender story of the unlikely friendship that forms between a deadbeat nanny and the six-year-old girl she has to take care of. O’Sullivan’s screenplay is one that tackles specific facets of the female experience, such abortion, self-judgment and shame, with a rich sense of authenticity and wit.

“The movie is based around trying to destigmatize these parts of women’s existence,” O’Sullivan said. “I hope that people have a good time and they laugh and they leave feeling more empathetic, and that they feel more agency and freedom to talk things that they might feel a certain amount of shame about.”

In light of recent news regarding some states’ decision to ban abortion, O’Sullivan hopes the film will especially draw the audience’s attention to the issue.

“I hope that this film gets in front of people who don’t already align with a pro-choice narrative,” O’Sullivan said. “Facts don’t change people’s minds. Emotions change people’s minds, and that’s the power of art.”

It’s this sense of pure heart and rawness that makes “Saint Frances” a standout piece of film —one that really represents a special collaborative and inclusive style of filmmaking for this new generation to embrace.

While “Saint Frances” awaits distribution, it will continue to play the festival circuit with being the opening night film for the Chicago Critics Film Festival and it will soon open in Brooklyn as apart of the wildly popular Rooftop Series.

“I feel very lucky that we’re hitting the market at this time,” Thompson said. “We’re really hoping for a theatrical release this year, and we’re excited to tell more once we know more.”