Essential Allison Torem

In Allison Torem’s film “Essentials,” she plays a woman returning from a poorly planned trip to the grocery store in the early days of lockdown. A senior citizen’s small joke leads to a deeper connection, and illustrates the transformative power of small talk. The film was part of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles‘ recent InFocus: Female Cinema festival.

“It’s about two people who are experiencing the beginning of lockdown, based in Chicago, who run into each other and have what would probably ordinarily be a passing interaction that just continues to get extended through them both looking for a connection, for different reasons,” Torem explains in an interview with NFMLA’s Danny DeLillo.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Allison Torem, writer and director of “Essentials”:

Torem’s co-star in the film is noted actor Austin Pendleton, known for films including Finding Nemo, My Cousin Vinnie and What’s Up Doc.

“Essentials” won the Mentorship Award from Cinema Femme’s 2022 Short Film Festival and won the Made In Chicago Award from the Chicago Underground Film Festival. It also earned nominations for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Script at the Chilliwack Independent Film Festival. Torem won Best Actress and Pendleton was nominated for Best Actor at the I WILL TELL International Film Festival. “Essentials” was also a finalist for the Best Acting Award at the American Jewish Film Festival.

Allison Torem on Setting ‘Essentials’ During the Pandemic

Torem tells DeLillo she wondered whether to set “Essentials” during the pandemic, realizing that many audiences want to move on. But she ultimately decided that the pandemic could sharpen the themes she wanted to examine in the film.

“I struggled with whether I should make it actually pandemic-based or not,” she says. “I understand that it could turn someone off… but at the end of the day, I really did want to make something that embraced the circumstances of the pandemic, but made something that had a lot of enduring themes.

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“It just felt really important to to create something that explored a lot of mixed emotions. … It brought out in all of us different needs, or it heightened certain emotions. Or if you were already isolated, it heightened that. If you were super social, and then that was cut off. What does that do to you? So just a very interesting time for a lot of people. A really difficult time, but I think there’s a lot of beauty in getting to connect with someone in a new way through altered circumstances.”

Torem, a Chicago-based filmmaker and actor, is currently working on several feature screenplays. Her script “Wannabe,” an absurd, queer comedy, was a semifinalist for Screencraft’s 2021 Comedy Competition and a quarterfinalist for Scriptapalooza’s 2021 Feature Competition,and Screencraft’s 2021 Writing Fellowship.

Torem’s acting credits include Bradley Grant Smith’s Our Father and Stephen Cone’s The Wise Kids, and the latter performance was voted Best Supporting Performance of the Year by the Village Voice poll. She was also nominated for a Jeff Award for Actress In A Principal Role for David Schwimmer’s production of Trust at Lookingglass Theatre. You can follow her on Twitter at @AllisonTorem and Instagram at @allison_torem.

“Essentials” was part of NFMLA’s March film festival celebrating up-and-coming female talent in front of and behind the camera. The program included two shorts programs, along with award-winning filmmaker Dawn Jones Redstone’s debut feature.

The day began with InFocus: Female Cinema Shorts I, a collection of films that explore motherhood, fertility, birth, and reproductive choice from a wide range of perspectives. The programming continued with the Los Angeles premiere of “Mother of Color,” the first feature from award-winning writer-director Dawn Jones Redstone. The night concluded with InFocus: Female Cinema Shorts II, an eclectic mix of short form work from emerging talent, whose stories explored body image, intimate relationships, work and its many struggles.

NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA Festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming. 

Main image: Austin Pendleton in “Essentials,” written and directed by Allison Torem.