August at twenty-two writer-star Ali Edwards based the queer coming-of-age story partly on her own diaries. But the film also owes its existence in part to director Sophia Castuera keeping her ears open in coffee shops.
The story, about a young woman (Edwards) who falls for her male best friend’s girlfriend (Lilli Kay), is meant to feel like a summer entry in the complicated life of a recent college graduate — something that its title implies but doesn’t explicitly spell out. That’s in keeping with the nuance of the entire film, which is out today. August at twenty-two takes a close, affectionate look at a young woman fumbling through life and love with hope and vulnerability.
“The film is loosely based off of my own misadventures of being a very naive, dumb, optimistic twentysomething,” Edward told MovieMaker after its splashy debut at the Provincetown International Film Festival. “In many ways, it started in my diary entries and my early art and my friendships. And then I started kind of getting that all down on the page, and fictionalizing, and working with Sophia and Mary Elizabeth to bring it alive in a in a real way.”
Mary Elizabeth is acclaimed producer Mary Elizabeth Monda, whose credits include The Killing Of a Sacred Deer as well as Luke Cage and The Punisher on Netflix. Together, the three formed a new collective, Lady Parts Productions, with the aim of advocating for positive social change through their work.
Castuera met Monda by overhearing her on a phone call at a coffee shop in Harlem close to where they both live.
“I heard her talking really loudly on the phone next to me, and I was like, ‘Who’s this annoying person?'” jokes Castuera. “And then she was talking about Sundance and film festivals. And then I like, interesting: Who is this person? And I introduced myself to her.”
All three were in their early twenties and related to Edwards’ story. Together, with their actors and crew, they shot it on the streets of New York City, before the Covid pandemic shut filming down for a while. The crew was all female and mostly queer, which contributed to a dynamic they loved.
“I wish we could copy and paste our entire crew list for every single thing we work on in the future,” says Edwards. “It was the most loving, collaborative, positive set. There was almost no tension, honestly. We were all so thrilled to be there. It was a lot of people’s first features. So there was just this incredible attitude of like, ‘Let’s make this happen. Let’s do it.’ And we were having literal dance parties on set while we were setting up scenes.”
August at twenty-two, Out in the Real World
The setups were complicated by the very authentic New York City setting. Though they got permits when they needed them, there’s wasn’t much they could do about the passerby. Some of their real dialogue slipped into the background of street scenes.
“There are constantly people — it’s New York,” says Castuera. “There are so many people on the street at all times. … You can’t put help but notice the people walking in the background and the things that they say.”
The complete independence of the project has had at least one advantage they couldn’t have foreseen: Press coverage hasn’t been affected by the actor or writer strikes because no struck companies are involved.
Edwards and Castuera met in college at Boston University — “we were in different a capella groups and different theater groups, this all sounds really kind of cheesy,” Edwards laughs — but they became collaborators when Castuera, who is also an actor, auditioned for a web series Edwards made. She quickly thought of Castuera when it was time to find a director for August at Twenty-Two.
“At that point, I had only directed a short,” Castuera says. “When Ali asked, I kind of was like, “terrifying — but I’ll do it.”
In the film, the characters’ leaps of faith can have embarrassing consequences. For the filmmakers, taking risks has paid off with a sensitive, standout debut, marked by a mood of wincing recognition and regret. But also the recognition that some mistakes need to be made.
August at twenty-two is available today across all North American TVOD/Digital platforms through Gravitas Ventures.
Main image: Ali Edwards and Lilli Kay in August at twenty-two.