Following a particularly tumultuous and hardened journey to bring her bountiful vision to life, LA based, independent director Jillian Dudley has burst onto the cinematic scene, with all the resplendent colours of her protagonist’s world. After a successful crowdfunding campaign that was also featured as one of Women and Hollywood’s crowdfunding picks, Zula the Infinite (2016) surpassed its funding goals. Elated, the filmmakers felt even more compelled to tell this story of ‘those strange years when we started adapting to “the ways of the future” --- online instant messaging, boy bands with frosted tips, and the general uncertainty and anticipation of where our progressing world would take us in our adulthood’. While an unfortunate theft that robbed the team of their sound equipment during the final stages of shooting could have easily left the future of Zula to fester in the searing Californian desert, it served only to provoke the resilience of its filmmakers. As such, on Christmas eve, the first ever trailer for upcoming series Zula the Infinite - a vulnerable yet competent - endearing yet fearless - story about the film’s titular character (played by co-writer Valentina Matosian) who is in search of something more than the encroaching confines of a small-town setting - was finally released.
The early millennial, ‘mash-up’ aesthetics of Zula glow with an early 90s neon-esque hue; a merging composition of pinks and blues that leak into the hot, desert landscape like a rose-tinted spectrum of watercolours, washed across a dry canvas. This purposeful palette is the magnetic pull that draws Zula’s audience into the nostalgic warmth of a period in time that is both familiar and dreamlike: as if it has been felt, and yet, has never existed. Informed by the brief and distant memory of millennial optimism, the narrative implicitly sheds light on the frozen hopes of a disillusioned and disvalued generation, taking ‘the anticipated beginnings of digital takeover’ as the beating heart of its inspiration. The plot follows spunky, backwards-cap-wearing protagonist Zula, as she discovers a mysterious letter at her father’s post office that draws her into a friendship with a troubled, yellow-painted-nails drifter (played by Stefanie Butler, Stranger Things). From here, Dudley reimagines the past, in order examine the present lives of a millennial generation, and forge another, more hopeful future. The enigmatic journey upon which Zula embarks, calls to mind pivotal cinematic texts, including one of the first, contemporary, female-driven road movies, Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991) and feminist, queer-centric classic, Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1985). As Dudley points out, ‘not only is this piece a fun way to tap into the nostalgia of our youth, but it is an exciting opportunity to evaluate the years that shaped the millennial generation.’
“Maybe we should think about getting out of here for a while,” insists Zula, following a colourful montage that shows the protagonist shaking her head out of a car window - her bright, smiley-face-shaped backpack beams at the camera, while the swift-passing wind tumbles through her hair. “I like it here,” her father tells her. “I don’t,” she responds coolly. There is then a cut to a long, blonde haired and brightly adorned stranger who strides confidently into the post office: “got any mail for Ramona Pearson?” she asks bluntly, chewing gum. Captivated, Zula brushes blue-painted fingers across an envelope that reads ‘Ramona Pearson’, and drops it into her bag. A car zooms speedily out of frame as the screaming stranger follows in a futile pursuit, stopping only to throw litter at the tyre tracks, indignantly submitting to defeat. “We can catch up to him,” Zula whispers, resolutely. What follows is a trailer-spliced montage that shows the two women, clinging to the hope of existence at the end of a perpetually rolling road, while growing closer to one another in female friendship and loyalty. “I have to get out of here, and you can teach me,” Zula’s voice insists, over shots of the female drifters, dancing and smoking with one another- smiling out of deep, purple, painted lips.
The fluorescent duality of deep pinks and blues, painted against the recognisable grain of low-budget composition is prominent throughout the short and compact one minute trailer. It is enough to tempt its audiences into a world that is both timeless and untethered to any specific location. The elusive, yet vibrant backdrop of the series parallels the sublime, visual elements prevalent in the works of noted directors such as Federico Fellini, Claire Denis and Krzysztof Kieślowski (to name but a few), as well as the meticulous colour scheme employed by Rebecca Thomas in her debut feature, Electric Children (2012), and illuminates the stage upon which Zula’s journey takes place. At once, it is as though Zula has ventured through decades - inspired by the cultural and artistic blueprints of her predecessors - and yet, she has only just begun. What is especially promising about this particular piece of work, is the way in which Jillian Dudley and Valentina Matosian have chosen to foreground the primacy of female friendship and women’s agency: through the legendary and timeless plot structure of the women-centric road movie, represented through a developing series.
Watch the trailer for Zula the Infinite (2016) here.
Upcoming: DISPATCH will be hosting an exclusive interview with writer/director Jillian Dudley and co-writer/lead actor Valentina Matosian, on the production, development and premiering of Zula the Infinite (date TBC).