New York is becoming a greener city. There are rooftop farms, community gardens, an abundance of bike lanes, better buses and grocery stores which shelve only organic products. But that’s not all. Chickens are popping up everywhere in the city - as pets, egg providers, and of course as free range dinner options. With this shift towards a more sustainable, high-tech animal friendly city, New Yorkers are feeling the pressure to align themselves with this new urban lifestyle. This is where coming-of-age comedy A CHICK CALLED WANDA finds itself, telling the story of customer service representative, Finn, who desperately wants to adopt a chicken to soothe the stress of her annoying co-workers and boyfriend. "Generally the reactions we received were very enthusiastic albeit slightly confused, which is completely understandable. Many had never heard about the concept of adopting rescued chickens or that there was an uptick in backyard chicken ownership in Brooklyn. But the confusion may have helped us in the long run because we had to work harder to make this world believable and also relatable. “
When asked what it’s like working with chicken on set, Apfel was surprisingly positive. "Chickens make for fabulous actors if you happen to meet the right one. I lucked out that our producer Cameron Bossert and lead actress Johnna Scrabis happened to be quite the chicken whisperers. It’s all about how you pick up a chicken. You have to support them and keep their wings tucked in, then they can start to relax and even purr.” However, Apfel recounted that all was not as plain sailing as she’d hoped. "The only issue is if you hold a chicken for too long they can overheat and are likely to defecate, which actually happened to Johnna while we were filming the fantasy scene at our Brooklyn location. I feel terrible about it to this day.”
A CHICK CALLED WANDA is the thesis project of writer & director Arielle Apfel for The London Film School. Born and raised in Brooklyn NY, Apfel wanted to capture the changing landscape of her hometown and its people through the framework of observational comedy. The short film uses a combination of found stories, documentary footage and live action to talk about change on a personal level. "My film is a bit of a hodge podge of storytelling techniques. It was inspired by a real NBC article titled; Backyard chickens dumped at shelters when hipsters can’t cope, critics say. The film also features real shots of New Yorkers doing New York things; people eating ice cream, checking out yoga signs, and hiking up their pants. And lastly one of my favorite aspects of the film is the chicken POV and VFX chicken shots. I really have to thank Ingvar Gudmundsson, our intrepid DOP, for his talent in recreating a chicken’s point of view, walk and all and Aephie Huimi Chen, the production designer and costume designer for the color palate, look and feel of the film."
Since 3rd June 2016, Apfel’s film has been playing at festivals around the US. After premiering at the NY International Short Film Festival (NY SHORTS), winning the ‘Best Comedy’ award, A CHICK CALLED WANDA went on to screen at the Art of Brooklyn Festival, HollyShorts' Monthly Screenings, the Hudson Valley Comedy Festival, the Austin Short Film Festival, the NY Open House Screenings and the Iron Mule Comedy Festival, where it picked up the ‘Audience Award’. However, Apfel’s ambitions do not stop there. "I would love for this film to have a life abroad. To me the phenomenon of urbanites dreaming of rural life is on an ongoing inner struggle for many. And although the film has had most of it’s success in New York there is nothing better than seeing how audiences from different backgrounds react to your work. It can be incredibly painful but telling when a room is silent. Every screening is different and I like that.”
Moving forwards, Apfel is thrilled to again be working with Johnna Scrabis, the lead actresss in A CHICK CALLED WANDA, who is also a writer, performer and teacher at UCB. They have written their first feature comedy, a mockumentary called A TINY PERFECT WORLD.