Let me create my own name

Simone LeClaire’s films are a study of self-expression and exploration.

The Minnesota State University Moorhead film production graduate (’13) is one of 54 recipients of a two-year $50,000 Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship – awarded to early-career professionals from Minnesota and New York. The unrestricted funds support artists in creating new work, advancing artistic goals and promoting professional development.

Simone (she/they) is a queer woman working as a film director and editor in Minneapolis. The 32-year-old’s works range from narrative shorts reflecting raw human experiences to wonderous, ethereal fairy tales. Compelled to share certain stories, Simone’s work spotlights a process of self-witnessing and self-naming, which she relates to both her spirituality and her queerness.

Simone LeClaire Onset

“For me, queerness is really a process of self-interrogation. Queer people have to go through this process to know themselves and name themselves in a society that will otherwise say, ‘Here’s what you’re feeling, and here’s how to interpret it.’ Queer people have explored internally and said, ‘Let me create my own name and describe what is happening to me as an individual.’”

Finding Purpose and Passion

Originally from the small town of Cass Lake, Minn., Simone started making movies with their sister as a teen. One of their more complex films took a whole summer to shoot and included local residents.

“The process of making this film was impactful and interesting and so exponentially beyond me. It was then I found that film was something I could be interested in for a long time… [the art] uses different intelligences, and I knew that was something I could be absorbed in,” they said.

Founding Her Film Career

At MSUM, the production-based program – which teaches students all roles required to create a film – was attractive to Simone. Impressed by MSUM’s focus on inclusivity within her art form, she pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts focused on film production, history and criticism.

“The major is centered around the idea of being welcoming to everyone who wants to learn film,” she said.

“There is something grounded about MSUM and the film program. The teachers while I was there were absolutely fantastic.” The intimately sized program provided educators the space to engage with individual students and alumni – and bridge connections that kick-start careers.

Crafting a Creative Style

Simone is drawn to minimalist, observational cinematography and pursued this in Minneapolis. Her initial work aligns with principles of the Dogme 95 movement – an avant-garde film style developed by Danish directors Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier. Director Susanne Bier’s work attracted Simone to this style, and they spent a semester researching her work in college.

The visual style features a ‘purified’ filmmaking process that focuses solely on the actor’s performance – refusing to incorporate expensive special effects, post-production modifications and other technical gimmicks. As part of the commitment to this style, there are hard-and-fast rules to follow: shooting must be done on location; the camera must be hand-held; the sound must never be produced; optical work and filters are forbidden; the director must not be credited.

Simone LeClaire Directing

This style supports the ongoing tension in Simone’s work. She’s attracted to the intimacy and organic nature of Dogme 95, but she’s also inspired by highly composed imagery and elaborate production design – which come with more complex camera and lighting setups and experienced production crews. Seeking to find a middle ground, Simone is exploring a delicate balance between these styles as part of the Jerome Hill Fellowship.

“The fellowship presents the space to take all that I’ve learned and taught myself in my eight years of short-form, indie film directing and support my transition to more elaborate production processes, longer-form storytelling, and new-to-me genres,” said Simone.

Simone believes this balance will allow her to put life-affirming values first – fighting what she refers to as the violences of the film industry.

“The industry has normalized sexual and racist aggressions that are completely unmitigated on set. There is constant bypassing of mental and emotional wellness as everything happens for the sake of the film,” they said. Their directing style aims to protect the well-being of all participants and respect and honor how the final product is impacted by that equality.

Achieving Film Success

Simone’s shorts have been screened at over 30 festivals in the Midwest and internationally, including the Indianapolis LGBT Festival, the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Fest, and Festival de Films Féministes de Montréal. She has received writing, acting and comedy awards and was invited to teach filmmaking at multiple institutions. To witness her work, visit directedbysimone.com.

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