Surprises at Sundance: Leopoldine Huyghues-Despointes


Meredith KitzI set out on my weekend journey to Sundance with three movies slotted per day, a party each night, and my elevator pitches in my pocket. But in the back of my mind, I was looking for that special story that would be an inspiration to the readers of Ms. In the Biz. From documentaries covering such topics as the rise and fall of The Black Panthers and the extinction of the world’s species, to the masturbatory intellectual ramblings of a film on David Foster Wallace, my cinematic appetite was definitely titillated. I was meeting ambitious, creative and friendly people in the film world. And if you’ve ever been to a film festival, the male to female ratio is somewhere around eight to one. (Goes to show who dominates the industry.) But where was my story for women in the business? Time was running out, and the notice for my flight check-in had arrived in the mail.

It was Sunday night, and my motley group was in line on the icy streets of Park City for the United Talent Agency Party. Inside, I met a successful young director who had his documentary in the festival, a Parisian 1st AD who was just in his second year in New York, and a young man developing feature films from book deals. I was starting to think I would have to carve out a story from my own personal experience as a woman attendee of the festival, when just across the room I spotted a charismatic creature surrounded by a group of eager young men, regaling them with her gregarious gestures and quick-talking wiles. I edged my way in, and introduced myself. This was the beginning of an encounter that would be forever cemented in my heart. I had found my gal. I couldn’t ask for more! She was beautiful, exuberant, tenacious, and all the more inspiring as she pulled me down for a hug from her wheelchair.

Leopoldine Huyghues-Despointes is a budding ingénue in the film industry. Make that BURSTING, and after just four years on the scene, she is already in deep. As Associate Producer on the short film Rabbit, which made its premier at TIFF and was screening at the festival, she had the glow of a child with a great secret. Despite living with osteogenesis imperfecta, an affliction that confines her to a wheelchair, she suffers from none of the insecurities and doubt that many women face daily, particularly in film.

“I want to fight against miserabilism and categorization. Being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I’m less able. I want people to stop thinking ‘poor her, she’s in a wheelchair’.”

Photos courtesy of Glamour Paris

Though she initially came to the US from Paris to study Business at Wagner College and attend law school, it wasn’t more than a year and she had made the grand leap into film, a medium she saw as “the most powerful way of spreading her word.” This led her to partner with director and actor, Laure de Clemont, on the 2013 short film Atlantic Avenue (in which she starred and produced). She won the Best Actress award at the Milwaukee Film Festival for her performance, and had screenings at the TriBeCa and Clermont-Ferrand festivals. She successfully launched her own company, Vagabonde Productions, and wrapped her first feature film, Big House.

More than once she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Look at me, Meredith. If I can do this, you can, too.”

I thought that I was a savvy networking guru, but come to find out that this woman has the talent in spades. Perhaps it comes from years of having to dismantle the preconceived notion that she is handicapped, meaning at a disadvantage none of us must overcome. Instead, she goes into the scene with gusto and self-assuredness, the belief that even the sky is limiting.

“It is true that the film industry is particularly hard for women, but you have to look forward, keep your head up, work hard, meet new people and start your own projects.”

The day after the party and a brutally disturbing morning screening, we sat for lunch in the warmth of the sun at 13,000 feet on the patio of the Apex at the Montage Hotel. Both of us only having had around four hours of sleep (not unusual for festival-goers), we spoke a bit deliriously of the arsenal that women should bring with them to festivals, especially those coming into the circuit for the first time, with or without a film.

“Always keep your toothbrush, moisturizer, clean undergarments and a shirt on you or in your car. Be prepared to sleep very little! Get into as many parties as you can, and see as many screenings as possible – these are your talking points at the parties. Bring some business cards, and don’t be afraid to walk up to anyone you feel drawn to.”

It was with a bittersweet pang that I parted from the presence of that enigmatic character and woman. What if we all approached our chosen creative endeavors with such vigor? Such admonishment for the external and internal obstacles we see before ourselves? Would we be at the apex of something greater than our wildest dreams?

Leopoldine Huyghues-Despointes doesn’t have to stop to wonder. She has a handful of projects in the works, including a TV Series in development, another short, and a cameo in a secret Brady Corbet film. When I asked her what word could sum up where she is now, she simply offered, “A Dream. Dream Life. Dream Job. Dream Family. Dream Friends. Is that too much?!”

No, Leopoldine. I rest assured there is only more to come.

– Meredith Kitz