A New York-native, first time writer/director Nia DaCosta premiered her poignant family drama, Little Woods, on home turf at Tribeca 2018. Set in the fictional town of Little Woods, North Dakota, this film tells the story of sisters Ollie and Deb, played by Tessa Thompson and Lily James respectively. Deb, mother of one-and-counting, desperately needs money; Ollie, a former drug-dealer, is about to get off parole when fate tempts her with one last job. A neo-western drama told with finely-tuned naturalism, this is an engrossing, moving and often upsetting film. Truly a Tribeca festival highlight, Little Woods proves DaCosta’s natural storytelling talent.
DaCosta knew she always wanted to be a writer. After film school, she got her masters in playwriting, and it shows in Little Woods: strong characters, seamless structure, taut pacing. The script went through a number of labs over the years, but DaCosta’s dedication to detail is most impressive of all. She never lived in the Midwest, but made several trips to Williston, North Dakota, to gather grist for her screenplay. Fascinated by the struggles faced by Midwesterners—women in particular—she created the fictional town of Little Woods: a microcosm of female adversities, including poverty, healthcare, sexual violence, the opioid crisis… It also happens to be one of the most difficult places in the U.S. to get an abortion.
Little Woods’ execution is effective from start to finish. DaCosta coaxes great performances from Thompson and James (who truly feel like sisters onscreen) plus a haunting score from emerging composer Brian McOmber. Another sign of DaCosta’s sure hand: a surprising amount of improvisation flies under the radar as carefully-calculated naturalism. Check out my phoner interview with writer/director Nia DaCosta during the fest.