Young director’s big break in ‘After.Life’

By Luke Wilusz

Filmmaker Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo had a lot of success early in her career. As a film student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, her first short film, “Pâté,” premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Since then, she graduated from film school and went from short filmmaking to write and direct her first feature, “After.Life,” a psychological thriller starring Liam Neeson, Christina Ricci and Justin Long. It is set to hit theaters April 9.

Vosloo grew up in Warsaw, Poland, and considered going to film school in Łódź, Poland, before she decided to emigrate and study at NYU. The difficulties young filmmakers experienced in the Polish film industry largely influenced this decision.

“When I was in high school, I realized that in Poland, at that point, to have a debut as a filmmaker or a theater director you would normally have to wait until you’re like 40,” she said. “Which is kind of a scary thing because as a young filmmaker you want to start making movies and have hands-on experience. But in

Poland, it takes a very long time to actually have your debut. [It’s] just how the system is set up.”

Vosloo started at NYU in 1999 and made “Pâté”—a post-apocalyptic short dealing with survival instincts and cannibalism—on a very limited budget during her second year of school.

“It had a very kind of rich visual world to it, which was a huge challenge for me because as a student, I didn’t have money,” she said. “So I had to be very resourceful in terms of creating this whole world. But I loved the challenge.”

Her resourcefulness included finding broken furniture on the streets of New York, persuading local businesses to donate food or

supplies and working at all hours of the night and in any kind of weather to put her vision on film. And it paid off.

“It’s such a great short film that I’m still showing it in my classes to show her very original way of directing the actors; how to do almost a post-apocalyptic subgenre adaptation of the Hansel and Gretel story,” said Karl Bardosh, one of Vosloo’s film professors from NYU.

“Pâté” earned her the critical acclaim and recognition that allowed her to begin working on a feature. She got an agent her second year of school and was offered scripts for feature films, but she declined all of them.

“It was very tempting to take them,” she said. “Because how many times do you have something offered while you’re still in school, you know? It was a huge, huge, huge opportunity, but I decided actually not to take them because I didn’t respond to them and I believed that I have to do something that I’m passionate about. It’s very hard for me to do something I’m not passionate about. I don’t believe in that.”

Instead, Vosloo began writing the script for “After.Life” in 2005 after graduating from NYU in 2003. She said the process for developing a feature film was virtually identical to developing the short, only on a larger scale.

“You develop the material that is good, that you believe in, and then you basically just persevere, you know?” Vosloo said. “You have to be persistent. You have to believe in what you do, I would say. If you don’t believe in what you do then no one else will.”

Once the script was finished, independent producer and financier Bill Perkins picked it up. Perkins said he was impressed by Vosloo’s writing, vision and enthusiasm.

“Based on the quality of the script and her passion, her preparations for it—she prepared for a long time—we felt comfortable taking a bet on her,” Perkins said.

Now that “After.Life” is done and awaiting release, Vosloo spends time thinking about her next project. She said she’d like to work on a comedy to break her current trend of darker, psychological films, although she doesn’t think too much about genre when she writes.

“It has to be a story,” she said. “I think it all starts with a story that grabs you, and the rest you create. But as a filmmaker, you need the right story that connects with you, that resonates with you. So it’s not really that much about the genre, it’s more about the story and then finding the right way of telling that story for me.”

Whatever the young director ends up working on, Perkins said he’s confident she’ll have a long career ahead of her.

“I don’t think you could stop her,” Perkins said, laughing. “You’d have to throw her in jail for her not to have a long career. I mean, it’s a tough time in the movie business right now. There are less films being made and there’s less capital available, but I’m sure Agnieszka will find a way.”

“After.Life” is distributed by Anchor Bay Films and opens nationwide April 9. For theater locations and showtimes, check local listings.