‘Broken Bird’: Rachel Harrison Gordon’s coming-of-age film soars
What began as an assignment for NYU student Rachel Harrison Gordon ended up becoming a beautiful and tender film that explores race, culture and identity through the character of Birdie, a biracial young girl preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. The short film, “Broken Bird,” was the first movie Harrison Gordon wrote and directed. Speaking to the Banner by phone, the director recalls she hesitated to bring the draft to class because “it was somewhat semi-autobiographical in nature.”
Like Birdie, the filmmaker grew up in New Jersey with a Jewish mother and an African American father and faced many of the same issues and experiences that Birdie faces, from having her hair straightened in a black salon to being shuttled back and forth between her parents. Directed, written, produced and edited by Harrison Gordon, “Broken Bird” stars Chad L. Coleman (AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and HBO’s “The Wire”) as her dad Andre, Mel House as her mom Eileen, and the “wise beyond her years” Indigo Hubbard-Salk (Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It”) as Birdie.
Harrison Gordon didn’t originally plan to become a filmmaker. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering, where she studied mechanical engineering. “I was always interested in exploring how could you make tools better for studying how different people interact differently with the internet, with media, with computers, technology — but also with stories and sharing traditions and history,” she says. “It wasn’t a planned step and process.”
Her circuitous career path included working as a data analyst within a consumer insights group at The New York Times as well as serving as a Presidential Innovation Fellow for the Obama Administration, learning about veterans and their experience returning home. Prior to making her pivot into film, Harrison Gordon began asking herself some tough questions like, “Am I happy in my current role? Are they offering me everything that I want?” The answers led her to discover that she was being disappointed in ways she couldn’t articulate, but, she says, “I knew I wanted to get closer to people.”
Harrison Gordon began exploring film as a path. She had a lot of friends who were in the creative space and began visiting them on set. The experience allowed her to absorb everything. “I was always fascinated with movies but didn’t really consider it a legitimate personal exploration for me,” she says.
She went back to school and became a dual degree MFA/MBA candidate at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and Stern School of Business. “I needed to go through a process that legitimizes curiosity about filmmaking,” she says. “I needed school to show me that I didn’t need school, but in so many ways I thank them for everything that I’ve made and everything that I thought of.”
In February, “Broken Bird” made its world premiere at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival. Harrison Gordon was honored to have her film selected as part of the 70th annual festival. “I definitely didn’t make this film for anyone to see. It was an assignment,” reiterates the director. “I was just excited about the accomplishment.” Two months after its premiere, she’s still in awe that she and her crew made a movie.
“My heart just feels so full with all the conversations that I’ve had with all the people reaching out with their opinions on the film, their questions about it, the music or the props that stuck out to them,” says Harrison Gordon. “It’s furthered my love for film. It’s reassured me that I belong here. It’s made me excited to make more and to collaborate with the people that I’ve been meeting.”
“Broken Bird” was scheduled to screen at South by Southwest (SXSW), Aspen ShortsFest, San Francisco International Film Festival, Florida Film Festival and the Atlanta Film Festival, but due to the Coronavirus outbreak, these festivals have been canceled, moved online or postponed. “Broken Bird” is available to stream until April 30.
Find more info and view the trailer at: www.brokenbirdfilm.com