A little more than a year ago, Portland filmmaker Dawn Jones Redstone threw out the blueprint for what would have been her second movie.
"We originally had a darker, totally different story, and then the election happened," says Jones Redstone.
But in a weird twist, that meant Jones Redstone's project in the works got more hopeful. "We saw more resistance—these brief moments of hope," she says.
Still, the resulting short film, We Have Our Ways, isn't exactly feel-good. Set in a grim 2023, the dystopian sci-fi shows the high stakes, illegal attempts of Regina (Sidony O'Neal) to get her friend Abigail (Paige Moreland) to a doctor who can perform an abortion.
Related: Dawn Jones Redstone Takes Her Advocacy to the Big Screen
Though she's worked on dozens of films through her production company Hearts and Sparks, Our Ways is only Jones Redstone's second film. It's her follow-up to last year's semi-autobiographical Sista in the Brotherhood, which also starred O'Neal. Like Sista, Our Ways was co-written with Kjerstin Johnson (the former editor-in-chief of Bitch magazine), and it was made with an all-women, mostly women-of-color, crew. Ana Del Rocio, who plays a doctor's assistant in the movie, is a school board member for an east Portland district.
But Our Ways is a sharp turn from Sista, which is a day-in-the-life story based on Jones Redstone's firsthand experiences as a Latina construction worker. But Jones Redstone says the dramatic shift in genre of Our Ways genre was secondary.
"We wanted to feature a woman of color and also comment on what it's like to be in an increasingly oppressive environment," she says. A suspenseful movie set in a not-too-distant future seemed like the best fit.
For the most part, the machinations of the regime that looms over Our Ways are implied rather than explained. In one scene, Regina and Abigail hurry down a shadowy hospital hallway after a meeting with a potential doctor. When they hear a police siren in the distance, they whisper concerns about breaking curfew.
But there are moments when the movie draws far more pointed analogies. Regina is a customer service rep for a major healthcare company. Though she isn't leading the protests that frequently march outside her office windows, Regina finds her own way to resist. Her sales points are decreasing because she often overrides the constant denials of coverage. She covertly texts the address of an underground clinic to the callers she has to deny.
"This story shows the connections between various ways that we don't have power, and also suggests a response, or how we might respond while still nurturing ourselves," says Jones Redstone.
In one scene, Regina and Abigail preciously pour a few milliliters of water into the soil of their houseplant plant that they've named Judith. There's a prolonged close-up of the water soaking into the soil. On one hand, it's meant to depict life in a dark future—in 2023, clean drinking water has become scarce. But it's also a moment amid chaos that both women have taken to nurture something.
Still, Our Ways doesn't dictate a clear path for its audience, or for its characters. Instead of a clear resolution, Our Ways leaves its audience to guess its characters' fate. "When you are able to watch a story and put things together for yourself," says Jones Redstone, "It can be more powerful than something that sets out to overtly tell or teach you something."
But while the political message was of deeply personal importance, Jones Redstone says the main impetus was just making the kind of movie she'd want to see. "The best films have these glimpses of what it means to be human, and that's what I look for when I'm making something," says Jones Redstone. "This is a story I very much connect with and want to share."
SEE IT: We Have Our Ways premieres at Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., cstpdx.com. 2 pm Sunday, Dec. 3. Sold out.