Drawing Strength From Heartbreak, Maria Allred Has Found Her Voice

“A broken heart, if you want it to be, can be like a gateway or a portal into a stronger, more beautiful version of yourself or just another reality.”

In the summer of 2020, Maria Allred came to Portland to make Sacred Fool, a short film about a former opera singer (Damien Genardi) who becomes homeless in the midst of the pandemic.

In one scene, the singer encounters an old friend who is belting out an aria while riding a Onewheel at a park. At first, they’re delighted to see each other, but when the singer announces, “I’m living in a tent,” the friend coldly says, “All right, let’s…whatever,” refusing to offer help or even compassion.

The most disturbing thing about the scene, however, isn’t the friend’s reaction. It’s that the entire conversation was real.

“The guy, who used to sing opera with Damien in real life, didn’t know that Damien was playing a character,” Allred says. “He wasn’t even trying to hide the fact that he was judgmental. He did show his true colors.”

The scene is a testament to what Allred describes as “process-oriented” filmmaking. “I’m doing this style where you basically treat the art process like, ‘OK, we’re going to go into it and let life morph around us,’” she says. “Your perception is your voice.”

Allred’s voice is unique—too unique for some audiences. After the ruthless critical response to The Texture of Falling, her 2018 feature debut, she shifted from the dreaminess of Texture to the realism of Sacred Fool and Little Nations, her 2019 short following the journey a potentially momentous piece of mail.

Yet while Allred has grown, she remains unapologetically true to herself, both as an artist and as a human being. And when she speaks about the revitalizing power of heartbreak, she could arguably be talking about either film or life.

“A broken heart, if you want it to be, can be like a gateway or a portal into a stronger, more beautiful version of yourself or just another reality,” she says. “The broken heart is underestimated.”

Allred’s evolution over the past four years began with the Texture of Falling premiere, a glamorous and glorious affair. She screened the film at the OMSI’s Empirical Theater, then showed up at the after party wearing a sparkling silver dress, seemingly unbothered by the film’s snide reviews.

A surreal romance with BDSM, improvisation and major Terrence Malick vibes, The Texture of Falling was always going to be a tough sell. But the reviews stung, not least of all because the film was a highly stylized metaphor for a breakup that Allred was emerging from.

“When someone would call The Texture pretentious, I’d be like, ‘Wow! I don’t know what it means, because I’m totally feeling like my guts are spilling out everywhere here,’” she says. “But in a way, that’s my life.”

Allred, who grew up in the Portland area, sought refuge in Chicago. “When I first found film, it was like a total fucking new love affair,” she says, adding that the response to her debut was a “test of a relationship. But I’m a strong person and I’m in things for the long haul.”

Allred eventually returned to Portland to make Sacred Fool, which is personal in a different way than Texture. When she was a teenager, she ran away from home and spent her days hitchhiking and living in the woods—and while she says any similarity between her experiences and the film is unconscious, she doesn’t deny the connection.

“Yeah, I lived on the road,” she says. “Yeah, I was homeless. Yeah, I ate berries. Yeah, I got food however the heck I did. I think it did influence [the film], absolutely.”

The deeper link Allred shares with the hero of Sacred Fool (which she plans to submit to festivals) is that they both go on a quest to rediscover their craft. It’s a journey of losing your voice, finding it again, and ultimately reveling in it.

For Allred, the reveling has only just begun. This month, she’s filming The Dreaming, a short. Soon after, she’ll direct Shimmering, the Being, her second feature.

When WW spoke to Allred, she had recently returned from location scouting in Mexico for Shimmering, which will take her exploration of lost love to interdimensional levels. Her throat, she said, was still clogged with dust and diesel from the trip, but her voice betrayed not an ounce of weariness.

“I made Little Nations, I made Sacred Fool, but I was still kind of licking my wounds while I was making those,” she says. “But then this new wave is coming up, and the wave now feels so much stronger and so much more solid…. As far as me going big, I’ve only been going bigger.”

SEE IT: You can watch Maria Allred’s work, including Little Nations, at https://vimeo.com/mariaallred

Read about all Five filmmakers who are reshaping the cinema of the Pacific Northwest here!