Miranda Bailey returns home for Vail Film Festival, March 30-April 2
Miranda Bailey can pinpoint the very moment she knew what she was going to do with her life. At 8 years old, her father took her on a trip to Los Angeles, where they visited the set of the 1980 film “Little Miss Marker.”
“As soon as I walked on set, I knew,” Bailey recalled.
She held on to that feeling, letting it propel her all the way from the slopes of Vail to Skidmore College in New York, and then on to Los Angeles, where she currently resides. Not content to choose only one aspect of the filmmaking business, Bailey wears a number of hats, including writer, director, actor and producer, as well as running her own production company, Cold Iron Pictures.
This weekend, she’s back in her hometown for the Vail Film Festival. Bailey plays a supporting role in “Like Cotton Twines,” one of the 10 feature-length films chosen for this year’s festival.
Slopes to stage
Born in Denver, Bailey grew up in Vail. Per mountain custom, she started skiing early, which led to racing with what is now Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. She stuck with the sport throughout high school, but it wasn’t her true passion.
The movie bug that had bitten her on that trip to Hollywood at age 8 never relinquished its grip, even in the face of the deep powder of Colorado winters. For one school project, Bailey wrote, directed and starred in her own play. When it came time for college, she hung up her racing skis and took to the movie stage.
Both sides of the camera
Bailey’s list of projects is long and star-studded. She’s played opposite the likes of Kristen Wiig (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and Richard Gere (a cameo in “Norman,” which she also produced), directed a variety of genres — the upcoming documentary “Pathological Optimist” about the discredited Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and upcoming comedy “You Can Choose Your Family” with Jim Gaffigan, for example — and produced a number of easily recognizable films with well-known actors, including 2005’s indie darling “The Squid and the Whale” and 2016’s quirky “Swiss Army Man,” starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano.
While it’s easy enough to keep busy with one piece of the filmmaking puzzle, Bailey enjoys tackling various jobs both in front of and behind the camera.
“I think the acting and directing don’t come along as often as producing can. Producing is more of a day-jobby kind of thing, so it’s easier to keep busy with producing,” Bailey said. “But they all kind of fulfill a different side of me that needs to come out, whether it’s my hyper-organized OCD side for producing, or my ‘bossy’ side for directing,” — here she laughs — “or my trying-to-get-in-touch-with-my-feelings side for acting.”
When she’s producing a film, Bailey tends to steer away from acting large roles within it, favoring smaller supporting roles or cameos to keep from stretching herself too thin, describing producing as “an all-consuming job.”
She rarely turns down offered roles, she said, though admits she does have trouble putting the director-producer hat away during those projects.
“I don’t know how to feel comfortable being just an actor anymore,” she said with a laugh, explaining how odd it feels not to get swept up in deeper discussions of production on set.
“I just like to be involved in everything.”
Making ‘Like Cotton Twines’
“Like Cotton Twines” is Bailey’s second time acting under director Leila Djansi. The two have been friends for several years, and when Djansi reached out, Bailey was ready to get involved.
“She just sent me a script and said, ‘Do you want to go to Africa?’” Bailey recalled.
“Like Cotton Twines” was filmed on location in Ghana. It follows the story of a young American teacher, Micah (Jay Ellis), who comes to volunteer his services in a small Ghanaian village. There, he witnesses the plight of one of his students, Tuigi (Ophelia Klenam Dzidzornu), a 14-year-old girl who is pressed into religious, sexual servitude to atone for the sins of her father. As Micah struggles to help Tuigi, he turns to Allison, played by Bailey, a fellow American working against child slavery in a culture where the practice persists and locals often either participate or turn a blind eye.
The shoot was Bailey’s first time in Africa, and she describes the experience as “incredible.”
“Anyone who gets into acting I think, I imagine, is hoping that they’ll get to travel to exotic places every once in a while, and I don’t mean Louisiana,” Bailey said with a laugh. “So it was really great to have that experience and get paid as an actor to go to Africa.”
Her favorite scenes in the film, she said, are the interactions between Tuigi and her mother.
“I thought all of the African actors were incredible.”
Return to Vail
This is not the first time Bailey has attended the Vail Film Festival. In 2006, the festival opened with “The Oh in Ohio,” which she both produced and acted in. The cast also included Danny DeVito, Paul Rudd and Liza Minnelli.
Her documentary “Spinning Plates” also made it to the festival in 2012, though Bailey’s schedule didn’t allow her to attend.
This year, Bailey will participate in a Q-and-A session after “Like Cotton Twines” screens on Saturday at 1 p.m. (the film will also be shown at 6:15 p.m. Sunday) and is also taking part in the Women in Film panel discussion on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. Joining Bailey will be three other panelists — including “Like Cotton Twines” director Djansi — to talk about their personal journeys within the film industry, as well as gender issues in filmmaking as a whole. Denver Film Festival director and producer Britta Erickson will moderate.
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