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From Spokane to Sundance: Trish Harnetiaux’s ‘You Wouldn’t Understand’ is part of virtual film festival

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 29, 2021

Having your film selected to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival during a pandemic is bittersweet. It’s an adrenaline boost of validity. However, Sundance is all virtual in 2021 at festival.sundance.org through Wednesday.

The upside is that Sundance films will be accessible online. Spokane writer-director Trish Harnetiaux is understandably looking at the bright side. Her comedic short film, “You Wouldn’t Understand,” is among 50 films to be featured by Sundance.

“It’s still exciting,” Harnetiaux said while calling from her parents’ South Hill home. “Maybe we can build the platform out? Maybe this will be an interesting way to push the film into the world?

“As opposed to having three screens for a live audience, who knows how many people will see our movie since it’s online? I can’t wait to see all 50 of the shorts from Sundance that will be available. I’m excited even though everything about Sundance is different this year.”

“You Wouldn’t Understand” is a quirky, amusing, 10-minute short co-written by Harnetiaux and her husband, Jacob A. Ware, who stars with the film’s editor, Anthony Arkin.

The film is surprising and absurd, kind of like life. “We love the strange and a little sci-fi,” Harnetiaux said. “We’re drawn to mundane awkwardness. We wanted to capture the slow horror tone.”

“You Wouldn’t Understand” is shot on a lush green field, but not a frame was filmed in Spokane. “We were on a conservancy in Wantage (New Jersey),” Hartetiaux said. “The only thing about the movie that’s Spokane is me.”

Harnetiaux grew up on the South Hill. She came of age at Spokane Civic Theatre since her father, Bryan Harnetiaux, is the playwright in residence. “He still has that title and has held it for 35 years,” Harnetiaux said. “So I grew up around the theater, and it was a big deal. Every kid wants to be an actor.”

By the time the Lewis and Clark High School alumnus, class of ’93, enrolled at the University of Washington as a double major, drama and political science, Harnetiaux started writing plays. She moved to New York after graduation and earned her MFA at Brooklyn College.

Brooklyn became home, and that’s where she met her husband and Arkin, who formed Steel Drum in Space Productions. They started making films in 2012.

“A lot of what I’ve experienced in film is trial and error, and there’s been a lot of self-education, but it’s worked out,” Harnetiaux said. “I love working with Jacob and Anthony, and it’s amazing that a film we’ve made will be at Sundance.”

A new but as-yet-untitled film directed by Harnetiaux and co-written with her husband was shot in December. It’s another dark comedy, which doesn’t have a release date yet. The surprising cinematic turns taken by Harnetiaux are inspired by a childhood weaned on “The Twilight Zone” and films directed by Alfred Hitchcock and the Coen Brothers.

“What I took from watching all of that is the strange tone those shows and movies have,” Harnetiaux said.

About half of Harnetiaux’s life has been in Brooklyn, but her hometown is still Spokane. “It’s so beautiful here,” Harnetiaux said. “I love all of the trees and parks.”

Harnetiaux couldn’t believe Rocky Rococo, where she worked during her high school days, closed last year after a 35-year run. “That was my favorite place to get pizza here,” Harnetiaux said. “Things don’t last forever. Things have changed because of the pandemic.”

Sundance is an example of an institution that has morphed due to the coronavirus. “That’s the way it is,” Harnetiaux said. “We would have loved to have been at Sundance to see our movie on the big screen, but we’re still part of the Sundance experience, and that’s all that matters.”

When Harnetiaux isn’t working on films, she focuses on other creative projects such as her upcoming narrative podcast, “The MS Phoenix Rising.” The podcast, which is set to air in March, takes place in 2022, and it’s about the relaunch of the cruise ship industry after a prolonged shutdown.

Tensions are high, of course, since the plan is to follow a new route re-creating Christopher Columbus’ voyage through the Bahamas. The Harnetiaux twist? The on-board entertainment plan is to mount an avant-garde theater production of Ionesco’s “The Chairs.”

“It’s a way to work with actors, there’s a cast of 20 some actors,” Harnetiaux said. “It’ll been done on Zoom. I can’t wait to get past this (pandemic), but we’re trying to make the best of it.”

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