SxSW 2023 – THE HERRICANES director Olivia Kuan

“The Houston Herricanes were a part of the first women’s full tackle football league in the 1970s. Their unknown story is one of commitment, courage, and strength. Despite adversity and hardship, they fielded a team purely for the love of the game. What they started is a movement that is still in motion today.” Filmmaker Olivia Kuan on THE HERRICANES which screens at this year’s South By Southwest Film & TV.

You are back at SxSW this year! Tell me about what you have had here in the past. 

I have been at SXSW before with films that I was the cinematographer on. Both were directed by the unique and daring filmmaker Gillian Wallace Horvat. I’m pleased to be here this year with my own directing debut.

How did this whole project come together? 

My mom played for the Houston Herricanes and I grew up believing that everyone’s mom played football. As an adult, I came to understand how special that was and I was driven to share this story with the world. There were very few records kept about the women who played in the NWFL in the 1970s so that history was almost only stored in the hearts and minds of those who participated. So this documentary needed to be made before it was too late.

While working on a project, what is your creative process? Do you have any particular ritual or tradition when working on something?

My entire career I’ve been a cinematographer, so directing was a new field for me when I started this project. But a few things carried over as a part of my process. I have always allowed story to drive the image. Whether it is an interview, recreation, or b roll, I always have the character, emotion, and tone in mind when deciding how to light something or what style of camera movement to choose. This only became amplified as I stepped into the directing position. As far as rituals, there is one thing I did towards the end of every interview. I would ask the entire crew if they had any additional questions. This was born out of a desire to respect the input of everyone in the room, but a few of these moments were really wonderful and made it into the film in an impactful way. This was truly a collaborative effort from the start.

If you had one favourite moment out of this entire project, the “Yes, this is IT” moment, what would that be?

Honestly, my favorite moment was when our sound recordist got bit on the arm by a donkey. Don’t worry, he’s ok. As far as “lightbulb” moments, there is one that sticks out. Early on, we shot diorama moments of the many football games we talk about in the film. To me, it was an artistic design element to help us replace archival footage that didn’t exist and it felt more right than animation or any other medium. However, it wasn’t until years later that I fully understood why this element was so important to me. And that moment came out of a workshopping meeting with the producers. They asked the right questions in the right way and out spilled a truth that I didn’t know was within me. “The dioramas best represent what I saw in my mind as a child”. And just like that, a bit of fog lifted, and that tiny bit of glue informed how we made certain connections throughout the rest of the film.

I love to get technical, so I would love to know about the visual design of the movie from the cameras you used and the formats and your relation to the cinematographer.

For most of this process I also wore the hat of a cinematographer. Over the 4 years that this project was being filmed, I managed to stay consistent and always use my Alexa Mini camera. The dynamic range became especially advantageous during the recreations when we were trying to create a vintage feel in a dark setting. I recruited a long-time friend, Fletcher Wolfe, to be the DP on our recreations. It was so much fun working with her and her work amped up the film in a fantastic way. On that shoot, we used an original Angenieux 25-250mm T3.9 from Old Fast Glass, concentrating on scenes earlier on in the team’s story. Fletcher chose it for its warm flares to evoke a vintage patina and emphasize the sun. We used a set of Zeiss Standard Speeds from Texcam mostly for the night games as the Herricanes coalesce as a team. And we supplemented all of that with a 16mm Canon 8-64 T2.4 on the Alexa Mini in S16 mode.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your project at SxSW 2023? 

I’m looking forward to the women of the Herricanes finally being celebrated for what they accomplished. I’m grateful that Austin is within a stones throw from Houston and that many of the players will be able to attend. Having them there will mean so much.

How do you feel about the current moviegoing climate? Are you wishing more people to see movies in theatres, or is it okay to opt for a streaming release where more people could potentially see a movie?

I admit I am guilty of seeing fewer movie in the theaters than I used to. I would really love to get back to that and intend to make a bigger effort of it this year. While I don’t think it is a problem for some movies to only be available on streaming, I do miss the experience of the big screen.

What is the one thing that you would say to someone who is looking to get into movies, even now in such a changing world?

Listen to everyone.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival and why?

A few years back at SXSW I saw the short film “Interesting Ball” by the Daniels. Parts of it don’t make any sense, but I laughed and I cried and it sticks with me to this day.

This film and many others like it will be showing at South By Southwest taking place March 10-19. For more information point your browser to!

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