If you’ve ever been an 11-year-old, then the feelings and emotions captured throughout The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer’s feature narrative debut, will strike close to your heart. The film is told from the perspective of Toni (Royalty Hightower), an 11-year-old girl dedicated to boxing. She practices with immense dedication with her older brother and the other boys at school. As deeply immersed as she is in this discipline, she finds herself gazing on her school’s dance-troupe practices, hoping to join the team. Once Toni commits to the dance team, she finds herself drifting between her life as a boxer and dancer, and maintaining her balance between the two distinct worlds. As if this weren’t struggle enough, one-by-one the girls of the dance team start convulsing into fits. The fits seem inevitable, striking a girl at any moment. The cause is a mystery.
We spoke with Holmer about the various meaning of fits, the talent that is Royalty Hightower, and working with the Q-Kidz dance troupe in making the film.
When you’re focusing on this particular time in a girl’s life, what was important for you to get across?
I co-wrote it with two women, Lisa Kjerulff, who’s my producer, and Saela Davis, who is my editor. So all of our early conversations were about sharing memories and making a Venn diagram of experiences and whatever fell in the center, like the locker room moment, these things that were really embedded in our memories. But also putting a complex 11-year-old girl on screen who drives action, and the entire audience experience is from her point of view, is just something I think is rare. We were excited about focusing on an aspect of girlhood that we don’t see that often.
The feeling you created was very authentic, even when it takes a more surreal and unexpected turn.
I think also the way we approach time, we wanted every scene to feel it could be an hour later or two days later. I think there is this collapsing and condensing of time, maybe that’s just memory, but there’s these moments when an hour can feel like a lifetime when you’re 11. So we wanted to play around with that and it does enter into the surreal because so many things are new and there are so many experiences, so many feelings, you haven’t had. It’s scary and confusing and surreal and there is this feeling that the older girls have almost magical powers.
Royalty Hightower was amazing. How was it to first meet her in the casting process?
We opened up casting originally only to the Q-Kidz, there are a couple hundred girls on the team. We cast 45 of them in the film, including Royalty. She’s been dancing on that team since she was six, she was the eighth girl that read on day one. She blew me away. It was more of a connection with her and her capacity to listen, really listen. Listen as an engaged, active, interactive quality, which I think most adults don’t do that. She needs to be able to reflect the world on her face. Royalty was a very generous, gifted actor. She’s not like Toni at all. She’s performing and her performance is spellbinding.