Q&A: Trey Edward Shults on the Familial Bonds of ‘Krisha’

Krisha is doing fine. Krisha is doing much better. She will face her family for Thanksgiving because she is sober and she is ready. After years of absence from her family, she returns to reconnect with her son, cook dinner, and prove to her family that she has changed for the better. Completely panicked and teetering on the edge of delirium, Krisha comes face-to-face with her past in the narrative feature Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner at this year’s SXSW, directed by Trey Edward Shults. With knockout performances, the film tears apart the common portrait of addiction, favoring inventive sound design and raw cinematography. KRISHA is unlike anything you’ve seen before, yet strangely familiar.


How do you describe KRISHA in your own words?

Trey Edward Shults: I’m not quite sure! I think I’m the wrong person to ask (haha). I usually tell people the film is about a woman returning to a family reunion, with a family she hasn’t seen in a very long time and things go downhill. I like the idea of it sounding like a movie you’ve seen plenty of times before, but the final film is hopefully a surprise and not the movie you think it’s going to be.

As the writer/director, what led you to tell this particular story?

Trey Edward Shults: The story is deeply personal to my family. The final film is a mix of made-up narrative and real life things in my family. So I think the film is processing that and trying to tell something truthful.

The whole thing is very meta—you filmed KRISHA in your family’s home, and the story is rooted somewhat in actual (painful) events. Was making the film cathartic for you?

Trey Edward Shults: Indeed, it was. I think it has been cathartic for my whole family as well. I am noticing that so far, with the stories I am choosing to tell, they are deeply personal, and I seem to be working something out. The next film is equally as personal, and I am hoping that by the time it is done, it will be as cathartic as KRISHA has been!

Many of your family members anchor the cast, including your aunt Krisha Fairchild, a riveting actress in a breakthrough role. Did you know she had this kind of performance inside her? How did you morph into your director role with your family?

Trey Edward Shults: I knew Krisha would be amazing. I think she has just been waiting for someone to finally write her a great part! I am so proud of Krisha’s performance, but I am also incredibly proud of my mom’s performance. I just knew, deep in my gut, that something special would happen.

I did not really have to morph into a director role. It was more of a natural progression. I have been filming family reunions and making them into movies since I was a little boy. This was a narrative, so it was indeed different, but it felt like a natural progression and it was one of the best weeks of my life.


KRISHA has won a number of awards, including the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at SXSW, where the film premiered. You’ve also been to Cannes. How do you stay grounded with this kind of success on your feature debut? How do you follow it up?

Trey Edward Shults: That’s a good question! I try not to think about it too much. This year has been very surreal because I never expected this kind of success. On a personal level, my life has changed, but not in a crazy way. My mentality is that I’ve been working at this for so long that I don’t want to blow any opportunities.

I am also super hungry to make the next film. The next film is my new baby, so I just want to make sure KRISHA is taken care of and I can focus on the next one. I think I am hungry to continue making movies, and I want to make a lot of different movies, so I just hope I can do that. For now, I am making every movie like it could be my last!

As a first-time feature director, do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Trey Edward Shults: Maybe working with people you love. This film was made with friends and family. During the shoot we all felt like we were making something special. I like to think that energy somehow came across in the final film.

Also, look at what’s around you and put limits on yourself. Limits spur creativity, and I’m sure there is something right around you that could make for compelling inspiration.

What would you like HIFF audiences to take away from KRISHA?

Trey Edward Shults: I just hope they can relate to the film in some way, and I hope the film rings true.

KRISHA screens in the World Cinema section. Find tickets. Follow the film on Facebook and Twitter. 

trey-edward-shults-headshotTrey Edward Shults was born and raised in Houston, Texas. He began his career interning on Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE and working in the camera department for Malick’s upcoming VOYAGE OF TIME. KRISHA is his first feature film, and was expanded from his award-winning short film of the same name. KRISHA premiered in the Narrative Feature Competition at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards. The film went on to play many other film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival, Karlovy Vary Film Festival and London Film Festival.