In the town of Bishop, people either talk or get talked about. After the mysterious disappearance of their mother, the Simon sisters — Belle, Rachel and Jessa (Belle Shickle, Emily Peachey and Caroline Coleman) — and their father, Rick (Rick Kain), find themselves ostracized at school, at church and in the county that has been nicknamed “the fishbowl” for its inescapable nature.
Haunted by visions of The Rapture, Rick discovers a new path in a televangelist’s message and decides to use his daughters to try to convert as many of their neighbors as possible before the end of their earthly days. As their father wrestles with his faith, the sisters lean on one another in an attempt to maintain normalcy. But with teenage rebellion dueling against religious expectations, the Simons find themselves having to go through hell in the hopes of reaching heaven.
That’s the gist of the thriller/drama film “Fishbowl”– no relation to this news site — directed by brother-and-sister duo Stephen and Alexa Kinigopoulos and shot in Howard and Frederick counties. The Kinigopouloses were raised in Ellicott City.
Stephen has worked with companies such as the Washington Football Team and The Atlas Restaurant Group. He also worked with one of the executive producers of “Fishbowl,” George Pelecanos, a producer of The Wire, on a film adaptation of Pelecanos’ crime anthology, D.C. Noir.
Alexa’s photojournalism work has been featured in Playboy, Maxim, Vice and more. She has shot album covers for Father John Misty’s “Time Out New York,” Ruston Kelly’s “Dying Star,” Colter Wall’s “Calgary Round-Up,” and Parker Gispert’s “Sunlight Tonight.”
Both siblings worked on music videos for Grammy-winning artists, such as Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town, and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars.
“Fishbowl” will premiere on Oct. 27 at the Historic Savage Mill. The film will also open in select theaters and will be available on demand Oct. 27.
Baltimore Fishbowl: I know that your mother is Jewish and your father is Greek Orthodox. What role did religion play when you were growing up?
Alexa Kinigopoulos: Growing up–and I think this is probably true for Stephen too–even though we had very open parents who didn’t pressure us to pick one or the other, I think just from the community and the kids around and just the pressure we put on ourselves, it was kind of hard to understand what to believe. I know personally, for me, it was very tricky. It wasn’t something that I really grappled with or that I felt like extreme guilt over, but it was something that was very confusing to me. As an older person, I wanted to educate myself more about it and figure out what I thought, what I believed. I think Stephen and I thought it was important to kind of share those struggles of being a teenager and not knowing your identity and what to believe and dealing with your sexuality and growing up and just the pressures of what you think you’re supposed to be. I think we all go through that.
Stephen Kinigopoulos: On the Jewish side I was never bar mitzvah-ed so am I not Jewish enough? And then on the Greek side, when you’re a young boy growing up in church, you’re usually an altar boy. I wasn’t. Am I not Greek enough? Then I also think it’s like “What if you’re the best person, but you choose the ‘wrong’ religion? Do you still end up in heaven when it’s all said and done if you do everything right?” I think subconsciously that has played and revealed itself to me later in life, and it was something we wanted to play on.
BFB: “Fishbowl” was filmed mostly in Howard and Frederick counties, with the Simons’ house being right up the street from your childhood home in Ellicott City. Why did you decide to come back to your Maryland roots for this movie?
SK: I think you’re inspired by the things you surround yourself with. I think there’s always material within that. That house specifically is the house that, in order to leave our neighborhood, you pass. On the bus, you’re looking out. I remember even listening to Eminem, driving to school with my headphones in and my head leaned up against the window and “Until I Collapse” is playing and you just pass by that house. I remember on rainy, foggy days, it was a different kind of feeling there. It was always that house that you wanted to pass by. Using the locations that built you as a person and helped mold you, along with the people who have done that within your community, I just think you can capture that in a different way because you’ve been looking at it or you’ve been experiencing it for however many years of your life. In a community like ours and in Frederick and in Baltimore, people are willing to help. I think with an indie film, that’s what you need. You also need talent and you need help.
BFB: Throughout the film, we see some scenes of the sisters separately. But for the most part, we see them together. Why did you want to focus on that sort of trinity?
AK: It’s funny that you say “trinity” because there’s religious symbolism in it too. That definitely has something to do with it. It’s a thriller, but it’s really a movie about relationships and connection and people and what we lean on. I don’t know if the girls would have been okay if it weren’t for all of them being together. We thought it was really important to show them, how it changed their interaction, who stepped up, and how they leaned on one another to get themselves on sturdy grounds.
SK: Every time they are separated and it’s a solo scene, something actually more on the negative side happens because they don’t have each other to fall back on. Whether it’s the birthday party invite, cheating on a test, or just being in a guidance counselor’s office. Then you have the party when they’re separated. The only scenes where they’re firm or they’re strongest is when they’re together.
BFB: With the exception of the party scene, we see the characters in mostly white and pastel colors for the majority of the movie. Alexa, you oversaw the costume design, right?
AK: Yeah, I love costume design. Pretty much every project I’ve ever done I will pick out almost every outfit and obviously ask Stephen’s opinion. But I’m very specific about that. It’s unfortunate for whoever’s doing wardrobe. I’m very lucky to have great costume designers and people who we work with who are okay with me being like, “This character is going to wear this color.” So it’s definitely nice to work with people who like direction and collaboration because we’re pretty involved. Stephen is very specific about the actual composition of the shot. I’m really specific about wardrobe. We just like to create a world and tell stories through color and the palette. We really just wanted to take people to this kind of utopian community.
BFB: So was that the drive behind using a lot of white and pastels to create that utopian feel?
AK: Yeah, we kind of just wanted it to be dreamy. If there was red or a specific color, there was symbolism in it, like how Belle wears red when she’s dressed up as Satan. Just really having the color palette be very different from that so that that really is impactful. You learn in film school that you can tell a story visually as well. That’s incredibly important, not just through spoken word. That’s also why Jessa’s character is so interesting to Stephen and me because she’s mute in it. So just finding different ways to tell a story and evoke a feeling and a mood that’s not necessarily just through dialogue between characters is really interesting to us.
BFB: It’s interesting that you brought up Jessa. I was wondering why you decided to have her not speak for most of the film, except for a little bit in a flashback?
SK: I think we wanted to have a vehicle for tying it in in a different way. Also, given the characteristics and how some people deal with grief and some big moments that happen to them, I think we were like “What’s another way we can tell this story” and that was one of the ways. With Jessa, you can kind of infer your own emotions on to her and build off that. It was also, just another way for character development because the other thing is she’s still such a strong individual even though she doesn’t have a voice. I think that character is really special in that regard.
AK: We love that character.
BFB: During the film, we see the sisters’ father, Rick, gravitate to the televangelist Ron Pelts’ message. Do you think Rick actually believed in God or do you think he was just pulled toward that because he felt like he had nothing left?
AK: Steve, what do you think? I know what I think. I think the latter.
SK: Yeah, I think he did not necessarily. However, this is the way I look at it. I think his wife used to be a religious person. He was not maybe. Then when this happened, it was another way to get closer to her. But then also “This is my ticket. How I can right the wrong?”
BFB: At the very beginning of the film, we hear one of the sisters talking about Bishop. She says “They call this town the fishbowl. When you climb to the top, you just slide right back down.” There’s the literal sense of trying to get out of a small town. But I was also wondering if you meant it kind of as an emotional fishbowl for the family, especially for Rick, in the absence of their mother?
AK: Oh yeah. I think the whole fishbowl symbolism runs really deep because it also is symbolic of not only just getting out of small town, but really how familial trauma is a real thing and how it can affect you. Just like keeping secrets in a family and the way you’re raised. You can have these cycles that keep going until you stop them. It was really interesting for us to explore a family that maybe didn’t discuss things and what happens when the girls have questions and want answers.
BFB: Between the coronavirus pandemic, longstanding racial injustices, the polarizing presidential election right now, I think a lot of people are feeling their faith tested, whether that’s faith in a higher power, faith in humanity, or in another belief. Where have you two looked for hope and inspiration–in general, but especially over the past several months?
AK: I would say for me, creating art, creating with my brother, creating with other wonderful artists that are friends and family in here has really gotten us through it. Of course, being safe about it. There was definitely a two-month break of doing not much. So I’d say having a routine and self-care and all of those things and having connection with friends and family and really talking about deep things was really helpful for me. But I’d say since we’re putting in safety measures and we’re being smart and careful about how we work, I’d say just pretty much creating art–whether it’s taking a walk and taking photos, or doing a music video with Stephen–has really been helpful for me.
SK: I would say the same. Being able to create this film with Lex it, it’s been very helpful. Also, the writing and imagination part, you can do anywhere and it doesn’t cost anything. I think that gives hope. I’ve been watching more movies than ever, my old favorites and re-falling in love with them again. There’s definitely been tough days and days that I didn’t know that I could feel certain ways about being down. But creative hope gets me through it, and my family and Alexa. It’s been quite the time.
AK: And awareness. There are a lot of great things about the time, like people understanding racial injustice and systemic racism. There’s so many other people that are suffering, so we’ve been very lucky. But I would say, really just like what Stephen said, connecting with people and just understanding what everyone else is going through and other communities and other people. Really just talking and connecting and educating ourselves during this time where we’ve kind of had to be singular has been really helpful too. It opens your eyes and broadens your horizons.
BFB: How does it feel to be having the premiere for “Fishbowl” here in Maryland?
SK: It feels good. It’s bringing it full circle, bringing it back home. A lot of the people in our county that helped and had a hand in it are going to be able to see their contributions and talents. There’s nowhere else we’d want to premiere it first than where it was born.