From helping Atlanta film industry grow to directing her first feature

Atlanta filmmaker Fran Burst-Terranella can tell you: Sometimes it takes a while to get to where you’re going.

Though Burst-Terranella has created hundreds of film projects of various kinds over the past four decades and has even been an important part of the growth of the film industry in Atlanta over the years, the current Atlanta Film Festival will see the world premiere of her very first feature film.

“I realized if I didn’t make a feature now, I would never do it,” Burst-Terranella says of her new Georgia-made film, “The 12 Lives of Sissy Carlyle,” which will have its world premiere on March 27 at the historic Plaza Theatre. “I’d done literally more than 700 projects, but I’d never done a feature.”

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Burst-Terranella grew up outside Dallas and attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she fell in love with film. She pursued filmmaking at the graduate level at UT, but from the very first day, some of the challenges that lay ahead for her as a woman filmmaker became apparent. “I walked into my first filmmaking class, and there were just three girls in the class,” she says. “The teacher said, ‘You girls can stay here, it’s OK, but everyone knows women don’t make movies.’” (She says her teacher eventually apologized when he saw her hard work and early projects.)

Burst-Terranella moved to Atlanta with her husband in 1973 because she saw potential in the city’s fledgling film industry, which she quickly became a part of. “We always expected the industry to take off a little sooner,” she says. “But it’s been great because I’ve been able to be part of the founding of Women in Film in Atlanta, Image Film and Video Center and the Atlanta Film Society.”

From 2006 to 2009, she was co-president at Georgia Production Partnership, an industry advocacy group that helped make the push to get the film tax incentive passed. ”Being there when the governor signed that bill, that was pretty amazing,” she says.

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The company she co-founded, Burst Video/Film, makes short films, both scripted and documentary, for various companies and organizations, including AT&T, Coca-Cola, Emory, the Mayor’s Office and the Chattahoochee River Keepers. But it wasn’t until recently when the script for “The 12 Lives of Sissy Carlyle” crossed her desk that she decided to finally take on making a feature film. A student in her scriptwriting class, George Carlos, had written the script, and she says she immediately fell in love with it because of its lead character.

“She’s not the kind of person you get to see in a movie very often,” she says. “She’s much quieter. She’s an introvert. She’s insecure in her own ability. … It seemed doable, so I just went out on a giant limb.”

“The 12 Lives of Sissy Carlyle” tells the story of Sissy Carlyle, who makes up various fantasy lives to compensate for her quiet daily life tending to her parents’ antiques business seven years after their deaths.

“I really liked the role,” says April Billingsley, who performs the role of Sissy in the film. “Sissy herself is an interesting character. It’s a challenge to play a character who’s so self-conscious and introverted, to make her likable, but she gets to play all of these other personalities. That was fun and exciting for me to dive into all of that.”

Atlanta audiences may recognize many of the locations used for the film, including the “Welcome to Inman Park” butterfly public art wall-mural, several houses in the Inman Park and Virginia-Highland neighborhoods, Churchill’s Bar in Buckhead, Nino’s Italian Restaurant on Cheshire Bridge Road, and the woods at Sweetwater Creek State Park.

“I think Atlanta is the best place in the world to be a filmmaker,” says Burst-Terranella. “There were times when I thought, ‘I should move to New York, I should move to L.A.’ But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make a community here, and I wanted to be part of the voices that are from the South as they make their way into the world. People here are open and kind and generous and very enthusiastic about the arts. They’re very supportive of the voices of individual artists. We’ve always had a great community. I think film and television, now that we have so much set here, not only does it bring great opportunities, it sets a standard for those of us who are based here to really aim for the stars.”

Burst-Terranella says her background as a female director making all kinds of films for different companies over the years, and doing thousands of interviews along the way, helped her when it came time to approach making her first feature.

“The whole key is to get that story coming out of someone’s heart, whether it’s scripted or whether it’s their own story being revealed in a documentary,” she says. “I’m not saying guys don’t do that — they do — but I think women do it really well. With women filmmakers particularly, it’s been quite a journey. I think we do have different voices. The more women that can step into the director’s chair, I think we’ll have a much deeper, richer, more interesting cinema.”


“The 12 Lives of Sissy Carlyle”

$10. 7 p.m. March 27. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. 1-877-725-8849,