lendale filmmaker Carly Lyn chose the unlikely pairing of genres — Western and science fiction — in her new film "A Foundling."
Lyn, 25, wrote and directed the film receiving its premiere at the Dances with Films festival next week in West Hollywood.
Another twist was the casting of two Asian actresses in the lead roles.
It was all these elements that piqued the interest of film festival producers, said Leslee Scallon, co-founder of the festival.
"We are looking for films as interesting for as many minutes as they are on the screen," she said.
"We're not genre specific. We have full-length features, short films, full-length and short film documentaries and music videos."
The festival has had drama and action pieces, but Scallon said festival producers had never seen anything mixed like this.
"This is truly one of the most original pieces to come through in a long time," she said.
Lyn doesn't particularly enjoy science fiction or Westerns over any other genre, she said, adding that she loves any movie with a good story.
"In the past, I have been disappointed in the Western genre because of its negative portrayal of women and minorities," she said. "They tend to always show them as victims or passive, helpless objects."
Westerns also tend to treat horses as props rather than characters, she added.
"I guess I wanted to revise the Western genre and show women and minorities as active, interesting characters who are taking control of their lives and who care about animals and treat the horse like a thinking, feeling, sentient being."
The film is set in 1862 and is about two Chinese-American women riding a horse across the Mojave desert. They stumble upon the wreckage of an alien spacecraft and rescue the baby alien inside, Lyn said.
Filming in the Arizona desert created some challenges for the cast and crew, said actress Cindy Chiu, a former resident of Burbank.
"We shot on location and it was hard because of the weather," she said. "It was freezing-cold one day with 40 mph winds, and the next day it was maybe 110 degrees. But it was neat. We got to work with animals and trainers on the set."
The idea of a UFO crashing in 19th century America came from an actual news story from 1897 in Texas, Lyn said. The filmmaker was also inspired by an image in her mind.
"I had this image in my head of two Chinese girls on a horse crossing a desert," she said. "It was a beautiful thought in my head. I thought it would be a beautiful image for the opening of a film."
She also had wanted to tell a story of compassion, and once she had her characters set, the story "pretty much wrote itself," she said.
The message of tolerance is very clear in the film and by mixing the genres, Lyn was able to stress it in more than one way, Scallon said.
"She throws in an alien space baby as another level — some treat it badly while others treat it kindly. And she adds the layer saying all things should be treated with respect and kindness and it's very touching that way."
Lyn received her bachelor's degree in cinema from San Francisco State and a master's in fine arts in film production from Chapman University in Orange. She teaches filmmaking at Westwood College in Upland.
While she has shot several film shorts, this is Lyn's first full-length live-action film and her first time in a film festival, she said. Her husband, Colin Barton, was a co-producer.
They shot the film for under $500,000 of their own money, Lyn said.
The film was transferred to HD Cam, high-definition tape at Alpha Dogs in Burbank. "I really hope that people not only enjoy it, but also get the important message it puts out there, and the message is that we should all be kind to everybody regardless of the race or ethnicity, or even their species," she said.