Give Me the Backstory: Get to Know India Donaldson, the Filmmaker Behind “Good One”

By Lucy Spicer

One of the most exciting things about the Sundance Film Festival is having a front-row seat for the bright future of independent filmmaking. While we can learn a lot about the filmmakers from the 2024 Sundance Film Festival through the art that these storytellers share with us, there’s always more we can learn about them as people. This year, we decided to get to the bottom of those artistic wells with our ongoing series: Give Me the Backstory!

India Donaldson grew up around film. Her father is a director, and Donaldson remembers watching dailies in dark theaters, mesmerized by how scenes changed with every take. “The process and the details were so exciting to me. But I also grew up with a very specific idea of what it meant to be a director, and it wasn’t me. I did other things for a long time, had a different career,” says Donaldson. “And then my late 20s hit, and I was secretly writing screenplays and not showing them to anyone. I hadn’t escaped it.”

To date, those secret screenplays have led to three short films and, most recently, Donaldson’s feature debut, which premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Written, directed, and co-produced by Donaldson, Good One follows 17-year-old Sam (Lily Collias) as she accompanies her father (James Le Gros) and his oldest friend, Matt (Danny McCarthy), on their annual summer camping trip in the Catskill Mountains. Usually, Matt’s son is part of the group, but this year, Sam is the only teen on the trip. As the trio travels farther into nature, Sam must navigate her unspoken role as peacekeeper when tensions rise between the two men. 

Below, learn more about Donaldson and the making of Good One, including the challenges of filming outdoors and how the director found the perfect actor to play Sam.

What was the biggest inspiration behind Good One?

Trips with my dad. There’s something about being isolated on a camping trip or trapped on a road trip that lays relationship dynamics bare.

Describe who you want the film to reach.

I hope teenagers watch it.

What was a big challenge you faced while making Good One?

Ticks, thunder and lightning, several bears, smoke from Canadian wildfires. We lost almost a full day of shooting because of a storm that came through. With a 12-day shoot, we had zero margin for error, but somehow we made up the time. It was also exhilarating shooting outdoors. We had to adapt to nature and its whims, we couldn’t bend it to our will.

India Donaldson speaks to the audience at the premiere of “Good One.” (Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

Tell us an anecdote about casting or working with your actors.

We were having a hard time finding our Sam, and one day I asked my younger sister Octavia (who was 17 at the time) if she had any actor friends. And this is how I met Lily. At the time, she was a junior at the high school I graduated from. We had coffee, and I felt an instant connection to her. She taped a few scenes and blew me away. I sent the tape to our casting director, Taylor Williams, and she immediately called me. We stopped looking. It felt like magic — Lily and James Le Gros just had an instant chemistry. They really felt like a family. I still can’t believe my luck.

Your favorite part of making the film? Memories from the process?

After our shoot, I kept saying it was the best three weeks of my life. It was also the hardest, but I was so elated to get to do it and grateful to be surrounded by such an incredible and generous team. On the day after we wrapped, we went swimming in one of the waterfalls that appears in the film. We had spent two weeks on this beautiful property in upstate New York, and it had been so good to us. It felt like saying goodbye to this really important collaborator. And I’m glad I had a taste of the freezing water James and Lily had to plunge into.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be doing?

In my 20s, I worked in textiles and I loved it. But I love filmmaking more.

What was the last book you read?

I read Melissa Febos’ Girlhood after my friend Lydia recommended it to me. I wanted to underline a lot of sentences, but it was a library book, so I couldn’t.

What three things do you always have in your refrigerator?

Three cheeses

Early bird or night owl?

Early bird. I have a 3-year-old, so he decides.

Who was the first person you told when you learned you got into the Sundance Film Festival?

I was with one of the producers, Diana Irvine, so she learned in real time. She took a photo of me getting the news, I look psychotically happy. Then we immediately told producer Graham Mason. A very lovely memory after so much hard work.

What’s your favorite film that has come from the Sundance Institute or Festival?

Wow, so many — Kelly Reichardt’s films Old Joy and Certain Women, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior.

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