AN INTERVIEW WITH THE FILMMAKERS – by Nicole De Meneses
We got to meet extraordinary women doing great work … through trying to answer Franco’s questions, “What do queer women need now? What does it even mean to be a queer woman right now?”
When did the idea to make the documentary first come about?
Jen: As I was getting to know my wife Franco’s life from the years before we were together, I knew she had founded Curve Magazine, but I didn’t know the history when we got married. Franco started telling me things like how she was living in her car when she decided to start the magazine. She didn’t have any money so she took out twelve credit cards in one day, went out to the race track and bet it all on the horses. That’s how she got the money to start the magazine. Franco would drop these little nuggets in my lap and I started to think, “This is a great story, I should start writing a script for this story.” I started writing the script and as I was doing research I realized how little source material there was and how few really well made and well distributed documentary films existed to help me access our history as queer women. I started to realize, this story needs to be told as a non-fiction film first, and that’s really where the idea came from.
Rivkah, when were you brought on to the project to help shape it?
Rivkah: Jen had been thinking about making this film for a while before I came on. Jen and I have known each other for several years now so I was really excited to come on board the project. Originally it was supposed to be a biography. Franco has this incredible life and we were telling her specific story with Curve and then she got a call from Silke, who is the current owner of the magazine. It sent us on this journey of following Franco and it gave us a vérité thread to follow that gave us a window into how to connect Franco’s story with what’s happening now. It revealed ways she has seeded a lot of her intersectional work, and looked at how queer women are represented now and what’s shifted and changed. We got to meet extraordinary women doing great work in the space, through trying to answer Franco’s questions, “What do queer women need now? What does it even mean to be a queer woman right now?”
How long was the process from conception to completion of the film?
Rivkah: I came on the project in November of 2017.
Jen: I had been thinking about the project for a long time but really in earnest I had been working on the project for a year before Rivkah came on. We finished the film in May of this year.
Rivkah: I think it’s safe to say we finished the film five days before our Frameline premiere. But you say whatever you like.
Jen: So that would be June, and really it wasn’t five days before, it was probably the day before, because we had to go back and remaster the sound.
Rivkah: Word to the wise, if you’re screening your film at the Drive-In, don’t do stereo surround sound, don’t do 5.1, do stereo outputs. Don’t let the machine do it for you.
Jen: You need two channels, not five.
Ahead of the Curve was a recipient of a Frameline finishing grant, did that go toward sound?
Jen: You bet it went toward sound. That’s exactly where we were in the processes when that happened. That was one of the most exciting moments for me. I had been on a plane when Paul Struthers called from Frameline and left a message. We knew that decisions were going out soon but I wasn’t expecting it for a few days so I thought he was calling for more information, and of course I didn’t get the messages until after we landed and we’re allowed to turn the phone back on. By then it’s after 7pm. I call him back just to leave a message and he answered the phone. As I was driving home from SFO he gave me the news and I just lost my mind screaming “Ahhhhhhh” in the car. I’m sure people around me thought, “Oh, stay away from her.” Frameline continues to be an incredible partner to us. We got the grant before Covid and we’re moving toward June where we were going to be premiering at the Castro theatre, and Covid hit and they were in such good contact with us all along and earnestly wanted to do right by us and right by all the filmmakers that were programmed.
Rivkah: Frameline was fantastic. For Executive Director, James Woolley, it was his first festival and things were so unusual and changing rapidly. Even up until we premiered we weren’t sure if that was the right thing to do. At first we were going to be able to have 200 cars at the Drive-In and then it was going to be 500 cars and then it was 1000 cars. Then we were like wait, is that too many, can we do that? And they were like, let’s do that. They were incredible partners, they got the word out. They said we need this, our community needs this. There are no live Pride events this year. So we had a lot of conversations and were sensitive to the different protests and social issues going on, and we thought a lot about Stonewall and the first Prides being about resistance and acts of community and acts of solidarity. We looked at that and invited our audience to bring signs. There was a fence between the two screens and we invited our audience to bring signs to post on the fence of the Drive-In to whatever issue they were really feeling at that moment. People brought Black Lives Matter signs. Signs saying Love is Love and signs showing support for immigrants. People just papered the fence with them, showing the unity and intersectionality and support. It felt like a good way to celebrate Pride and community in this really intense moment.
Were there any other grants that helped champion the film?
Jen: Our first grant was from an organization that has since gone out of business. It was from The Arch & Bruce Brown Foundation. They funded a lot of wonderful queer films and I will always be greatful for that. And Horizon Foundation gave us a grant.
Was it a challenge deciding what to show from Franco’s past? And with her health issues and anxiety around being in pain, were their limitations on when you could film?
Jen: Oh my goodness yes, Rivkah mentioned we started with Franco’s biography, and it was meant to be a historical piece around the time that her marriage was breaking up to about the time of the magazine’s name change, and she didn’t get injured until after that. Franco was very clear, she did not want to include anything about her injury in the early stages of the documentary, just sit-down interviews and archival footage and then before we got that call from Silke, we were filming her, and she had been invited to do a interview on her story about founding the magazine and at the end of the interview (I was filming it) we kept the film rolling and she just looked at me and she got choked up and she said “God, you know, the fact that I can’t do what I used to do that I can’t work in that same way because of the chronic pain that I experience everyday because of my injury, I don’t really know how to express it.” She got very emotional, which is very rare for her. She got really vulnerable. I said do you want me to turn the camera off, and she said no, and that’s when it shifted for her, that she saw an opportunity for her to bring this part of her story out – to come out, in a way, as a disabled person. After she got that message from Silke, she became more and more open to allowing us to film her with more vérité footage and to film her more in her chair and scooter. Then when she told the story about how she got injured, which she doesn’t talk about very often, she later described for me what that pain was like. The scene in the movie where she describes for me her experience of what her pain is – that is the only time that she has ever talked to me about that. And we’ve been married for eleven years.
We as a society have not done a good job of documenting women’s history, let alone queer women’s history.
What is your hope for the film? Who do you want to see it?
Jen: I have two favorite sweet spot audiences for this film. One is women who came up with Deneuve and Curve, who can see their own history reflected. Maybe you were there in the Bay Area in the ’90s and you have a deep heart connection to the magazine and to that time, and bringing the film to that audience is really really fun. The one that really gets me is young queer women, from teens to women into their thirties. When we were doing our test screenings, these were the audiences that were engaging the most. They were saying, I had no idea that that’s what came before. We as a society have not done a good job of documenting women’s history, let alone queer women’s history. They are hungry to know their lineage. The women, the heroes or sheroes who came before. That laid the path. It’s also interesting seeing younger queer women watch the conversation in the film about the words that we use. We found out as we took the film across the country that lots of young queer women use the word lesbian and have no problem with it at all, but there are definitely folks who do, and folks that have a problem with the word queer. We all have something going on. The current editor of Curve said it best – that everybody should be able to identify as whatever the hell they want without taking away from anyone else. I used to think about that back when we were fighting for marriage equality. Like my marriage doesn’t take away from your marriage. Same thing. My calling myself a lesbian doesn’t make your queerness any less you. We have to find ways to come together and accept each other’s presentations in the world without feeling like it takes away. That said, I understand that there’s actually a strong reason why a lot of younger people reject the word when they associate it with a very vocal minority that are referred to as TERFs, who are not accepting of trans women or trans people.
We want tell more stories about strong queer women, that’s what we want. More, more, more.
Has the film found distribution yet, or are you still in the process?
Jen: We are still very much in the process and the film is screening this weekend at Outfest at a Drive-In in Malibu. Franco and I are going to drive down and be there in the community. We are talking with some folks about education distribution. I want to see the film shown in high schools.
Did you enjoy working with each other as co-directors and producers? Would you do it again?
Jen: This is the first film collaboration between Rivkah and myself. We loved working together so much and grew a lot together making the film. We realized that our personal missions around what we want to do with film are totally aligned. We want tell more stories about strong queer women, that’s what we want. More, more, more. So we have just launched our production company called Frankly Speaking Films. We are going to be making media that centers around strong queer women’s stories. Please follow our work at http://franklyspeakingfilms.com/, and also follow https://thecurvefoundation.org/.
This article was written by:
Nicole De Meneses is a freelance Writer, Director and Producer working in the Bay Area, USA. She was the 2nd AD and Associate Producer on the Feature film Freshman Year staring Diallo Thompson, Gregory Alan Williams, Benjamin A. Onyango, Natalia Dominguez and worked as an Associate Producer for Prankster Entertainment on the feature film Free Byrd Staring Raymond J. Barry. Recently she produced the QTPOC Web Series Chosen Fam staring Lea Robinson, Emily Chau and Bianka Alexandria Bell. Her latest film project is the Lesbian Paranormal Thriller called "The Ghost of Stow Lake".