Featured Film: “Farah Goes Bang”
By Sierra Lee, Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Twenty-something Farah Mahtab is eager to shake the unwanted “virgin” moniker, but her sex life is a litany of awkward, fumbled encounters. When best friends Roopa and KJ propose a cross-country road-trip to stump for presidential nominee John Kerry, there is a not-so-secret hope that the trip will provide Farah the sweet release she craves. The trio soon finds that wide-eyed optimism isn’t always a surefire catalyst for sex or politics — even in a swing state.
Meera Menon’s directorial debut artfully captures a generation’s mixture of hope and youthful disillusionment in the fledgling years of a post-9/11 world, and points a finger at the way national discourse shapes the identity and sexual politics of young women. An ode to female companionship a la “Thelma & Louise,” and with all the raunchy humor of “Bridesmaids,” Menon subverts the classic tropes of the road-trip film in favor of a new American feminism, complete with discussions of female grooming and sexual desire. Winner of the Nora Ephron Prize at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
Originally posted at CAAMFest.
Q&A With Grace Lee, director of “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs”
Grace Lee may be a common name, but Grace Lee the filmmaker and the work that she’s produced over the years is anything but common. CAAMFest’s filmmaker spotlight this year is on Grace Lee. From witty indie features like “American Zombie” to mockumentaries like :Janeane from Des Moines,” to the deeply expansive documentary “American Revolutionary: the Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” Lee has made her mark. We sat down for an interview at CAAMFest 2014, shortly before the Centerpiece screening of her latest film.
Q: You’ve made a few films now both narratives and documentaries. Is there a favorite?
I don’t know that I have a favorite. It’s like looking at children, they all have their appeal to me for different reasons. One of the nice things about making a film is that it’s a time capsule of where I was at that moment, what I was interested in, who I was working with. I think “American Revolutionary,” spanning such a long period of time, is the most ambitious and challenging film I’ve made. And for it to receive such positive acclaim is very satisfying.
I first met Grace Lee Boggs 14 years ago. I can’t say I was making this film for 14 years, but the idea was there from when I first met her. I wasn’t skilled enough at that point nor did I have the brain energy to do it, but I knew I had to at some point. That seems like a long time, but actually looking back, it could only have been made with this much time.
Q: What were some of your struggles making this film?
I was really struggling with how to make the film. How do you make a film about ideas and the evolution of ideas? And also about a 90-something year-old who spends most of her time in her living room talking to people and thinking? How do you make that visually interesting for an audience? It took a while for us to figure out exactly what the film would be. It always came back to what excited me and (producer) Caroline Libresco most: the experience we first had sitting and listening to her talk. The way her mind works, and how she synthesizes ideas and movements together was really exciting and it was something we wanted to capture and give back to an audience to experience. We were trying to get away from just being in the head because you can read her books. She’s a great writer, she’s a great storyteller. But what I needed to do as a filmmaker is to bring that out visually as a different kind of experience for people. We wanted to show what it was like to be sitting in conversation with Grace Lee Boggs about many different things over time.
I’m so grateful to my team, the producer, cinematographer, everyone for understanding why it was important. I would say, “I don’t know what we’re going to get, but let’s go out there and interview her again.” Part of it was Grace’s advanced age. We didn’t know if it would be the last time we would see her so we need to just do it now.
Q: Did Grace Lee Boggs have a sense of urgency to telling her story too?
She already wrote her autobiography in 1998, but of course has lived on many years since. She’s never put that pressure on me—which I’m so grateful for. This is what Grace does, she empowers you to come up with new ideas and imagine new things, and just try them. And that’s what we tried to put into the film itself as well—the evolution of ideas the Hegelian dialectic, working through contradictions.
Q: Did working with Grace Lee Boggs and her philosophies have an effect on the film?
Eurie Chung, our associate producer always says “There’s a Grace Lee Boggs phrase for every part of your life.” And it’s true! The stuff that comes out of her mouth: “You might be able to imagine the next American revolution if your imagination were rich enough.” She’s not telling you the answer. She’s just pushing you to keep striving.
Or in the film, when Julia goes to ask her advice about the school and she says “You make your path by walking.” There are no rules for how to do something. She’s not this Yoda-like figure who’s going to tell you how to do it, even though we’d like to think of her that way. By osmosis, these ideas came into the film, especially during post-production and the editing process. We thought, “Let’s try it, let’s make our path by walking.”
She says “Evolution is not linear.” Neither is the story telling of our film. And that’s just perfect. That’s a great philosophy for how we were going to edit this film, bringing the past and future together.
Q: Do you think you’ll go back to narratives?
I’m really feeling the itch to do it. There’s something really exciting about documentaries because you don’t really know what it is (before it’s finished). But then it’s also really frustrating because you can’t really control it. That’s why I try to go back and forth between narratives and documentaries. I get really fed up about the inability to control what people are saying and then I just really want to write a script. It’s like exercising different parts of your brain. I need both.
Q: Being married and having a child, how has that affected your filmmaking?
It’s challenging. I’m an independent filmmaker and when I had my son, I envied the women who could go back to a job after maternity leave. I didn’t have that because it was too open ended. Financially, it just made more sense for me to take care of my son full time before he went to pre-school. And just trying to balance all that and the demands it takes to be creative was hard. But I’m lucky that I have a very flexible and supportive husband, and a community around me that helps.
Q: Does having a son inspire you in a different way?
It actually inspired the Grace Lee Boggs film because he was one year old and I was full-time caretaking, not doing any kind of film work. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to get into next because I was so desperate to make something. But I wanted to sink my teeth into something meaningful because these films take so much time and I don’t have time. So, I only want to work on stuff that I love with people that I love. There’s too much wasted time otherwise. I decided to work on the Grace Lee Boggs film not just because I knew it would be a challenge but also because I wanted my son to know who she is. I would have loved to know who Grace Lee Boggs was when I was younger.
Q: What are you most excited about moving forward?
Having made a few films, I feel more comfortable about just tackling stuff. I don’t really know what I’m going to do next, but I’m okay with that. Maybe I’m just more comfortable with not knowing what it is, but knowing that once I decide, it’ll be fine because it’s been fine in the past. Maybe it’s just part of being older, I don’t really care what people think. Time is limited to make these kinds things so I just want to do stuff that I really care about. It’s not worth it otherwise, it’s too stressful. I used to worry a lot more about what my next project was. Doing this Grace Lee Boggs film and seeing how she looks at time made me less anxious about time. She talks about how the older she gets, the more she sees time in terms of centuries instead of decades. She really is like Yoda in that way.
Q: From a centuries’ perspective, a hundred years from now, how would you want people to look at you?
I don’t know. The last couple of films were a labor of love. “Janeane from Des Moines” and this film are both so different. But both have been conversation starters. I don’t know what the conversations about “American Revolutionary” will be but I know that they’re happening. If a hundred years from now someone were to tell me that they saw this film and it inspired them to do this, that would be cool.