Helene Klodawsky is a veteran independent filmmaker – a passionate storyteller committed to portraying political and social struggles, as well as to exploring the documentary art form. Helene is known for poignant, daring films. Painted Landscapes of the Times (1986), Shoot and Cry (1988), Motherland (1994), What If (1998),Undying Love (2002), No More Tears Sister (2005), Family Motel (2007), and Malls R Us (2009) are among her best known films. Helene’s work, spanning thirty years, is screened, discussed and televised around the world in venues as diverse as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Kenyan refugee camps. It has received awards and nominations from the Academy of Canadian Cinema, Hot Docs, Les Rendez-vous du Cinema Quebecois, the Jerusalem International Film Festival, and the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Raising Films are THRILLED to be presenting Helene’s latest documentary Come Worry with Us (2013), which sees Thee Silver Mt. Zion touring with a child in tow, for a Babes in Arms screening at Arthouse Crouch End on Friday 11th September, with a Q&A hosted by film festival programmer Manish Agarwal.
In COME WORRY WITH US! I look at how family is being shaped by changing gender roles and technological change.
Many of your films are stories about family connections: Family Motel, No More Tears Sister, Undying Love, and now Come Worry with Us! and Grassroots in Dry Lands. What compels you about family as a documentary subject?
Thirty years of writing and directing point of view documentaries, and I’m still captivated by stories that explore the complex and passionate intersection of family, art and politics. Motherland: Tales of Wonder, my first feature-length documentary and films such as Undying Love, No More Tears Sister, and Family Motel, all explore peoples’ desire for intimacy against backdrops of dramatic life changing events such as war, exile, or impoverishment. My most recent feature Grassroots In Dry Lands (to be released later in 2015) also zeroes in on the private sphere of several individuals to explore possibilities of social change in the Middle East.
In COME WORRY WITH US! I look at how family is being shaped by changing gender roles and technological change. Working with the subversive underground band Thee Silver Mount Zion, and growing to understand its “do it yourself” egalitarian ethics, spawned many questions about the modern family and its awkward, sometimes-messy, relationship to the world of cultural production and social change. Few bands would expose themselves to such intense probing about gender and artistic survival. Hence I am most grateful to Jessica Moss, Efrim Menuck and the rest of Silver Mount Zion for their willingness take me along for the ride portrayed in COME WORRY WITH US!
How do you work in such intimate settings to make families, and particularly young people, feel comfortable and confident participating in your films?
Time is key… There are so many conversations over months of research before shooting begins. I try and be as transparent about the process of making a film as possible. Becoming the subject of a film requires so much work, commitment and endurance; each character has the right to define their limits and sign up to what’s being pitched by the filmmaking team. Meaningful consultation is woven into the fabric of the process from start to finish.
As you’ve travelled around the world to festivals, what kind of provisions have you encountered for childcare, if any?
None – I never experienced provisions for childcare and these days, since my two daughters are now young adults, I am not particularly in the know. My impression however, is that its up to the director to find individual, privately paid-for child friendly services.
Today there is nothing particularly unusual in a woman, who is also a mother, taking up space in the public sphere – however difficult she may find it to succeed.
You made a film, What If…, about the pioneering science fiction writer Judith Merril, author of the famous feminist SF story ‘That Only a Mother.’ Can you tell us a bit about her inspirational example as a mother and artist?
Judith Merill was a powerful voice during science fiction’s golden era (1940s to the 1960s). Writer, editor and critic of speculative fiction, Merril imagined how women might experience technical change and innovation in their day-to-day lives. In her ground breaking story “That Only a Mother” the fictional protagonist is blinded by maternal love: she cannot “see” her child’s deformities caused by radiation exposure. Rebellious and irreverent to the core, Merril struggled throughout her life to be an artist, political activist and a mother – all during a time when women were supposed to devote themselves to home and family. Her pioneering vision is reflected in the ways in which she infused issues of gender and progressive politics into genre fiction during the post war McCarthy years. However, lacking both material and emotional support, especially as a single mother, Merril had to put most of her energy into editing and critiquing other people’s fiction to survive.
What do you think has changed for women (perhaps especially for mothers) since Merril started writing in the 1940s?
In the 40s and post WWII years, Merril’s feminist perspective was an exception in the world of American and British science fiction. As a 1950s era mom, her critique of American imperialism made her even more unusual. Back then, gender roles and women’s confinement to the private, domestic sphere were very strict. Today there is nothing particularly unusual in a woman, who is also a mother, taking up space in the public sphere – however difficult she may find it to succeed. Though many men are now much more engaged in family life, men have not generally embraced domestic work and care labor with the fervor that women have given to paid labor. There are lots of reasons why this is so, mainly connected to our gendered identities and how capitalism works. Needless to say, in many cases, women are now competing with men at work, as well as bearing primary responsibility for home and kids. Merril, like other artists, activists and working class women in the 50’s, fought to “do it all”. Today most mothers continue to face the same challenge, though in very different ways.
We won’t have a substantially diverse film industry without funding incentives and government programs.
How important is public and state film funding for changing the industry towards being more diverse? Have you encountered any initiatives for increasing participation by parents and carers?
We won’t have a substantially diverse film industry without funding incentives and government programs. Réalisatrice Équitable (RÉ) is an organization fighting gender inequalities in the Canadian and Québec film industries. RÉ’s in-depth quantitative studies have revealed troubling realities. For example, women and men are equally represented in film and communication educational programs. However, once they leave school the numbers change. Women direct approximately 23% of films with only 14% of public monies. And in the case of feature-length films it’s worse; women receive about 11% of funds from Quebec and Canada’s public financing institutions. RÉ is conducting further studies to understand why all this is so, and why the situation is so difficult to change. At the same time, groups such as Women In View are lobbying governments to make them more conscious and accountable for gender equality in arts funding. Canadian activists dream of a situation where, as in Sweden, 50% of any film budget will be paid to women in the fields of direction, screenwriting or production.
So our crew went to great lengths to create a realistic shooting schedule and overall approach to filming a two-year-old protagonist.
Come Worry With Us! is part of the revival of music documentaries – but an unusual one. What was it like shooting on the road with so many kids (as well as musicians) around?
As a parent I understood how delicate traveling with kids can be – especially if one is trying to make a living at the same time. So our crew went to great lengths to create a realistic shooting schedule and overall approach to filming a two-year-old protagonist. Again, lots of communication and consultation was key. Most of the crew have children, which I believe gave us particular insight.