I didn’t live in Andersonville back when the lesbian classic Go Fish was filmed here which is for the best because I would have shown up with a bullhorn.
There I would be, in the center of every frame, pleading with the filmmakers to reconsider.
“Think of the children,” I’d say, “the young lesbians who’ll be told by their elders that Go Fish is part of the Lesbian Canon, essential viewing. Once they discover the sort of dismal story lines and subpar acting their foremothers are passing off as art, we’ll lose hundreds, maybe thousands. They’ll join sororities or convents, they’ll marry men. Anything rather than be associated with this caliber of work.”
Then I’d handcuff myself to Guinevere Turner, but only because she’s really hot.
But there’s a new lesbian film being shot in Andersonville, and I have high hopes for this one.
Hatboxes, a short written and directed by Susana Darwin tells the story of Miriam, an orthodox Jewish mother and Nadine, a lesbian lawyer disconnected from her Jewish heritage. The two meet by chance and find themselves powerfully drawn to one another. Then I’m guessing hijinks ensues. Or at least brisket. Okay, no hijinks; this is a serious film. One which drew producer Etta Worthington (Jamie and Jessie are Not Together) as well as stellar Chicago actors Robyn Okrant and Kat O’Conner.
Our Town spoke with Darwin about everything from the challenges of both writing and directing to tichels.
Our Town What inspired your film?
Susana Darwin Hatboxes originated at a Christmas party in the 90s: a man was there with his children, clearly Orthodox, [though] he was no longer observant. I learned the story of his departure from Orthodoxy and wondered, 'What if a woman like me met a woman like his ex-wife and there was chemistry?' and started writing. The script has always been scaled small, for manageability of production—I didn't want to try to start out with a big cast or hordes of marauding CGI monsters. I wanted to tell a story at human scale, but one that hasn't already been told from every possible angle.
OT What are the challenges of directing a movie that you've written?
SD Nora Ephron said, "One of the best things about directing movies, as opposed to merely writing them, is that there’s no confusion about who’s to blame: you are.” The greater challenge would have been NOT directing Hatboxes. I wanted to do both, to take the challenge of leading production in addition to doing the writing work on the front end.
OT What surprised you about shooting the film as opposed to writing it. Did filming change your perception of the characters or your concept?
SD The story gained emotional heft in the hands of the actors. On the shoot's last day, when we were to be filming the two most emotionally intense scenes, just watching the two leads, Robyn Okrant and Kat O'Connor, rehearsing gave me chills. Actors are not sock puppets, and you risk impoverishing the story if you treat them like that. You can hear a line in your head one way, but an actor might utter it in a way that exposes some totally new idea. That collaboration is part of what's made this so rewarding.
OT Who is your audience for Hatboxes? How do you think the Orthodox community will react to a love story between two women?
SD If Hatboxes gets any attention from the Orthodox community, there obviously could be some controversy. Orthodox lesbians may appreciate onscreen representation, but there are risks for them saying so. Both the main characters struggle with loneliness and connection, a person's place in her community, the roles that get assumed or prescribed that may or may not fit. We hope Hatboxes will find its audience not only among Jews and lesbians, since its themes are hardly unique.
OT How did you research the Orthodox traditions seen on screen?
SD I converted to Judaism more than 20 years ago, though my connections to the Jewish community have been lifelong. I've been exploring Jewish practice and thought for all that time, but there were times when I'd dive down some rabbit hole or other—like, YouTube has some useful videos on how to tie tichels (women's head wraps). I also talked to friends and acquaintances from across the spectrum of Jewish life, and even outside of it: one friend was the go-to make-up artist for Orthodox brides for many years, and she had a particular perspective as an outsider that was helpful.
OT You shot in Andersonville during a heat wave. Can you talk about that experience?
SD Actually, we wrapped the day before we got slammed with the big heat. It did get hot and close at indoor locations with all the lights, but for the most part, we had it easier than some other shoots I've heard about. Andersonville was wonderfully welcoming—we shot at Urban Orchard overnight on the night of Pride Sunday, and that's a beautiful store, as are the Haymaker Shop and Embroider Art. We also shot outside of T's for one scene. People could hardly have been more kind and accommodating.
OT What are your plans for the film once you complete post-production?
SD We intend to launch Hatboxes into the festival circuit, but also to develop some curriculum to go with Hatboxes for sociology, women's studies, Jewish studies, queer studies, psychology, or other academic or community programs.
OT Many screenwriters dream of having their work produced. You've made it happen. Do you have any advice for those who wish they could do the same?
SD If you're passionate about your project and can articulate that passion, it ignites others' commitment. Hatboxes could not have happened without the support of friends and family who took a risk on the film. I felt moved to honor their gift with what I hope will be a kick-ass film. Plan the daylights out of your project. But from the beginning, paper is cheap; keep writing.
To learn more about Hatboxes visit www.hatboxesthemovie.com.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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