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.