IRIS PRIZE – THERE YOU ARE
Lisa Donato came to Cardiff in 2017 with her name on not one but two of the films showing during the festival. She was the writer and director of The News Today, shortlisted for the 2017 Iris Prize, and co-writer – alongside Fawzia Mirza – of Signature Move. She has been shortlisted once again in 2018 for her latest short, There You Are.
IRIS BLOGGER: You’ve written all of the short films you’ve directed to date, but There You Are was written by its star, Jen Richards. What was it like directing someone else’s work?
LISA DONATO: I really enjoyed directing someone else’s words. I was not attached to preconceived ideas or a vision that comes with writing a script. It freed me up to find the subtextual moments between the lines and we built imagery that supported these moments. For example, there was a line in the script: “Betty has passed.” There are so many ways to shoot the moment of death in a film. For me, this moment felt slow and frozen yet time kept moving forward. Ava Benjamin Shorr, the DP, and I co-created a shot where we aimed the camera into a ceiling skylight (the heavens) and slowly dollied back until we revealed each family member, one by one, frozen in their grief. It’s my greatest moment as a director to date because I was able to convey the opposing energies of moving time and loss.
IB: How did the film begin life?
LD: Jen and I were jurors for the All Genders, Lifestyles, & Identities Film Festival in Austin, Texas in 2017. She asked me to direct one of her projects and pitched me three ideas. I was immediately drawn to the story about her grandmother (I cried when she told me the story). Four months later we had a full cast, a very generous private donor, and we shot the film in Austin.
IB: How important is it for trans artists to tell their stories first hand? Is there still a gulf of empathy and understanding that cisgender writers might struggle to cross?
LD: I think all writers struggle to authentically tell stories about situations or emotions that they’ve never experienced. That’s why it’s critical for writers to do their homework before tackling a foreign subject. This involves researching literature, asking questions, interviewing people who align with their main protagonists and even main antagonists, etc. It’s important for everyone to tell their stories first hand. A mentor told me once that writers’ tears are a readers’ tears and a filmmakers’ tears are audience members’ tears. Creating from the source of the wound or light is irreplaceable.
IB: London’s recent Pride event made headlines when a group took to the front of the march with anti-trans placards. Can films like There You Are, which explore the facets of trans identity that don’t make the front page of newspapers, help build bridges, and maybe change people’s minds?
LD: YES! There You Are is very special because it depicts a trans woman in an interracial lesbian, femme/femme relationship with an ultimately accepting family from middle America. It’s a film that defies the stereotypes we often see in the media and offers a tear-jerking, happy ending that sometimes the world can’t.
IB: This is your second time on the Iris Prize shortlist, after The News Today in 2017. One of the stars of The News Today, Nick Neon, is also in this year’s competition with his film Zero One. Can we expect a little friendly rivalry between the two of you, or a full-blown Davis/Crawford-style feud of epic proportions?
LD: Ha. If I could lasso the moon for Nick Neon, I would. He’s an extremely talented filmmaker who has a unique voice and vision. I would be absolutely thrilled if he won the Iris Prize. Also, I’m an executive producer on Zero One, so let’s be real, it’s still a win for me!