Daniel Manns, you a German film director, screenwriter and producer. You wrote, directed and co-produced an excellent debut film Between Summer and Fall (Zwischen Sommer und Herbst, 2018 and is available on Amazon with English subtitles). I think it should be more recognized and praised by the audience. Can you tell us where did you get the idea for film, who or what inspired you and why did you wish to make a lesbian love story?
I've always been interested in stories about love. Love is a very interesting and complex subject and such an important part of who we are as human beings.
Since my teens many of my closest female friends were in relationships with women and we would talk about films with lesbian themes. It seemed like most of them revolved either around the pressure of coming out or the pressure of society against a homosexual relationship. Most the time it was a story like "I am a girl, you are a girl, we both like girls and if nobody gives us a hard time we will be happy". Don't get me wrong: finding your sexual identity and coming out are both a very important part of these stories, but they are not the only part. Gay and lesbian relationships are as complex as heterosexual ones but are rarely dealt with as such (and given the same respect) in movies. What I wanted to make was a love story and deal with themes that concern every relationship without putting the focus on gender. After one screening I had a man in his late fifties coming up to me with his wife and he told me how much he identified with both women and what they were going through reminded him of his own past relationships. That was a very rewarding moment because that was what I intended with the film.
You created a very believable coming of age love story where love coincidentally happened between two people who happened to be of the same sex. It was refreshing to watch a dialogue on what love is and your explanation that love just happens without prior notification and criteria selection and that it is shown in every day small events between two people and accepting a loved person the way (s)he is without judging or trying to change her/him makes. In this way it also makes sense that love happens between two people regardless of who or where they are and which sex they belong to. Where did you get this idea of love?
My intention was to tell a more universal love story that we all could relate to. Many love stories in movies revolve around a huge external conflict like gangster love on the run or feuding family clans that keep the lovers apart. But for most of us that is not the experience we have which doesn't mean that our love stories are less interesting, exciting and complex. When you meet somebody and fall in love you are confronted with your expectations. What do I want from the other person and from a relationship, how much am I willing to give etc.
In the film 17-year-old Lena falls in love with the girlfriend of her brother. That conflict would be the same even if it was not love with someone of the same sex. I wanted to tell a love story in which the fact that it's between two women is not important. This is not the source of any shame or guilt for them. Their initial conflict results from the fact that Eva is in a relationship with Lena's brother. The fact that it is a lesbian relationship is not a problem for anybody in the film. I know that by telling the story in this way and not putting any emphasis on their sexual orientation it is a bit of a fantasy but I wish that we all could live in a world where nobody judges anybody on account of who they love.
They first meet one night in the kitchen of the house where Lena lives with her brother and their father. They share a sense of humor and like each other. They continue to see each other through Lena's brother at home and at parties before they gradually realize that there might be something more. They are both not looking for love and not necessarily for another girl.
The other thing that was interesting to me was to show a continuation of their relationship. Many love stories end when the protagonists are together, the obstacles are out of the way and they kiss. But that's not the usual experience in life: we all have kissed somebody for the first time and that never is the end of the movie but merely the beginning.
How much would you also like to 'educate' the audience regarding self-acceptance and self-respect through the story of Lena and Eva, especially regarding Eva who needs to go through a lot of self-questioning to accept she is in love with woman despite everyone else around her are so cool with who she is?
When you tell a very personal story like this one you automatically share your views in some way but my goal was not to 'educate'. I'm not interested in stories that want to bring across a specific message. While I was writing the film I was exploring the characters and trying to figure out a journey of self-discovery with them - to tell a love story that I myself would like to see in a movie. I wanted to show the doubts and the questions many of us deal with. The character of Eva has to deal with many repressed issues when she falls in love with Lena but not because she is in love with another woman but because she is really in love for the first time in her life. Eva is in a relationship with Lena's brother and has had a number of relationships before. But she was always careful not to get too emotionally involved and attached to anybody. When she falls in love with Lena she has to deal with herself and her own doubts. Lena on the other hand never had a relationship before and enters their relationship from a completely different angle. Even though Eva has more experience with relationships, Lena is more mature in dealing with her emotions.
Do you think that lesbian roles should be played by lesbian actresses? If yes, why or why not?
I know there is a lot of debate about this and not everybody is going to like my answer, but to me in the case of this particular film it did not matter. I saw many actresses for the two leading roles but I never asked about their own sexual orientation. We talked about the screenplay and the characters and inevitably about love. But that was more about seeing if we had a common understanding about who the characters were and what the story was about. To me it was important that they respected the characters the same way I did and had an idea of who Lena and Eva are how they would approach them for the film.
I read that you gathered funds for the film on your own without investors from public sector. How did you manage that and why?
"Between Summer and Fall" is my first film and it was difficult for us to find money. Production companies and TV stations did not see much potential in a "small" film like this. I think it was not the nature of a love story between two women but the story itself that deals more with emotions and inner conflicts and less with big social issues and external conflicts. I expected this when I wrote the film and at some point it became clear that we would not get much funding for the film. But I was very fortunate to find a group of people (with whom I had worked with before) who believed in the screenplay and were willing to invest their time to produce the film with me even though none of us had done a feature-length film before. It was this group that made it possible through their hard work and determination that we found companies who would give us the equipment and almost everything else we needed for free. The whole team was behind the film and it was great how many talented and wonderful people supported the film over the five-year-period it took us to make the film. The film would not have been possible without them.
Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more inclusive, diverse, equal, free, democratic relationships and world in which people's sexual orientation, origin, colour, status, beliefs won't matter much)?
To me art is always very subjective and I would never want to tell anybody what art should or shouldn't be. I think it's great when art is progressive but even that term is very subjective. I think it is important that people have the chance to express themselves. Through art you can share experiences and ideas - with the artist and other viewers or readers. For me personally it's important to feel something when I read a book or watch a film. That is not necessarily dependent on the subject matter.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for future projects?
I have been in love with movies since I was a child and there are far too many films and filmmakers that have inspired me to name them.
There are also many genres that interest me. At this point I just hope that I will get the opportunity to make more films. I'm developing different projects at the moment but that's all in the writing stage and a long way from being made. I would like to try new things and the stories I'm working on are very different from "Between Summer and Fall". The next immediate project is a documentary film that is (hopefully) going to be shot next year.
Sarah Walker, you are an Australian author, screenwriter and script producer. You have written for several TV shows, including All Saints (2000 – 2003), Home and Away (2007– 2008), Neighbours (2013–). Speaking of the latter, there has been on and off relationship between Chloe Brennan (April Rose Pengilly) and Elly Conway (Jodi Anasta) on Neighbours this and last year. However, viewers are confused what is going on between them, is it friendship, more then friendship, will there ever going to be a real relationship?
I wasn’t part of the creation of this storyline - I only wrote a couple of episodes involving these two characters before leaving Neighbours and I therefore am not aware of the full plans. I know that these things often depend on an actor’s availability (how long they are booked) and audience response.
Were you perhaps part of the writing team that created the storyline between Charlie (Esther Anderson) and Joey Collins (Kate Bell) in Home and Away (2009)? If yes how did you come up with the idea for their relationship, what did you wish to portray with it and how come that that storyline did not last a bit longer and developed into a proper long-term relationship?
I was the script producer and main plotter when this relationship was plotted. I had an eight week period, covering for someone else in this position and the producer at that time asked me if I would plot a lesbian love story for Charlie. He was keen to portray an interesting love story that spoke to the past of that character and he wanted it to be gay. He felt I was the right person to tell the story, so I came up with an 8-week storyline that I could tell while I was working in the main script producer position. The actress was asked if she would be happy to play the lesbian love story and she was very open and excited by the opportunity. We then had to get permission from the head of drama - I pitched him the story and he agreed.
I chose the name Joey for the love interest so that it would surprise the character of Brax (and the audience) who would be expecting a man to arrive.
This story was developed with an intention of bringing Joey back if the story worked... It did work - the actress had many many people contact her, thanking her and the show for helping them come to terms with their sexuality. However, the show had a G rating and many family groups began to complain about our portrayal of a lesbian love story - the newspapers, especially in Melbourne, began to run homophobic, sensational articles with headlines like “homo and away”. The head of the network got involved and we were banned from any further gay stories for some years after that. This is why Joey wasn’t brought back again.
In 2016, you received an Australian Writers' Guild nomination for "Episode 6381" of Home and Away in the Best Script for a Television Serial category. What was jury most convinced about the story, where did you get the idea and how did you feel about the nomination?
It’s always pleasing to be nominated for an award - it was a very good experience for me to go to the awards and when my name came up, my colleagues applauded… it's a nice feeling. The script was about breast cancer - with a character deciding to respond to a genetic test by having pre-emptive surgery - and it gathered together a number of the female cast for some scenes about surviving breast cancer and women’s issues around that. I enjoyed the opportunity to write scenes with some of the strongest women characters of the show - of different generations - coming together to discuss such an important issue. So it was great to get nominated for this Episode, as it had something important to say.
You were script and story consultant for Season 1 and 4 of Wentworth (2013, 2015). One of the unusual hallmarks of women’s prison shows is that there is almost always a lesbian couple on the show, and often one or two other single lesbians around as well. What was your main role in providing for the TV series?
My main role on Season 1 was as a Script Executive - and I was not part of the original formulation of the storylines or characters for the re-boot of the old Prisoner series. That was done by Lara Radulovich and David Hannam. But I came in to read over all the scene breakdowns and episodes as they were written, to facilitate changes that were requested by the network and executive producer. I sat in on all the script meetings on the latter drafts and suggested ways to fix or polish storylines. However, on Season 4 I joined the development team at an early stage. Sam Strauss and John Ridley had already devised an outline for the season. In the outline, Danielle Cormack’s character, Bea, was to explore a love relationship with a woman. I believe the actress had suggested this as growth for the character and everyone was in agreement that Bea needed to find love and reveal a new, softer more vulnerable side of her character, having been in an abusive relationship with a man prior to going to jail. Being the only lesbian on the plotting team, I was very much involved in the way that story would unfold - in the creation of the love story over the 12 episodes. Ali was originally conceived as a Muslim woman - who had been rejected by her family for her sexual choices but as time went on, this aspect of the story was not developed - and the casting removed it entirely. I loved being part of the team that brought this story to the screen. I stayed on to oversee the first four episodes of the Season while they were waiting for Marcia Gardener to return to the main position - and I am proud of the work I did during the early stages of this Season, which laid in place the foundations of the Bea and Allie story.
Do you think that sexual orientation of the screenwriter in making TV series with lesbian storylines is important; i.e. that certain experience(s) add(s) to the quality of the storyline(s)?
While I don’t think it’s essential for the writer to have personal experience of being gay to create believable and engaging lesbian characters - I do think it always helps to have personal connection to a love story or a sexual experience. It helps the authenticity of the execution of the storyline - and certainly, as a lesbian woman, I feel the responsibility of creating authentic characters. I think, in the past, lesbian characters were often included to create titillation or scandal for the viewers - and there was often no depth to the relationship beyond this - but this is diminishing now. No matter what the subject, it tends to help if the person writing it has personal experience —so my answer, technically, would be yes. But overall, I think good writers can describe all human experience in a quality way if they do research, and apply fundamental emotional truth.
You also wrote seven novels, among them the coming out story The Year of Freaking Out in 1997. Can you tell us more about the novel, is it your coming out story and are there any other similar stories, for instance Water Colours which is also coming of age story? I read you also wrote book Lucky Three for children as well. You cover quite a different range of topics in your novels, how so?
Writing the Year of Freaking Out was so long ago, I can hardly remember! It definitely wasn’t my coming out story - although I would’ve used memories of what it felt like to be a teenager and be challenged in that era with the prospect of coming out. I think I used the landscape of the world I grew up in, the suburbs and the tone of it. My coming out story was much more exciting and less “teenage”, although I was a teenager - but I was writing for the genre, as I had a friend — Jenny Pausacker — who had written a teenage coming out novel and I felt really strongly that had I been able to read books like that as a teenager, seeing myself reflected in books in the school library, it would have helped make me feel more acceptable and more normal. This is why I wrote a teenage novel about coming out. I actually started it as a single chapter for a class at university and my lecturer kept asking me for another chapter and another one… until she had made me write a whole book. What a gift!! As to the question about coming of age stories in my novel work… i guess if you’re writing in the young adult market, it seems like a fairly obvious territory to explore. I wrote another book called Camphor Laurel, which won the Children’s Honour Book of the Year - and it was also about two girls, as a kind of poetic love story. I wrote the children’s book because my publisher at the time was asking all their clients to write a short little story for a series they were publishing. I also wrote an adult novel called Tin Man. i stopped writing books once I started in TV because they don’t pay much and they take a long time compared to screen writing.
Where/if any do you see similarities and differences in lesbian storytelling in Australian, American and European lesbian TV series? Do you think that television should promote certain progressive values, such as diversity, inclusiveness, human rights?
I think the gaps between what all the Western cultures are writing about lesbians stories are closing. In Europe, it seems to me, lesbian representation was much more common for many years - but often as erotic and titillating - though there were some really great films made like Entre Nous. In England, I think the subject was pretty much ignored on TV (as far as I know) - though there was representation for gay men, as either a comic character (such as Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served, or Dick Emery’s characters that were camp)… or just the usual foppish man in court. I can’t think of many lesbian characters from England - but a character like Helen Mirren’s in Prime Suspect would now probably be a lesbian portrayal. Similarly, in the US, Cagney and Lacey could have been about two lesbians - but those things just didn’t happen regularly on prime time TV. It’s changing across the board… I think Australia is a little behind America - but less and less so. Of course I think TV should promote progressive values - diversity, inclusiveness and human rights. I believe that TV is a very influential medium and having representation of every type of culture, sexuality, religion, disability and humanity is necessary - and has the effect of creating a more tolerant and inclusive society — but only if the characters are complex and not cast as villains. We need to have our heroes and heroines be diverse — core roles need to be cast with an eye to representing a wide range of ethnicity and diversity of every kind.
What is your biggest inspiration (television or not television career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects? What are you most proud of and what do you still wish to achieve in your successful career as a screenwriter, producer and an author?
These are all big questions. I am inspired by a lot of things: a dream of winning an Oscar. I am inspired by the great work I see others doing — currently shows like FLEABAG — but always film and TV that is clever, new, emotional, funny and brilliantly executed. I am inspired by working with actresses I admire — talent is something that makes me excited. So a talented actress can make me want to write something for her — and this is often the way I originate material… like with a muse, which is an old-fashioned idea but it works for me. I’m not sure what I’m most proud of —technically I’m proud of the fact that I have never written anything that I didn’t put my whole effort and best work into, no matter what the show or genre, even if I didn’t feel the project was the best in itself, I would never do anything less than my best work. I am proud of certain scenes and storylines — things that may have affected other people, making them laugh or cry. What I wish to achieve is to have my next few projects produced and executed to a level of excellence; to create an original TV series that is received well by a global audience; to work with many other talented creatives on great material for feature films and TV; and to win that Oscar.
Tonje Frøystad Garvik, you were the winner of the Farmen (2018), which is the Norwegian version of The Farm reality television show. The format consists of twelve contestants who are chosen from the outside world. Each week one contestant is selected as the Farmer of the Week. You and your girlfriend Lene Sleperud both participated at the Farmen, Lene finished fourth. How was the experience of being a lesbian couple at The Farmen and how were you perceived by other contestants?
We were 14 contestants, and we had a farmer of the week first one (me) was chosen by the group to lead the first week and after that the loser of the competition of the week selected the head farmer. We knew going in that the longest period of time that a couple had been able to stay at the farm was for 2 weeks and any kind of relationship friends etc, the record was 5 weeks. Because of this we got recommended (but not forced) to keep our relationship a secret until we got close to the end. We always played openly on the same alliance and were perceived as BBFs to the other contestants. When we finally told them we were a couple in the end of week 7 they all reacted with major surprise. With me I have my tomboy side and I came out as a lesbian in week four which I felt like most contestants was okey with, but Lene is so feminine that nobody had even a suspicion. Also Farmen is a show that airs for 700.000-900.000 norwegians (1/6 norwegians), mostly in the districs and 40+ audience so we knew we would get some negativity from people due to our sexual orientation. But to us openness is so important that we were and are willing to take the crap to contribute with normalization.
I saw the videos of you two from the Farmen and it was beautiful to watch how much love was between you two. I read, that you haven't received attention only for the victory, but also for your relationship with Lene: some people have been really supportive and many thanked you, especially lesbians, parents and friends of queer young people, however some people have accused you as imposing your sexual orientation on to the others. The latter response is quite surprising considering that Scandinavian countries are believed to be one of the most diverse and inclusive countries in the world. What is your opinion of all these?
Scandinavia is absolutely one of the better parts of the world when it comes to openness to sexual orientation. However, going back it was still illegal to be a lesbian in 1972 and was considered a decease up until 1978 (pshycological)/82 (state). With an audience on 40+ and the districts as the main viewer group we knew that we would receive reactions. Because even though most people are growing to be accepting of the LGBT community there still are a lot of people that are holding on to the old beliefs or the religious view that being homosexual is a sin. Going in we were basically aware that we would get a lot of negative attention in the commentary fields but as far as response directly to us we have gotten 99.9% positive feedback and have had the humble chance to help people out of the closet by “moving into” their parents living room and let them get to know us through the screen and see gay love up close “forced” to a relationship with us. Knowledge leads to empathy and the more people who come out of the closet the more we help our fellow LGBT still in the closet. Visibility is so important for change in perception of the gay and knowledge.
You and Lene are now also role models for other lesbians and LGBT people. I watched the inspirational and empowerment promotional video of how was being a lesbian and growing up in a small Norwegian town and about Lene's first same-sex relationship with you. You both clearly think that it should be more done for raising awareness regarding acceptance of lesbian and bisexual women.
Raising awareness and acceptance is so important! It is actually stated that the bisexuals have a harder time in Norway than the gay/lesbian does as they are kind of “closed out” of both communities. A lot of bisexuals claim they are straight or lesbian in order to avoid being judged. I identify myself as a lesbian but in the battle of normalizing our love and have people accepting that I also believe that we should have bigger respect for the bisexuals out there who struggle. Love is dynamic and if we want to fight for our rights and acceptance we should have respect for other peoples love who doesn’t necessarily fit how we perceive love. Love it not black and white and some research claims that up to 90% of women have bisexual tendencies (not to say they could fall in love, but have sex with other women). I personally struggle to believe in a 100% lesbian or 100% straight community only, and I think we should be more open to the grey zones of sexuality and understand that some people don’t necccesarily fit into a box and that’s fine. Another very important thing is that with visibility the butch lesbians and the feminine gay men has fought at the front of the battlefield for us, and I have a major respect for them! However it is also super important to break the stereotypes. Both Lene and I often get that “you don’t look like a lesbian”. My question is “ what is a lesbian supposed to look like?” We all come in different flavors and colors and only what is inside of us can define our sexual orientation. Not what the community is expecting of us on how to look and act. Love is love.
You have been also a part of the “KT family” for many years as an ambassador. Not for you sexual orientation, but for your positive energy, unpretentious attitude and sporty approach towards life. However, you feared to lose all that when you were about to come out as lesbian. Can you elaborate this a bit further, please? What were you afraid in particular?
For me coming from a small town the shame of coming out as a lesbian was pretty big and I had to work through a long process in my own head to be comfortable to express and talk out loud on my sexual orientation. I know Kari Traa is a super including community and would support me in any way, however still the fear inside of you and your own voice can hold you back. Kari Traa when I came out was super supportive and has helped me a lot dealing with my sexual orientation and self worth as they have been backing me all along and helped me gain my confidence to go on a national show and be “a lesbian” with my head held high. Here is a link to the Kari Traa video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCtwCwpMx4s.
I read that since Farmen finished you and Lene got married On prime time on TV 2 during the gullrod broadcast in early May, then went to New York and after you came back you bought an apartment in Oslo. You also set up a cabin on the mountain. So many things …, how come and how do you feel being married?
We didn’t get married there, but I did propose to her there. It was a very fun experience and we had talked up front about a public proposal as we truly wanted to show that love is love. We just got done redecorating our apartment and we are super excited about our future together even though this year to say the least have been very hectic.
What is your biggest inspiration and what is/are your plans for the future projects?
What inspires me a lot right now is to help the LGBT society and help people that are still in the closet to come to terms with themselves and be happy in their own shoes. I am working on an exciting project related to this and I hope the result will be public by June (pride month) next year.
Do you wish to say anything else to the readers of LL Passion?
I hope for anyone still in the closet to know that you are not alone, people are having the same feelings that you do and your friends and family will most likely grow to accept your sexual orientation with time even though it might be a tough pill for them to swallow in the beginning.
Seek social media channels, seek groups, try to find people in your own situation to talk to and find support in. The shame, guilt and fear you are feeling inside are all in your head, your sexual orientation does not make you less valuble than anyone else.
You are worth peoples love and respect! I am rooting for you!
Samantha Sidley, you are a young talented singer from Los Angeles who just released your beautiful jazz song “I like Girls”. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the song? Is it about any girl in particular and/or girls you have liked and loved or it is a general statement of saying you are a lesbian?
My song “I Like Girls” was originally written for a one women musical I wanted to create based on my life story. I’m a lesbian so although that is just a piece of the pie, I wanted something that celebrated that. It is a celebration of women and being a women who falls in love with them. When Barbara Gruska and Alex Lily were writing the song, they asked me, “what kind of girls do you like?” I said “I don’t know I think I like them all!” I’ve always been that way. I think a lot of songs about women have to do with celebrating their sexuality in explicit ways and although I’ve never come across a women without sex appeal it’s such a small part of who women are. I love women for ALL that they are. For their gifts, which everyone has. And I wanted that to come clearly across in the song, AND still have the hints and nods of sensuality.
And I think at the end of the day- anyone who loves women in whichever way can relate to the song. Also, getting back to the original point, yes I’m gay, proud, I like to flaunt it, and this song is about that!
Unlike many jazz singers, your attention to the lyrics seems front and center. as you sing ‘I like girls who don’t know they like girls ... I like girls who really like girls a lot’. This really tells the whole story of being a lesbian and recognizing a being one. Is that important to you, to be out and proud? Lesbians all over the world long for representation of their experiences, experiences being told across all genres and fields, be it in music, film, painting, even science, like philosophy, anthropology, sociology.
I always say “singing is the Olympics of talking”. Singing and music is about communication. I’m so lucky I can communicate my feelings through music and lyrics. So yes, lyrics are very very important to me. When I am creating a show- I try to string all of my songs together to create a story, be it direct or indirect the stories you tell individually as songs will relate to the other songs you choose- because they are a part of you, YOU chose them. Communication is extremely important to me. I’m not great at getting my feelings out by just talking but I can live in a song and have that speak for me. I consider myself an interpreter. A lot of the singers I learned from were not song writers. The songs were written for them. They were the story tellers. It’s a bit like acting. You make the experiences real for you in the song. I am always telling a true story when I sing. It’s funny because sometimes people think that is a persona I am playing. But it’s one of many I suppose- personas. It’s my truth.
People have had to hear songs from the straight perspective for so long. I always sing from my gay perspective. I always change pronouns because that is MY truth. I would be lying if I stood on stage and sang about men! That would be so weird! We all need a torch singer! Lesbians need a torch singer! I’m here to fulfill that role! But also love is universal and if I can relate to straight songs because they are about love I hope straight people can do the same about my songs about love (that only happen to be from a lesbian perspective).
Your debut album, “Interior Person” will be released on September 13th. Can you tell us what is the main theme of the record? I read that some of the most important women in your life came together to craft your debut album; you sing songs that features both adaptations and original co-writes from Inara George from The Bird and the Bee, Alex Lilly from the band just by her name Alex Lilly, and your wife, Barbara Gruska. You are going also open the show of the The Bird and the Bee show in August.
The main theme of my record “Interior Person” is about hope, triumph over pain, and self love and acceptance. Every single song on the record is personal. Every single song is true! Yes my wife Barbara Gruska, my two best friends Alex Lilly and Inara George wrote me songs based on stories I’ve told them and what they know of me.
It has been such a gift working with them. They are literally my favorite musicians and song writers so not only is just that part exciting- they see me and who I am. I don’t think there is any better feeling than being seen in your authenticity. And I’m going on tour with all of them! Playing in Bird and the Bee and opening!
How do you combine your professional and private life with wife Barbara Gruska who had a band called the Belle Brigade and has drummed for KD Lang and Fiona Apple. You both are very creative, how this works out and benefits to your marriage and to your music career?
I LOVE WORKING WITH MY WIFE!! We know how to give each other space when we both need it and we know how to talk to each other. YOU HAVE TO BE HONEST. You have to try and communicate your feelings to each other and you have to listen to each other. We work hard at that. But it actually also feels effortless at this point. I feel so lucky we work together. She has been a source of inspiration for me even before I knew her! Because I have always been a gushing fan of hers. I met her sneaking in backstage to one of her shows. She was playing her own set at a local club. She’s an incredible artist. It’s so fun making music and traveling the world together. We take care of each other. It’s a perfect set up. She’s not only my drummer, she is my producer and produced my record!
Do you think that lesbian themes should become part of the mainstream culture? If yes, why?
Lesbian themes should be a part of the mainstream culture because they ARE the mainstream culture. I will argue to the day I die there are as many LGBTQ people as there are straight people. There’s just a lot of repression and oppression in this world.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
I am inspired by people being authentic when they sing. I always think of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Judy Garland, John Lennon, Anita O’Day, Ray Charles. And my wife, Barbara Gruska. I get so much joy from listening to them or watching them. It literally fills my heart with joy. FILLS MY HEART. And at the risk of sounding cliche, I am inspired by love and its healing.
Being in a relationship with a woman has deepened my understanding of love
May 13th, 2019 (interview published at online Slovenian newspaper Torek ob petih http://torekobpetih.si/intervju/)
Katarina Majerhold, MSc. of philosophy, has been exploring the most universal theme in the world for many years - love. Who we are and how we love is at the heart of her philosophy. It is perhaps less known that she also writes about lesbian topics, especially about film, actresses and TV-and WEB-series. So she created her own website last year, where she writes about all aspects of lesbian life in lengthy and pervading. Thus, her book Love Through History, in which she focused on the different concepts of love, especially those still shaping and affecting our relationships, has also received an online upgrade.
Where did you get the idea for the LL passion website?
The idea came from the fact that I have been writing for LGBT+ media for a very long time and I wanted to have an explicit medium that would deal with lesbians. So far, in LGBT+ media, I have mostly written about pop culture topics, reviews of films and TV-series thus my initial aim of the website was to start represent lesbians in movies, TV- and WEB-series, etc. While I was surfing the Internet I noticed that media with lesbian contents has somehow decreased. I was a regular reader of the well-known US website AfterEllen since it was created in 2002, and for the past couple of years I noticed that this site no longer has its previous enthusiasm and contents. At the same time, the Autostraddle website appeared in 2009, which I found out that it does not suit me because it is not close to me in terms of LBT representation. Website like mine has not existed in Europe. In fact, for a very short time, in 2009-2010, there was a European version of Afterellen, EurOut.com, to which I was invited, but my life turned out differently at that time. That is how I positioned myself in terms of what and how I wish to present L-B contents in pop culture. However, I also found out that no one of the mentioned websites have included humanities and science therefore I decided to cover that area too. I noticed that lesbian theory is somehow in decline, there is a lack of passion in this area and we need to do something about that.
Is it the fight against the eradication of lesbians and lesbian representation in the media?
At the same time, it seemed important to include bisexual women as well. I decided that lesbians should show better inclusion of this group, which - in addition to transgender persons - has always been pushed to the margin, even within our community. That is why I decided to add a representation of bisexual women on the website, although it is of course an emphasis on lesbians.
Given that you are writing about everything related to lesbian and bisexual, queer women on your website, I wonder how do you understand the word lesbian?
I'm an 'old fashioned' lesbian, I would say. I grew up in time when we heared only a word lesbian, there were no other labels. Being queer in that time meant something negative since it was before queer theory was established. In short, I perceive myself as a cisgender person whose sexual orientation is homosexual, I am a lesbian. But I'm open to all forms of representation on my website. One of my contributing writers who previously wrote for AfterEllen identifies as queer. In 2018, a debate about lesbians and transgender people arose on Afterellen website; part of the lesbian community of that website resisted Pink News, who excluded lesbians from the New Years list they published to honor LGBT+ people. The then editor-in-chief and current owner of the AfterEllen website positioned herself on the side of the lesbian against transgender people, and then my contributing writer decided not to cooperate with website that was not open to transgender people. I do not want to step into this debate because transgender people have always been part of LGBT community and I know they have been oppressed even within our community therefore my opinion is that we have to keep solidarity, dignity and respect regardless of our personal identification.
Could you say that a lesbian is anyone who has experience with women and does not identify herself as a man?
That could be in a way according to what I said. I accept this definition because humans rights, dignity and respect are important to me.
You already mentioned that you missed the topic on humanities and social sciences. What are the specific topics that concern lesbianism and which ones you would like to write more about?
I would like to have more theoretical emphasis: philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history. All the websites I have mentioned do not tackle the lesbian topics from these perspectives. I miss the in-depth debate. I noticed that the writers from abroad are thaught not to write too long and detailed articles. This is probably due to a monetary, marketing aspect. The longer the articles are, the less they are interesting, since people often do not have time to read more in depth article or do not have this kind of attention, interest, and proper education. I miss a wider insight, even on a symbolic level, so that we can understand things directly, or indirectly from various aspects.
Could you be even more precise which aspects do you miss? Because lesbianism has been still invisible and without proper presentation of everyday aspects, such as traveling, family, relationships.
On my website I have written exactly that I hope that we have passed the stage of social isolation and exclusion and that we wish to present happier, peaceful, partner and family life of lesbians. For example, the Dutch online series Anne +, an interview with one of the actresses in the series respectively, is exactly the kind of series that tries to present a student who has just finished her studies and remembers her relationships with women during her studies. She is a typical student, just like any other students, only that her relationships are with women of her age, a little younger or a little older. The series also avoids various stereotypes about lesbians, regarding the style of clothing, behavior, type of music etc. I also want to overcome the stereotypes that lesbians are lonely, socially isolated, excluded, and wish to present us as happy and successful at all levels of our lives. In this sense regarding the portrayal of lesbians in films and series, I can say that stilll is not achieved - I can not say that was a really good movie which did not present a cliché or some sort of tragedy. Of course, we can say that art itself has some sort of tragedy intertwined into the story, however it is time to show a happy lesbian love story.
You have done a considerable research into love. How your interest in this topic developed?
At that time I was truly in love for the first time in my life and it happened to be with a woman. This was in 1994. It was quite a different social climate at that time: being lesbian was implicitly understood as something unnatural. It was precisely because of that that I started asking questions I tackle in book Love Through History, such as is there really a true love, is there only one proper love, are there different concepts, different forms, types of love? As a student of philosophy I knew that philosophy dealt with what is universal. And I asked myself what was the most universal theme - love. We almost all experience it and since I was a student at that time I was also listening the the course 'history of philosophy' and the topic among others was eroticism and cosmological love in ancient Greece. That was something I was interested in: an individual, couple, society, cosmos. Somehow all mentioned coincided in my life. And being in a relationship with a woman deepened my understanding of love too. If I was in a heterosexual relationship, I'm sure that I would not research the topic of love in such depth and broadness.
How has your relationship with a woman deepened the understanding of love?
There were no predefined rules, roles, but we had to negotiate, get to know each other, and also recognize certain things. People sometimes think that we are more progressive, less progressive, and then, in an unconventional relationship, we have to came to terms with things that otherwise would not to. If I was in a heterosexual relationship, I could perhaps agree to some conventional relationships. However because of my experience I also know that there are different forms of love - before Christianity there was an ancient Greek conception of love, before that was Egyptian and Sumerian. all forms of love and sexual identities have always existed.
The other thing is that we still live in a cultural, civilization sense in some part of the Judeo-Christian milieu and we know what it says, men, women, heterosexuality, reproduction. And since I was with a woman, I surpassed that milieu and among other things I realized that women's sexuality and love are universal and sacred. This spiritual dimension, which we know in male homosexuality from the very beginnings, is lacking in female homosexuality. Lesbians were defined as witches, vampiress or some sort of deviation, instead of being priestesses. I would like to upgrade the concept of lesbian love: if two women live together and have children, this is something sacred. I write about this in the articles The Future of Lesbian Love and The Future of Lesbian Film.
Katarina Čuk, you really have a diverse and full life. How would you describe and highlight the main milestones in your life?
Yes, I can really say that I have had a full life – especially in the sense of periods with more and less diversity, which allow many possibilities to deal with different emotions and enable personal growth. This is primarily due to many »stressful« life events and situations, however there were also enough of nice events to complement them. For the most part, I would say that my main approach towards life is a curious one - I always search for something and explore it, and while I search for the best verses and stories to write on the »paper« I am most happy with the moments of finding myself - that deepest, raw sense of self-awareness inspires me the most. I find the easiest way to explore myself in the nature where I experience many interesting things about which I write in my books.
You wrote an interesting book entitled Our Timeless Nature. Can you tell us more about the book: how much time it took to write it, from where did you draw the inspiration, why this topic interests you and what do you try to convey with it?
Book Our timeless nature is a collection of insights, messages and inspiration about the nature from the nature and how it can help us in personal growth, health and coping with life challenges. It encourages a different perspective on the nature, our inner nature and life here and now. It was created spontaneously and sprang from some kind of whispers and exploration of the nature, trees and muses. I could say, this is part of my essence and something that most interests me in life - it makes me wanna write about it and talk about it to people in order they would acknowledge the inevitable connection with the nature. I like when people say that after reading my book they look at the nature and themselves differently, they perceive it and themselves more deeply.
I read that you can relate to the advices from old women's book and for instance why oak and pine trees are good for our health. You also wrote that ills of modern society is man's lack of connection with the nature and that man's co-existence with the nature is not a goal but process. What do you mean by that?
People have came from the nature, we are natural beings, and therefore it is simply not natural for us to be separated from it – to be frequently indoors, in the cities surrounded by all-powerful devices, artificial impulses etc. Therefore from this follows that our health on all levels is found in the nature and in connection with the nature and separation from it is the cause of many modern problems. Gradual reconnection with it in a way that this becomes our habit, part of everyday life is a process that is beneficial to all. Reconnection may mean a walk in the nature, a more frequent visit to the forest, a tree-tutorial exercises, the use of natural products, the care for the environment, the cultivation of plants on our balconies or at least a picture of the nature on the computer's background. And, most importantly, in nature it is easier to hear ourselves, the genuine voice that guides us.
In the documentary Attraction of Gender, you and Kamala Katerina Gjorgievska were presented as partners: can you can tell us more why you decided to took part in the documentary and if you would like to share with us why you split after 10 years of relationship?
Kamala and I decided to cooperate in your documentary mainly because we have always believed that it is important to be visible and help to raise awareness, mutual understanding and progress in the areas that are important to us and to talk about topics that may still be taboo in society. Progress can also mean the end of something in order to make room for something else when it is time for rewriting of the relationship which could bring even bigger personal growth or something new in a different way.
You two still have together the project Full Bliss Living. Part of the project are also your workshops »Energy Balancing with the Tree« in which you present yourself as an expert in the field of personal and spiritual growth and the implementer of the »Forest Selfness« program. Can you tell us more about these workshops and to whom are they intended for?
Full Bliss Living went through different transformations (at the same time as Kamala and I went through transformation as a couple and each of us separately), which slowly shapes into a new form, yet its basis to find our own way and our own self-care and satisfaction still applies. All I do personally, this applies to my writing as well as workshops and forest self-ness (wellness), is intended for people who want a better connection with themselves and with nature, perhaps in ways that have not yet been met or have not been really dwelled upon yet. I do it especially through our connection to the trees and since we forgot that connection we may need some incentive to remember and rebuke it. That is why recently there have been so many scientific research and evidence proving nature, especially trees, are good for our body, mind and emotions. Since nature has personally helped me, I have been training and still studying in the field of integrated treatment with nature, as well as meditation and personal growth, so that I can share it professionally with the others.
How would you describe yourself as a lesbian, bisexual ...?
I do not describe myself with any of these words, because I do not wish to label either myself or the others. I am here. I live and love.
How much your sexual orientation affects or if affects your work at all: do you pay attention to sexual orientation in your workshops, and does forest respond to this?
My work is about building up a connection with yourself and accepting yourself, your nature, and everything that comes with it - and it helps people at different levels. Nature accepts us as we are, and in the forest we do not have to pretend, fear, hide or encumber ourselves... We are just what we are. This can make us feel relieved, lead to greater self-acceptance, and invest energy into greater self-confidence.
Where does your optimism, courage, and ideas come from?
From the nature, close relationships and listening to, reading and writing songs and being with my cats ;).
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a new girlfriend?
My plans ... are all related to the nature, writing, translation, education, diverse experiences of life and, of course, with that comes love for here and now.
Eline Van Gils, you are a Dutch actress known for the role of Lily in the TV series ANNE+ (NL 2018 -) in which you play Anne's first girlfriend Lily. We learn that the two are in their twenties and moved together to Amsterdam for their studies. We see their mutual interests and their differences and we also watch how they grow apart, which eventually leads to their break up. I watched a short clip behind the scenes with you in which you relate that you enjoy playing a role you feel connected to, so in which way was this role connected to you and how did you learn about the series?
The main connection between the role of Lily and myself is that Lily is openly gay from a young age. She grew up in a small town and moved to Amsterdam to study there, same as me. This is the first gay role that I’ve played, and because of her being openly gay from a young age and growing up in a small town, there is a natural understanding of who she is and where she comes from. She is kind of a young version of myself in a way, although she has some other characteristics, of course. As an actor you always have to connect yourself to the role you play, and sometimes that takes a bit more time and figuring out than at other times. In the case of Lily, it went pretty smoothly and we fell together quite fast and organically. I first learned about the series from Hanna van Vliet, who played the role of Anne in the series. She had just filmed a teaser for the series and told me about the idea. After that, I coincidentally met Valerie (the director) in a bar. I didn’t know her back then, but she knew who I was and started talking about the series. Then I told her I heard about it from Hanna and I loved the idea. This is when we decided to meet up for a beer to discuss the part of Lily and the rest of the series.
It was an all female cast and crew who made the series. How was that experience compared to some others experiences; for instance, having male coworkers on the set? I also learned that director Valerie Bisscheroux and screenwriter Maud Wiemeijer wanted to challenge certain stereotypes regarding the representation of lesbians wearing certain clothes--such as tank tops--and feeling isolated and lonely. Instead, the series wanted to portray young lesbians as happy and carefree as any other adolescents during their student years. I find this positive attitude very refreshing and think it is about time. How do you relate to that?
Most of the cast and crew was indeed female and gay, not all. For this series, it was cool that there was a lot of personal understanding of being gay and of gay love and sex. I never felt uncomfortable; everyone was on the same page and felt connected to the series and that’s a very good vibe to have on a set. I don’t mind male coworkers at all, but sometimes it is nice to have a few more women on set to have a good balance of the energy though.
I think it is really important to stop looking at being gay as a problem that you should feel ashamed about. Of course coming out is often difficult and can be very scary, but we shouldn’t only show the negative things about being gay on TV shows and in films. If you want people to look at it as being just as normal as being straight, then we should focus on it being normal.
I liked how you present yourself in your bio, saying that you are a cisgender woman whose sexual orientation is homosexual. This made me think that you are aware of the importance that lesbian characters are played by lesbian actresses. I often see straight actresses saying that sexual orientation does not matter in playing a role or that sexual orientation does not matter since we are all more or less bisexual. How do you reply to that?
I believe that sexual orientation can help a lot when playing a gay role. It gives a deeper understanding of a role and you can make sure that it doesn’t accidentally get stereotyped. It gives a certain realness that just adds something extra. But on the other hand, I also think that an actor should be able to play a lot of different roles. If I only got to play gay roles because I’m gay, it would be very difficult for me to get any work. There are straight actors that do a great job playing a gay character, but I also have seen this go wrong a lot of times. It’s a topic that still doesn’t have enough commercial content, so why not give gay actors the few gay roles that are there and give them a chance of getting those stories out? I somehow feel responsible as an actress to help tell these stories to a bigger audience, and it feels good to be a part of it.
About women playing lesbians and telling that sexual orientation doesn’t matter because we are all more or less bisexual, I believe in “the spectrum”: in some cases people are really in the middle of the spectrum. But really, being able to fall in love with both sexes, with girls just as deeply and hard as with boys, is a rare thing. I understand straight love because I compare it to what I know, which is lesbian love. And that’s probably a different relationship, but the feeling of love could be the same. So when I play a straight role, I play the idea I have about straight love and when I play a gay role, I play the love I truly, personally, know as love. It’s a bit hard to explain; I might be a bit all over the place here…hahah…but I don’t know how to say it in a better way.
I watched an interview on the show “Margriet van der Linden” with the aforementioned director and screenwriter and actress Hanna van Vliet and learned that it is the first Dutch lesbian TV series. I was a bit surprised that such a liberal and progressive country as the Netherlands only got its first lesbian TV series in 2018 and that lesbians aren't so much represented in Dutch movies and TV series. Why? And how do you find life for LGBT people, their job, marriage, family and social aspects in the Netherlands?
In a lot of things, the Dutch are progressive. And when it comes to being gay, they’re finding this more and more okay. But still in the representation of gay men and women there is definitely not enough. It is still stranger than I would want it to be, and the representation that there is makes the stereotyped, troubled image of gay people even worse. I live in Amsterdam, and I’m surrounded with great loving friends and most of them are gay, so I don’t know if I have the best opinion on this. I sometimes get so surprised when I'm with straight people and I’m “coming out” again that the reactions are mostly a bit shocked and they often change the way they look at you, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. But it still happens, and it fascinates me how people can still change the image they have of you by the knowledge of who you love, what gender you love. I’m happy that ANNE+ is not doing anything with these stereotypes and prejudices that people have, and that this series is about love and about being young and finding your way in life like any 20-year old.
Do you think film should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more inclusive, diverse, equal, free, democratic relationships) and a world in which people's origin, sexual orientation and/or sexual identity, colour, status don't matter?
Absolutely, yes! Film can inspire people or make people see things in a different way. But if you want to talk to a big audience, you probably have to take it easy and show it in more subtle ways, just as if it’s the most normal thing ever. Those kind of films are very important and there should be more of it! And also more female leads that are not a girl falling in love with the cute guy.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
I find inspiration in a lot of things and art forms and the genres are very diverse. I love strong female characters in film and theatre. I have a weak spot for the funny, strong women in Quentin Tarantino’s movies. I love the theatrical style and humor of Wes Anderson. Roy Andersson also has a dark, theatrical humor and tragedy which I love. And the darkness and psychedelic films of Lars von Trier. But I don’t know who my biggest inspiration is. Maybe they are all in my head together, combined as one. For me, it doesn’t necessarily have to be realistic. I want to believe it, of course, but the style and form can be totally weird.
I do theatre a lot. Currently I’m in three different plays which I perform with a few other actors in high schools. Theatre is something I love to do, and I would love to keep on doing it. But I also want to do more in film and explore that part of acting more, which I do in smaller film projects at the moment. Because I really like doing it and it has such a different audience and different way of working and acting. And of course maybe a season 2 of ANNE+, who knows…
Ness Simons you a screenwriter and filmmaker from Wellington, New Zealand. You created and directed a 'Pot Luck', a New Zealand’s first lesbian web series which won several nominations and got several awards. The series, six-part 'dramedy' about three 30- and 40-something lesbian friends follows Debs (Nikki Si'ulepa), Mel (Anji Kreft) and Beth (Tess Jamieson - Karaha) as the three friends negotiate friendship, family and finding love at their weekly pot luck dinners. You wrote that inspiration for the series came from the many pot luck dinners you were to over the years, and the scores of characters and stories came from such an occasion, can you elaborate that? I came out when I was really young and over a couple of decades I've shared so many different experiences with lesbians and women who love women, including a bunch of pot luck dinners! Whether it was with a group of close friends or a broader community event, getting together and sharing food is such a strong connector and always good for the soul. I've seen the whole range of emotions at these dinners, and all types of people, so it felt like a natural setting to bring a bunch of characters together.
You also said that each character in the web series is part of your character too, in which way? So much of my writing is reflective of my world and my experiences and I find myself peppering these through my work. The characters are not exactly me but we share some traits, or outlooks, or maybe we respond to things in the same way, so there's little bits of me in each of them, but there's probably also little bits of my family, or friends, or people I've met in each of them too. One of the fun parts of developing the characters further with the actors is to explore where the characters thoughts and feelings come from... it can be enlightening!
I believe that Pot Luck is not only universal, it is also quite unique in the way that brings attention to lesbians and universal topics through food which is in every culture connected with values, such as family, love, friendship, parents, special occasions, new beginnings, etc. and in this sense it reminds me a bit of a lesbian movie Nina's Heavenly Delights which also revolves around food while combating prejudices towards and acceptance of homosexuality. However, Pot Luck is beyond that, and goes further by presenting everyday lives of lesbians which is beyond struggle of acceptance although we partly see that through Beth's story and really tries to show everyday lives of women which happen to be lesbians. Currently there are two seasons with Mel and Beth found love, Mel acquiring self-respect and self-confidence and Deb accepting Beth having a new partner, are you planning the third season and if yes, what we can expect to come for your characters, Deb, Mel and Beth? The 'everyday lives' exploration has been a huge part of the vision for me as I think historically there's been a real lack of authentic positive representations of lesbians and queer women on screen. I wanted to address this in a way that was fun and had heart, yes these characters are flawed and their lives are chaotic, but they're all just trying to do their best to be good people. We have thought a lot about a third season, there's certainly a lot of interest in it, but unfortunately challenges with funding and time mean it's unlikely to happen. There may not be more 'Pot Luck' but there are certainly other projects in the pipeline and I hope to give the audience more diverse characters and storylines in the future.
How much would you like 'educate' the audience also regarding self-acceptance and self-respect through the story of Mel and Beth? We see both struggling, one through self-image and other through coming out to her mother in the first season which they finally resolve in the second season, thus third season would be really appropriate to see how they fully live their lives. I always set out to allow an audience to meet these characters and to discover that there's probably heaps they have in common, rather than obviously 'educate'. One of the things I've found really interesting is how often I've heard from heterosexual guys who really connect with Debs character and her sense of fear and feelings of not fitting in, they were so surpirsed to see themselves in her and in the most gentle way it has helped to change their views of what a butch woman is. Yes, there are so many possibilities for another season and the stories that might come through for these characters. It's been so rewarding to see how much the audience has engaged with each of them, and how invested they are in their lives, I wish I could continue into another season to explore all this on screen!
You have full-time job as head tutor at the New Zealand Film & Television School in Wellington. And before you were a business owner, working in the pizza chain’s original Kelburn store, then opened one franchise and bought another, selling up six years later to do the one-year course at film school. What made you change a career, was being a scriptwriter and director something you long wished for? I had always been interested in writing and first studied writing when I was 20, but then got caught up in work and business and went down a different path for a few years. When I sold my business I realised that I wanted to act on my passion and so off I went to Film School to find out what it was all about. I've been working in the industry ever since.
Do you teach your students the importance of a proper representation of the LGBTI characters and do you think it matters that writing and directing about LGBTI characters comes from members of our community? I am a huge advocate for diversity on screen across the board, it's time to change the historically narrow representations of anyone who sits outside the 'mainstream'. Part of this is how I approach my own work, and also how I have conversations with students and other filmmakers about diversity and inclusion, representation, and the power we have as storytellers to impact the beliefs and understanding of individuals and society. For me inclusion is a massive part of this equasion - I don't necessarily think that all LGBTI+ characters have to be written from members of our community, but I think community voices should be included in the conversation through feedback on scripts, or co-writing, or directors and actors doing their research in order to position themselves to create strong representations rather than re-creating damaging stereotypes. It's not possible for any one writer or director or actor to be all things they may be representing on screen, but it is possible for them to do the work to become informed and aware of what they are putting out into the world. I personally value the authenticity of telling stories from within the community by including diverse voices on both sides of the camera and make this a big part of the kaupapa of my work.
Do you think that lesbian roles should be played by lesbian actresses? Yesterday I read this quote regarding the film Ammonite with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan having a lesbian romance. Film is based on Mary Anning's life story and a member of Anning's family, Barbara Anning, said: "I believe if Mary Anning was gay she should be portrayed as gay and this should also be by a gay actress'. I was pleasantly surprised that people start seeing the importance of sexual orientation of the actresses while playing a certain character. As a filmmaker exploring diverse characters I am all too aware of the catch-22 for a lot of LGBTQI+ actors - they are often forced to hide their sexuality in order to fit the mainstream roles, or if they do look 'too different' there are so few roles it's not possible for them to remain viable and stay in the industry. I think that wherever possible the opportunity for LGBTQI+ actors to portray characters that reflect their identity is a powerful thing. I also think that all actors should be able to work and research and explore the humanity and emotion in their characters in order to bring a strong and authentic portrayal to the screen.
Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more inclusive, diverse, equal, free, democratic relationships and world in which people's origin, colour, status, beliefs don't matter much)? I think screen art can both reflect the world as it is and has been, and show what the world could be too. There are films that have changed the world and brought attention to issues or topics, and there are also those that have done damage by reinforcing crappy representations or negative stereotypes. Each storyteller has to choose which pile they want their work to sit on, but I know for myself I want to create characters and stories that help people understand more about themselves and those around them.
Aistė Diržiūtė you are best known for the role of Austė in The Summer of Sangaile (Lithuanian: Sangailė or Sangailės Vasara) by Alanté Kavaïté for which you became the first Lithuanian actress named as one of the European Shooting Stars, alongside actors such as Maisie Williams and Moe Dunford at Berlin Film Festival in 2015. You also won the award for Best Lithuanian Actress at the Vilnius International Film Festival and was nominated for both Sidabrinė gervė and KINFO awards. How that made you feel and what attracted you to the role of Austė?
It wasn’t my awards, it was our awards. Without director, crew and of course Julija, I couldn’t have done anything. Maybe because from the very beginning we were all focused on the idea and how to spread it, we didn’t think about a journey the film could have, so everything what came after was a big and pleasant surprise. Though my most important award is people who decided to come out, to change their lives, find and accept themselves after watching The Summer of Sangaile.
When I was invited for the first audition for Auste, I was so impressed by the amount of similarities I have with her as a character. My mother is a sewer, so I knew how to sew, favourite Auste’s song was my entry’s exam to the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre song etc. On the second round I’ve met with Julija, who is actually my very very very old and dear friend. We know each other since we were 13 years old, we were very close friends and when we reached 16-17 we just stopped talking, nothing happened, just our lives have changed, and we’ve met in audition room after not seeing each other for around 3 years. This part was crazy and it was more or less clear that a destiny brought us there to make that film together. After a film we became inseparable. Being more particular about Auste, I was really impressed by that kind of a character, positive and happy lesbian character, who knows herself, who is confident and who is accepted by her family (mother). Usually LGBT characters are shown in more melancholic way and I think we need to show more positive stories to inspire the ones who are still fighting with their sexuality to accept themselves and enjoy the love.
Can you tell us where your inspiration, knowledge, perhaps even experiences came from for playing Austė? For sure there was a good guidance by the director Kavaïté, however the way you portrayed the role it depended solely on you.
Me, Julija and Alante (director) became friends, we were spending a lot of time together, talking a lot and just enjoying our time together even before shootings. That helped us a lot during all the process, we were friends who built a world together and lived in it for some months. As it was my first ever role in a film, I was following Alante and absorbing every word of her. Though all of her guidance worked with everything what I’ve had in mind about Auste. First of all I’ve found an animal of her which is fox. Auste is cute and charming fox and sometimes a Teddy Bear, when you really need it. I am a ‘giver’ one by myself, so just needed to work on that part of mine even more and be very open, loving and sincere. For the lesbian sex part of the character, I watched The L World and talked a loooot with my lesbian friends, because we wanted to make it as real and beautiful as possible. To get the flow for the character I watched many films from 40s, 50s and 60s and listened a lot of music from that time. And I was madly in love at that time, that probably helped too : ))
Do you think that sexual orientation of the actresses and/or director matter in making a lesbian film? I know acting is acting and good acting shouldn't influence the performance of which ever form of love portrays, however do you think that a certain experience adds to the quality of the role portrayed? Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, equal, free, democratic relationships and world)?
I don’t think that sexual orientation or gender matters. I do believe that everyone of us is bisexual, some more into heterosexual part, some more into homosexual part, some equally in love in both genders. I don’t think that I would play a lesbian character better if I would have had more experience with girls, after all, love is what matters. It would be worse if I would have never been in love before the shooting.
I think film or in general art shouldn’t portray certain values or attitudes just because it’s progressive or trendy now, you should want to talk about it and care a lot about that matter. However nowadays I see another a bit dangerous thing when many people try to talk about it just because it’s “not good not to talk about it” without really caring, believing and changing the world.
I read that after playing Austė you, your co-star Julija Steponaitytė (who played Sangailė) and director Kavaïté got many love letters, how that made you feel?
Surprised and inspired! I could have never imagine how many people from all over the world would be inspired by the film and get connected with characters and the story. The most amazing thing is that even though the film was released in 2015, we still get so many beautiful letters from people who got inspired by The Summer of Sangaile! People’s love is the greatest award.
In 2016 you stared in Kings' Shift directed by Ignas Miškinis and the short film Back directed by Gabrielė Urbonaitė. Both films premiered at the Vilnius International Film Festival. Can you tell us about those roles and alongside the role in The Pagan King (2018)?
Julija, Alina and Lauga. All of them are very different. Julija in Kings’ Shift is typical up and coming millenial, who doesn’t care much about anything but fun and easy life. She works at the private hospital as a nurse, just because her grandpa was an important doctor etc. That kind of a person, who is not bad by herself, she just grew up in particular circumstances. She has everything, but in fact doesn’t have anything. She is lost and she doesn’t even understand that. Alina in Back was more or less a small and joyful cameo in my friend and really good director Gabriele Urbonaite film. Lauga in The Pagan King is my first ever lead female role in English were I worked with such an amazing actors like Edvin Endre and James Bloor. Lauga is a pagan girl who became queen and managed to remain that wild spirit. I had to learn how to throw knives, fight with swords, ride a horse, hold grass snakes in my hands, get well super fast with dogs and of course how to love and trust without any doubt. Julija, Alina and Lauga were such a pleasure and joy to live in!
You played Marina Malich in Kharms by Ivan Bolotnikov (2017). How come you decided for that role and you played Joana in Ashes in the Snow (so called Baltic Schindler's List, 2018) based on the best-selling book Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Both films are about the times of the Soviet Union.
Marina came to me out of the blue. Casting director just wrote me on Facebook and asked if I can speak in Russian, I said “no, but I can learn” and that’s how it all started. Beautiful journey of Marina, from shootings in Saint Petersburg to the premiere in Shanghai IFF. One friend was helping me with a language, another friend was translating a small book of Marina memoirs from Russian to Lithuanian and all people around were just supporting me a lot. I fell in love with her from the first sentences, such a character! Such a story! Filmmakers should make a film based on her life, seriously! I would always remember my days off and shooting days in Saint Petersburg, walking around city, museums and exploring everything through Marina’s eyes.
Ashes in the Snow is a very special film for me too. It all started with readings of script some years before shootings and ended up with a beautiful story based on a great book. Joana is that sparkle of joy and happiness in a scary, sad and tough world in Siberia that reminds you about the bright days before the war.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects? I watched an interview where you mention actresses like Merly Streep, Irene Jacob, Tilda Swinton and Ingrid Bergman as your biggest inspiration.
Love. In all possible and impossible ways and senses, love is my biggest inspiration. Love for people, world, life and amor. Actors, books, films, art, fights for good, it all melts in the power of love.
I’m very superstitious and never talk about the future, because I know very well from my own experience, if I say something, that usually doesn’t happen or happens in a bit different way. So let’s say, we’ll see.
1. Viv Schiller and Germana Bello, Brazilian screenwriters, co-creators and producers of the excellent lesbian Web series RED (2014-). I read several interviews with you two about the series and what you wished to accomplish with it. I don't wish you repeat the same story again and again, however some of our readers do not know the story. Can you please tell us what the four seasons of the RED are about, what is it between Liz Malmo (Ana Paula Lima) and Mel Béart (Luciana Bollina) that is so appealing to lesbian and bisexual women all around the world: it seems like you followed a certain story-and love-telling structure: in first season there was an attraction between Liz and Mel, then there was desire for each other, after that was fulfillment of the desire and in fourth it was about trust and fidelity while acknowledging and engaging into a long-term relationship? Where the main idea for the the first lesbian-themed Brazilian story came from?
Germana: Yes, that’s basically how the story unfolds throughout the seasons. Additionally, I would say that Mel and Liz’s story is not just about love but also about self-exploration. It’s about being in a relationship that confronts you with questions about yourself, about who you are and what you really want from life. It’s been a long journey for both of them since Season 1 not only as a couple but also as individuals. So, even when they are going through that journey side by side, there’s the solitary aspect of it, and both of them have changed a lot.
Viv: It came from the idea of telling a love story that is genuine and, at the same time, realistic - one that other women could relate to.
2. What I found especially intriguing, engaging and with added value is that each component of the series, script, directing, scenography, music has an added value in itself: first there is a great love story, actresses have an incredible chemistry and their acting provide with the plausibility of their love story, visuals are highly artistic (through use of the paintings in the first season, through use of the occasional blurred picture in the second and the third season), music seems to tell or add another layer to the story, like an additional line of the script, directing is brilliant in a way that organize all components in a good composed unity and we get a highly artistic product. In this sense your series truly stands out and we rarely see it nowadays: how come you decided for such a highly artistic product for a webseries and most importantly lesbian webseries?
Viv: That only goes to show that we can have a low-budget series that is as creative as a high-budget one, regarless of its genre or content. But, mainly, we wanted to deliver a good story with the best quality possible - technical-wise. Also, the talent of everyone involved is something quite relevant and I am very proud of our team.
Germana: RED, like any other cinema or TV content, is a co-creation, and we were lucky enough to have so many talented people reunited to bring it to life from the start. Everyone in this collaborative process adds some kind of value to what we are creating and plays a part in what we have as a final product. As for the aesthetics and the artistic quality of the series, I have to acknowledge Fernando’s work. His sensibility as a director and as a cinematographer has a major role in what we have accomplished.
3. Do you think that sexual orientation of the screenwriter(s) or film director matter in a lesbian and/or bisexual-storyline, if yes why?
Viv: I think so, yes. Not only because it helps develop a more genuine story, but also because the process of creating the characters comes from a place of understanding.
Germana: Yes, I think it does. But, mostly, because LGBTQ+ stories have been told by straight creators for so long and I think it’s time for us LGBTQ+ creators own our narratives. On the other hand, as creators, I don’t think we should limit our stories to our own experiences. Understanding can also come from putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and empathize with what they go through being who they are. That said, I still believe it’s possible for straight creators telling good LGBTQ+ themed stories.
4. Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, free, democratic relationships and world)? For instance, philosopher Walter Benjamin thought that art should be politically and culturally engaged; for philosopher Alan Badiou art is a production of infinite subjective series and experiences (which should aim toward creating peace), for Jean Beaudrillard art is nothing more then simulation, however. What do you think?
Viv: I think art has to be relatable. Doesn't necessarily has to portray values. It just has to be as relatable as possible.
Germana: I think art should be anything the artist wants it to be. If it comes from a genuine place, if it has some truth within it, it will have something valuable to state and add to people’s lives.
5. What are your experiences and impressions from Clexa-Con Even in April this year, you were the only international crew that attended it, how was meeting your fans? Why do you think you have such a wide range of fans from all over the world and how do you feel about it?
Germana: It was amazing and a pretty intense experience. We were very happy to, finally, being able to meet and really talk to so many people that have been supporting us. Also, ClexaCon is such a safe place for our community. You can feel the love and camaraderie all around. It’s really inspirational.
Viv: I wasn't there myself, but REDlovers are so supportive of our show I'm just glad that we have them by our side. We have more supporters than I could ever consider having. They're such sweethearts!
6. Can you tell us what comes next for Liz and Mel in the fifth season?
Viv: Can't. Sorry. Mel and Liz won't let me. :)
Germana: So, I guess I’ll be the one to spill some beans… Without giving to much away, I would say the journey in Season 5 will be more like a soul searching for both Liz and Mel. They will be trying to come to terms with who they are now after everything they have gone through together.
7. What are your biggest inspirations (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
Viv: Tough question. But I really like realistic stories. I like scandinavian films, and I am a big admirer of people who are awfully good with words. I love writers. Best artistic category ever. :)
Germana: It was amazing and a pretty intense experience. We were very happy to, finally, being able to meet and really talk to so many people that have been supporting us. Also, ClexaCon is such a safe place for our community. You can feel the love and camaraderie all around. It’s really inspirational. As for the international feedback, we’ve always meant to create something that could resonate with people worldwide so I’m glad we've succeed.