Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Interview with filmmaker Nicole Zwiren

Gods As My Friends will premier at the Straight-Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival

*How did you get into making films? 
I was going to UCLA and I took a History of French film class, which got me interested in film in general. I had a roommate who wanted to apply for the film school at UCLA so I copied her and applied for the school too. I didn't get into the school but I scored an interview. (Only a small percentage of applicants got asked for an interview. My roommate didn't get that far.) Two years in a row, I had scored the interview, but did not pass the interview stage of the admission process. I ended up majoring in African American Studies so that I could have an emphasis in Theater Film and Television, which I found was the only way to major in such a program without having to go to the film school at the time. I couldn't find any other regular major with a Theater Film and Television emphasis option in it. Anyway, I really wanted to make documentaries because it was the easiest way I could film things and not have to come up with a pre-planned out story or schedule...I thought. I originally wanted to be a famous singer or actress, but I never pursued these options because I thought the competition would be too vast. I ended up going to Chapman University for my Master's degree after I graduated from UCLA and I learned to become a great sound mixer and documentarian. That was when I began to shoot my documentary about my sister, in 2009. That is the film you are screening in this festival...It's called, "The Gods As my Friends." 

*What inspired you to make your movie? 
My sister, Jacqui, was always such a great role model for me...up until she went off to college and became INSANE. That's what made her so interesting. She dropped out of Brown University to become a Buddhist nun and lost her mind in the process. Our family has a history of mental illness, but I didn't think my sister could ever become what she did. She was epically creative and wrote her own music, books, and created hundreds of drawings and paintings. 

*How has your style evolved? 
I sort of became more of a perfectionist, when I thought I was an anti-perfectionist when it came to filmmaking before. But through the editing process I feel I have never truly finished editing the film. My sister died during the making of the documentary about her. You'll find out why from watching the film. I feel like she ended the editing process for me by making both of my video editing laptops break at the same time. My husband, who is the official editor of the film, also thinks that Jacqui broke the computers, but his theory is that she didn't want us to ever finish editing her film so she was prolonging the process by breaking my computers. 

*Tell us any strange or funny stories while making the film? 
I thought it would be funny to make a film about my sister because she had a great sense of humor, and nothing was ever boring in her life. But she wanted to be a Buddhist nun, which is kind of the antithesis of excitement, because you have to sit and meditate all day to try and achieve enlightenment. The problem for Jacqui, was the sitting still part. She used to be so good at it. She practiced Buddhism since age 14 and all through high school. She would ignore me constantly because she would be too busy sitting and doing nothing. Somehow, something in her brain snapped when she wanted to go all the way and become a Buddhist nun at a monastery in West Virginia (after dropping out of Brown). She was kicked out of the Buddhist monastery for her odd behavior (I'm not sure exactly how odd she was acting but she believed she needed to hold her breath for 7 minutes in order to reach enlightenment so she was probably trying to get other monks to help her do this). And then she went back to Brown and was kicked out for running around naked on campus. So then she went across country as a hitch-hiking prostitute and lived a pretty experimental lifestyle for quite some time. Anyway, the point is, that during the filming of her documentary, she believed that she was already enlightened and that meditation was unnecessary for her because she had already gotten the most out of it that was ever possible. So I just thought it was funny that she was telling the lay people at the Buddhist temple that she already reached enlightenment and that meditating to her was useless. And she was dressed in full nun-garb with a shaved head while saying this. Her bout as a nun didn't last as much as a couple of weeks during the filming of the documentary. She took too many of her antidepressant meds and ended up in a coma for a couple of days. Then ironically, she ended up marrying an orthodox Jew. The whole story is pretty much in the film and there's more to it than what I said in this Q&A. 

*The Misrule Film Movement & Pink8 manifesto bring what to mind? 
I think they are pretty cool. I wish I knew about them before getting my film into this film festival, but I'm flattered that the film still got in despite my film not following all the rules of the manifesto. I myself, having been through the most schooling ever, don't believe that schooling is necessary to make a great film, but I have an addiction to classroom environments. 

*What can we expect from your next film?
 My next film is a documentary about how my daughter was born and the story of two or three other women's births. It will discuss issues about toxicity that we expose our children to in the world, from the mothers' points of views.