A PLACE IN THE CITY was the winner of BEST FILM at the July 2018 LGBT FEEDBACK Film Festival in Toronto.
Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?
SV: The film was originally produced for an exhibition I curated at the Museum of the City of New York, “AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism,” which looked at the ways activists and artists mobilized home and family in response to HIV/AIDS. From the start, it was important to me that the exhibition extended to the present, to show how HIV/AIDS continues to impact people today and how the themes of the exhibition (caretaking, housing, and family) continue to resonate. Each part of the film looks at one of those themes, through an individual artist/activist and their larger social world: Ted Kerr and What Would an HIV Doula Do?; Wanda Hernandez-Parks and VOCAL NY; and Kia LaBeija and the house ballroom scene.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?
It was about four months from proposal to color corrections.
3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?
SV: Holding space (a phrase I borrow from What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective member Tamara Oyala-Santiago)
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Making sure our final cuts of the interviews did justice to activists and artists in the film, who shared so much of themselves and their work with us. And also, keeping Nate from getting run over when he was shooting the long Steadicam takes on the street.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
I was very moved to hear how the film resonated for audiences outside of New York City, where the film is based and where it was first shown. I was especially grateful for the comments from people working in AIDS services that the film was “warm, welcoming, and energetic,” and that it represented the lives of people impacted by HIV/AIDS in all their complexity, since that was a major goal for us in making the film.
Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:
6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?
In terms of form, one source of inspiration for me was Astra Taylor’s 2008 film Examined Life: I really admired how Taylor animated complex ideas simply by walking and talking with philosophers. At the same time, we wanted the film not just to represent individuals but also the larger worlds they traveled in, since community and family are such important parts of both art and activism. The film actually moves very quickly and frequently between interviews and community meetings, protests, and balls, to show how activists and artists move from ideas to action.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
SV: I think that would have to be Back to the Future, which I watched endlessly as a child on VHS and many more times as an adult. Looking back, I think it may explain how I came to be interested in American history.
NL: Sans Soleil by Chris Marker
8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?
NL: I have mixed feelings about the platform: it is convenient, fairly straightforward, and—importantly—streamlined. Often administrative work in filmmaking means doing lots of slightly different variations on grants, proposals, pitches and FilmFreeway standardizes some of that for festivals. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like you’re sending off an application into the unknown and it can be difficult to feel like you’re really making a connection with the folks on the other end.
9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?
SV: I’ll show my love for Canadian music and say a song that’s been permanently on my playlist for the last eight years: Owen Pallett’s “The Dream of Win and Regine.”
10. What is next for you? A new film?
SV: I am finishing a book, Queer Belongings: Gender, Sexuality, and the American Home After World War II, for University of Chicago Press, looking at the politics of LGBT home life from 1945 to the present. The exhibition AIDS at Home was based on a chapter of the book looking at HIV/AIDS domestic activism in the 1980s and 90s. I am also a visiting assistant professor in history, museum studies, and gender and sexuality studies at Bryn Mawr College, which has been a wonderful place to keep thinking about public history, social activism, and the politics of everyday life.
NL: I still work for the Museum of the City of New York, but in my free time I’m working on a film project that connects the experiences of recent refugees in a small Quebec City to the experiences of an older group of refugees (Jews fleeing Nazi oppression) who were imprisoned in the same city in the 1940s.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.