Interview with Filmmaker Claire Downey (&YOU)

&YOU played to rave reviews at the April 2020 Documentary Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Claire Downey: A long list of things, but the short answer would be a feeling of injustice. I saw Caroline’s case fall apart in real time. It broke my heart. I felt like my documentaries team’s talents and my own personal experience with sexual assault was a good combination to give Caroline a small fragment of justice through telling her story.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It started as a one semester long project, and ended up spilling over into two semesters once we realized we had something special. All in all it took about 7-8 months from conception to sending it out to our first round of festivals.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Bittersweetly authentic

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

A lot of ethical dilemmas come into play when you are depicting someone’s trauma. I think always prioritizing Caroline’s personal truth over dramatization in post production was essential for our team to do her story justice. This wasn’t necessarily an obstacle as much as something I was constantly obsessing over. Having her be the face of this documentary also but her under a decent amount of heat from people that sided with her attacker. In a lot of ways we put her in a vulnerable position by putting her on screen, and despite her agreeing to be in the documentary – I had a lot of guilt over that.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was honestly crazy! It’s been an entire year now since we ended post production, and I haven’t interacted with my own documentary in probably five months. I found the feedback to be extremely refreshing and it reminded me of why we made this film in the first place! It was also really satisfying to have others notice all the small editing details we put in that were very intentional.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

I was in group therapy with Caroline when her assault case fell through the cracks, and this was during a semester right before my senior year of which I would be making a thesis documentary for my major. Everything lined up to be too perfect to not take a chance. Selfishly, I wanted to make a documentary for people like me. I have seen many famous documentaries that handle rape cases and although some do better than others, there is a lack of intimate perspective. I wanted to create that for other survivors, and I am proud to say that I think my team and I pulled that off.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Probably Practical Magic. It’s one of my moms favorite films and we always watch it together whenever I go home to visit. Even though I have seen it many times it never gets old to me. The music, set design, and acting are all just top notch. I’m also huge sucker for strong sister-bond themes in movies and who doesn’t love late 90’s Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman?

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

FilmFreeway was a great starting place to get our film out into the realm of festivals! We were still in college when we started submitting to festivals, and it is safe to say that we didn’t know very much about how the filmmaker world worked. It was a great introduction to the festival world, and we have been lucky enough to be featured in about 17 (some outside of FilmFreeway) in person and online festivals around the globe.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

I have no idea, but based on my Spotify song of the decade it was Everything Now by Arcade Fire. Which is funny because it came out in 2017. Needless to say I listened to that album on repeat for a year after it came out so I guess that makes sense.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I had just started preproduction quandaries for a new documentary right before COVID-19 happened, so only time will tell if the idea will ever manifest into an actual project. I was lucky enough to find a media job at a public service organization after graduation, and as of right now I just became the new manager of their media team. I’m hoping that gaining experience in public service as well as managing a team will help me gain necessary skills to get to my goal of directing a full length documentary before I’m 30. Lofty, maybe – but I’m still going to try.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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