Leia’s Army

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Interview by Marie Dinolan


You stated that the goal behind your film is to illustrate the divide in everyday American families and to inspire a new generation to pick up a sign and fight for what is right. If we Americans continue to separate ourselves on issues we can’t disagree with, we eliminate any opportunity to work together on issues we agree with each other on. When you say “living with that” or “moving on” in your mission, what does that mean to you?

I think a lot of families in America have to avoid talking about important issues right now because otherwise, families truly would just fall apart. Divisions we never thought existed came out of the woodworks after the 2016 election. We’re no longer equipped to have responsible discussions about divisive issues, and it’s tearing us apart. And I do believe the media and social media exacerbate the problem because they remove the necessity to individually reflect on what we’re really saying. Sound bites and snarky memes replace respectful discussion – they’re quick and easy. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. But does sequestering ourselves into one side of an issue or another – and voting on single issues – does that allow any progress? Labeling people “good” or “bad” based on these issues… does that bring us closer together or farther apart? It may be easy to look at the character of Donna and think, “What a bitch.” But I painted her with some vulnerability and weakness. And the result is that a lot of viewers, instead of just calling her a bitch, ask questions about her. What is her story? How did she get to this place? Will she be able to accept her daughter? In asking those questions, perhaps we can open ourselves up to more meaningful discussion. Perhaps we can take the time to get to know our fellow citizens and calmly talk about these issues with respect and an eye to constructive cooperation. We may find we have more in common than we thought, which will then give us an opportunity to create the America we want. I do want younger generations to avoid complacency and get involved… but in a way that is smart and respectful, and without hiding behind a computer screen. Face each other.
 

It was interesting how you placed the grandmother on the side of Val her grandchild and the mother being deeply set in her own beliefs. As an audience member I was under the initial impression that the grandmother would be coming from a more 'old fashioned mentality'. What made you want to make the mothers character the only character with this specific faith? As an audience member I found myself wondering if at one point she tried to have the other family members convert to her beliefs as well. Was this part of the family history? And did you and the other actors talk about each of the characters background and beliefs before shooting?

One thing that struck me while I was at the Women’s March in DC was how many older women were there still having to fight for their rights. Grandma really grew up in the 1960s, that’s when she found her voice. And I think she sees a lot of her younger self in Val and her generation.
One thing we don’t get to see in a short film is a character’s larger story arc. Originally, we had written this as a feature film and then as a TV series (which we still intend to do), giving the audience more insight into each character. Donna’s story is that she and her husband were alcoholics, and while he chose AA and family life as his way out, she chose evangelical religion. So in this short film version, we are seeing glimpses of her religious choices affecting the lives of others even though she knows they are not on the same page with her. I want to make clear that this is not an anti-religion film. Being religious is one thing – and her family has no problem with that, if you notice all the crosses around Grandma’s house – but using the name of God to spread hate, in this case, against gays, and feeling encouraged to hate even more after this new administration came into power – that’s where Val and Grandma can’t get on board, and are willing to go against Donna to stand up for what they believe in. The actors and I had an opportunity to chat about each character’s history before the shoot. I just love that look in their eyes when it all clicks. It just empowers them to add new dimensions to the characters.
 

Tell us about the experience being at the march in 2017. How do you feel that changed your life not only as a citizen of this country, but also as a storyteller?

I travelled from Chicago to DC for the march, and met up with friends from New York and Toronto. We stayed with Jane, and spent the night before making the signs we would carry. Coming together and asking each other “What do you want YOUR message to say” was such an opportunity that we usually don’t give to ourselves or each other. We’ve gotten used to just blurting out random thoughts on the internet without much reflection because they’re so disposable. You don’t like it? Delete it. Scroll down on the newsfeed. Block that person. With this, it was like: you get one chance, one piece of cardboard. What a chance. And of course, once you’re at the march, you can no longer see your own sign because you’re holding it above you. Instead, you are reading and taking in everyone else’s signs, and then their faces. And often, there’s this moment of connection with someone, like you’re on the same page. That is empowering. Knowing that you are on the same page with someone, and that you all sacrificed a lot to be here, and that now you march forward together. What was more amazing was that at the time of the march, I was pregnant with my daughter, and didn’t know it. And looking back on that, I just think, “Wow. Her little feet were marching with me.” I was marching for myself, my fellow women, and for her, and her generation. Incredibly powerful themes for a storyteller, I’ll take those with me for the rest of my life.
Kirk Gostkowski