Filmmaker Spotlight: Interview with Gaby Leyner
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get into filmmaking? I’m originally from Hoboken, New Jersey, a small town right outside of Manhattan. I grew up next-door to the bar we ended up filming my short, Mouchette on East 4th in. As a child (and like so many children), I was enchanted by that exotic, magical, eerily mesmerizing experience one has sitting on a couch across from the DVD player and TV set. I’d obsessively collect and watch films over and over again, sometimes the same film several times a day, every day. My dad started taking me into Manhattan, to IFC Center, Film Forum, and Anthology Film Archives. I truly feel like that is how I got into filmmaking, in this completely naïve, untutored form (which was a form of obsession), I think I was actually engaging in a rudimentary kind of study. The scope of what kind of movies I would watch broadened as I matured. I ultimately decided I wanted to study film at the New School, conveniently a couple of blocks away from IFC, I might add.
Fast-forward (to use one of those cinematic terms that has become so thoroughly colloquialized) to the present. I live in Brooklyn and have been working in development and production. I’m currently self-funding my second short film.
Why did you make your film? I started thinking about what means of expression and articulation might be at one's disposal when feeling excluded from a conversation. I wanted to pose this question in a unique and vivid way. I had been working on a couple of scenes, when I was a film student, that involved a couple arguing about movies at a bar. I knew I wanted to make a movie about not being heard, gender being the most conspicuous reason in my short. I was acutely aware of how few female directors were on the syllabi and how underdeveloped female characters are in mainstream cinema. Too often women aren’t provided enough agency in movies. Also, as I started working on sets, I noticed and resented the “boys club” nature of movie-making. I knew I wanted to make a piece that attempts to unpack some of these layers of female exclusion. In Mouchette on East 4th, Lilah counters her date and the bartender’s attempt to humiliate her with a performative discourse that is originally hers. She’s not going to contend with these two guys by using the very discourse that was designed to subjugate her. After feeling completely marginalized, Lilah’s surge of courage makes way for her political awakening, she becomes empowered. Her reenactment of the scene from Robert Bresson’s Mouchette, is a refusal, a counter assault, in her own language, that uses her whole body. Her reenactment is an act of resistance. It ends up becoming a sort of emancipatory performance. Ultimately, she uses a movie to regain her dignity. What was your favorite part about making the film? Rehearsing with my three actors, Hannah Rose Ammon, Josh Cameron, and Peter Falls. Knowing we only had two days to shoot, we rehearsed many times prior to our first shoot day in my tiny East Village apartment. Creating these characters and blocking each scene with them was such an immense joy. We listened to music as a tool to connect while improvising and reconfiguring scenes. Finally, seeing it all come to life during the actual shoot was a sublime experience. Even in the chaotic, pressurized frenzy on our set, I was truly memorized, watching that small monitor, it was a bewitching experience.
Most challenging? This may sound silly, but getting all of the equipment from Brooklyn to New Jersey became almost like some parody about a petite woman trying to make a movie. The men at the rental equipment warehouse gathered together and laughed at me as I tried to lug C-stands and apple boxes into my car. I shrugged it off, thinking to myself, that I felt marginalized, like the protagonist, in the making of this short film. What did you learn while making it? When you’re working on your first project, it’s very easy to doubt yourself throughout the entire process. I learned to really trust my instincts, despite what other more experienced people on your crew or other people in your ear advise. What impact do you hope this film will have? I hope viewers are moved in any way by Mouchette on East 4th. Like Bresson said in an interview, “I’d rather people feel a film before understanding it”. Even if all of the movie references or the patriarchal dominant language the men use doesn't “land” with a viewer, I hope there are aspects of Lilah’s refusal that resonate. Unfortunately, it’s fairly common to find yourself on a bad date with some elitist jerk who makes you feel like what you’re saying is silly and takes great glee in shutting you down with some obtuse and patronizing soliloquy. Taking control and restoring one’s autonomy is a challenge. I hope my film makes viewers think about ways in which they can counter these feelings of inadequacy and regain their voice.
What are you working on next? I’m currently working on a second short film. Quarantine has given me a lot of time to play with the script. I was hoping to start pre-production this summer, but of course everything is halted for now. The piece involves two young women, friends, who make videos of themselves eating and dancing on YouTube.
Where can we follow your work? Follow me on Instagram, @gabsleyner or my imdb, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4547131/ Thank you for making Mouchette on East 4th your “Short of the Week,” I’m incredibly grateful.