EDA Awards @ IDFA 2015 Filmmaker Interview: Ester Gould on A STRANGE LOVE AFFAIR WITH EGO

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Strange Love Affair With Ego won a Special Mention from the AWFJ EDA Award jury at IDFA 2015. Director Ester Gould’s very personal, brave and beautiful cinematic search for an understanding about her beloved older sister’s life and circumstances was one of ten films nominated for the AWFJ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary at IDFA 2015. The outstanding film is structured as a layered tapestry of memory, projection, re-enactments of letters and imaginings — all of which are woven together to become an affecting poem about the fragility inherent in all humans. IDFA’s notes on the film are copied below. Here’s what filmmaker Ester Gould has to say about her process in making the film.

AWFJ: How and why did you commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

Ester Gould: This is a big question with too many answers for this brief interview. But it boils down to the fact that this was a story I needed to tell.

AWFJ: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

EG: The film focuses on narcissism but not in the popular and rather negative definition of the term. I think I already felt that way, but I did learn during the research that dealing with self-love (a term I prefer) is part of everyone’s psychological growth. At the same time I realised that my idealisation of my older sister Rowan was very much my own perspective and projection. As a child, we all need to idealise heroes – we all have our own Supermen and Superwomen – and I came to understand that my adoration for my sister was very much my own construction. Going through her letters as a grown-up, I saw much more self-doubt than I could see at the time.

AWFJ: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

EG: I learned that it is incredibly important to use your intuition, your heart. I’ve worked as a researcher for other people’s films for years so I was used to being analytical, keeping an overview. Of course it’s still important be use your brain but with this film I tried harder to tap into my emotions during the filmmaking process. To have balls to not only think about what makes sense but also to take risks.

AWFJ: What were your biggest challenges? Filming conditions? Making a coherent story or creating impact through edited juxtapositions?

EG: The hardest thing was finding the right way to interweave my personal story with the scenes I had filmed with other characters. Or perhaps the hardest thing was allowing my personal story about my sister and I to be the backbone of the film. I never wanted to make a personal film but I guess I just hard to, despite my fear and dislike of that kind of “self-absorbed film”. Another thing that was hard was the editing process: balancing the critical remarks and my own blind spots with staying true to yourself.

AWFJ: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process? If so, please let us know how. If not, please let us know your thoughts about this question.

EG: I think it did. My sister Rowan always used to talk about the female gaze, she was definitely a full-blown feminist, and very interested in the female voice. I was the younger sister, less concerned with pushing envelopes perhaps and yet there was always her voice in the back of my mind. Although the adult female characters are struggling with ego, they are also strong and free and I wanted to capture my love for strong-willed women in the film.

AWFJ: What are your plans for the future? Do you have specific career goals? A ten year plan? What sorts of “ideal world” opportunities would make it possible for you to succeed?

EG: I don’t really have a 10 year plan, I simply want to continue with making films (and series, the coming year I will be making a documentary series for television) that I feel strongly about. I’m also finishing another feature-length film about Madonna’s ‘Blond Ambition’ dancers – those featured in Truth or Dare – and their own struggles with shame and self-expression. So enough work:-)

AWFJ: Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

EG: I have always admired the work of Ang Lee because I feel he constantly looks for the best form for the story he’s trying to tell. For this film, I was also inspired by The Hours by Stephen Daldry, since several female characters together tell one story. I remember watching that film and being so deeply touched by it. I also looked at Terrence Malick’s films because he has a remarkable ability to capture that sense of past, longing, melancholy. And although these are all male fiction filmmakers, there is of course Heddy Honigmann, with whom I worked together closely for about 10 years. She has been my own private “film school”, not that this film has her touch or style but more generally, I learnt from her how to never stop thinking during the filming plus how important casting is in documentaires.

AWFJ: What advice do you have for other female filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

EG: To kick ass and although I think doubting and rethinking and rethinking again are very important aspects of filmmaking, not to doubt yourself too much.

Ester Gould receives Special Mention EDA Award at IDFA 2015

Ester Gould receives Special Mention EDA Award at IDFA 2015

IDFA’s Notes on A Strange Love Affair With Ego: Ever since she was a young child, filmmaker Ester Gould has been amazed by the sheer self-confidence of her older sister Rowan, whose boundless creativity and natural beauty tended to make everyone around her jealous. She has the world at her feet, and the universe is her playground. But can such a well-developed sense of your own worth go too far? Self-assurance is greatly valued – until it spills over into an unhealthy overestimation of the self. In this incisive, personal visual essay, Gould explores our society’s increasing obsession with the self. Thanks in part to social media, the pressure to have a fantastically successful life is ever greater; personal development seems to be the only thing that counts. The filmmaker follows a number of seemingly successful people going out, socializing and participating in the art world, as they reflect in conversations or interviews on the level of self-confidence they display and how this relates to their actual “self.” Meanwhile, dreamy reenactments tell the story of the filmmaker’s sister Rowan, illustrated by excerpts from correspondence between the sisters. How marvelously everything is going; how fantastically she’s doing; she’s taking yet another inspirational course; she gets so many invites that there’s simply no time. Gould gradually starts to question her interesting sister’s stories, which leads to a disconcerting denouement.

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