Jennifer Dworkin’s Labor of Love (and Diane)
by Eugene Hernandez
Most people caught wind of “Love and Diane,” Jennifer Dworkin’s first feature documentary, when it was listed on the lineup for last year’s New York Film Festival. It was news that also caught the director by surprise. “I thought it was a mistake,” she told indieWIRE this week on the eve of the film’s debut at Film Forum in Manhattan. “I didn’t realize that the film had been sent to them; (the New York Film Festival) was really beyond my ambitions for this film.”
“Love and Diane” is a powerful and accomplished film about Diane Hazzard and her daughter, Love Hinson, two women from broken homes who are trying to bring an HIV-positive baby into the world. Young Donyeah, born just days before the film begins, grows up before our eyes, but not before being sent into foster care as his family copes with past problems and ongoing pain. This portrait of a formerly drug-addicted grandmother and her daughter as they struggle with public assistance and the social services system, can be considered a wake-up call to America. At a time when so much attention is focused upon problems overseas, “Love and Diane” is a reminder that people go through trials, tribulations, and tragedies in our own neighborhoods every day.
While a volunteer teacher in a Harlem homeless shelter more than a decade ago, Dworkin met Love and Diane’s relatives and then became aware of their story, later meeting Diane while Dworkin was in graduate school in New York (the director is still pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at Cornell University but is currently on leave).
“At the earliest stages of the film it was really a home movie project,” the first-time filmmaker told indieWIRE, “I had no thought that anyone other than me and the people in the film would be interested in this.” Upon deciding to turn this project into a documentary, Dworkin secured grants from ITVS and other organizations, with Women Make Movies (the group that is now distributing the film) as her fiscal sponsor. Among those on her team, along with Women Make Movies, was editor Mona Davis (“The Farm”), executive producer Jennifer Fox (“An American Love Story”), and cinematographer Tsuyoshi Kimmoto (“Go Monk Go”).
Calling her early festival career “a series of disasters” and rejections, Dworkin did finally debut win the Golden Leopard at Locarno before receiving widespread acclaim following her debut at Lincoln Center. “[The New York Film Festival] really represents the best of the best to me,” Dworkin explained. “The T-shirts listed the directors names on that back, and I still can’t believe that my name is there with all those others.” The festival created a special moment for her, and also for Love, Diane, their family, and the filmmaking team. “Everyone at the heart of my film was there (at the New York Film Festival) and they got a standing ovation,” Dworkin recalled. “We went out for lunch — all of these people that had worked so hard on the film — and everyone seemed so happy and so thrilled that they received this recognition and that people were interested in their lives.
Continuing, she added, “Diane’s kids were newly impressed with their mother, they hadn’t realized how much she had really been through in her life.” The movie later screened at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in November followed by Sundance 2003, and then Dworkin’s win of the $20,000 Truer Than Fiction Award at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards. The film also recently won the MTV News doc award at Full Frame and the grand prize at One World in the Czech Republic.
“We’re really trying to reach out to two very different kinds of audiences,” Dworkin explained. “On the one hand I am doing interviews and festivals (to reach) culturally knowledgeable people. On the other hand I really want to bring in people who wouldn’t normally go to an arthouse screeening.” She said that was so that people can “really get a feel for what life looks like from Love and Diane’s perspectives.”
Admitting that she is anxious about the film’s theatrical opening, Dworkin explained that she was recently reassured by Diane Hazzard. “She said there is nothing to worry about with the box office, because everyone from Queens is coming.”
“I never really thought that a theatrical release was a possibility,” Dworkin said. In fact, “Love and Diane” will later play at theaters in Pleasantville, NY, Chicago, and Brookline, MA, before later airing on the PBS doc series “P.O.V.” Dworkin concluded, “I always felt that this was a film, in a sense, that it would be at its best in a theater. The films that have theatrical release in the end are really a product of personal obsession.”