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Tribeca 2015 Women Directors: Meet Amy Kohn – ‘A Courtship’

Tribeca 2015 Women Directors: Meet Amy Kohn - 'A Courtship'

Amy Kohn is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and showrunner. Her documentary work has included the critically acclaimed “My Life as a Child” (TLC), which profiled children ages 7 to 11 who were given cameras to film their own lives. She worked as a field producer on PBS’ “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow,” as well as HBO’s “Suicide” and “Crank: Made in America.” She was an executive producer on “Running Russell Simmons” and co-executive producer on “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the “D” List,” “Steven Seagal: Lawman,” “Fashion Hunters” and “Running in Heels,” among others. Most recently, she executive-produced “The Edge of Eighteen” for Al Jazeera America and Jigsaw Productions. This is her first feature film. (Press materials)

A Courtship” will premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival on April 18.

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

AK: The film is about Courtship, a conservative Christian dating ritual where parents, in conjunction with God, search for their daughters’ husbands. For Kelly, the main character of my film, her own parents think she should meet a husband through dating and disagree with Courtship. Therefore, she decides to move in with “spiritual parents” to embark on a journey to find a spouse. The film documents that process.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

AK: I’ve always been interested
in religion, but religion can be a divisive issue. When I came across the concept of Courtship in an article about
Christian arranged marriage, I was intrigued. I didn’t even know
something like this existed in the United States, but I also thought, “Who
isn’t interested in romance? Who doesn’t consider the challenges of finding
a life partner?” I thought that relationships and romance could be an
interesting lens through which to discuss religion and could also bridge the
conversation gap across people from different belief systems.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

AK: Access was a big issue. The
conservative Christian community is not quick to trust the media. Many people
refused to even talk to me about Courtship. When I met the Wrights, they were
very open, but it took several months of getting to know each other before they
felt comfortable letting me film. Still, I think it took even longer
after that to gain their complete trust. 

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?

AK: Religion is divisive, and
people who are on different sides of religious issues rarely — or never — talk to
each other. This makes it easy to judge people on the other side of the issue.
This film shows that everyone, regardless of their belief system, struggle with
relationships and the challenges of finding love. I hope that this film
will open up people to the idea that dialogue is possible between people even
of very different faiths. There is always common ground.

Also, even if you
don’t agree with courtship — personally, I met my husband through Internet dating and would
never let someone else weigh in on my marital decisions or accept a marriage
where the man and woman weren’t completely equal in their roles — courtship still provides rich ground for discussing many issues that concern everyone
about romance. Chief among these is vulnerability and how and whether you can
protect yourself from heartbreak while at the same time being open to getting
to know someone. Courtship attempts to deal with this issue, and this film asks the
question of whether it is ever possible to “guard your heart” and
still find love. 

W&H: What advice do you have for other female filmmakers?

AK: First of all, I wish
it wasn’t still necessary to mention someone is a female director, because it is
more unusual and more difficult to arrive at success because of your gender. For me, the most important thing was confidence. When you are making a
film there will always be people who tell you it can’t work or your material
isn’t strong enough.

You have to believe in yourself and your work no matter
what anyone else says. I see a lot more men in the workplace who are confident
in their work, and that confidence isn’t always correlated with the quality of
their work. If you have something you believe is great, don’t let anyone
convince you otherwise. 

W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?

AK: This is my first feature and
I make reality TV shows for a living, so I think a lot of people think that I
set things up or lightly script the programs I work on. However, even
when working on reality shows, I don’t really do this. I’m very focused on
working with subjects, whether on TV on in my film, to get them to tell their
story with the most honest emotion possible. It is true that this process
can be somewhat different in reality TV than when making a documentary, but my
commitment to drawing out honest emotions from the people in my programs and
films is the number one driving force in my work. 

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

AK: This film was partly
crowdsourced and partly self-funded. I’ve dreamed for many years of making a
documentary. I came across this subject matter while doing research for a
reality TV show, but I knew that the uncertainty of romance and the possible years it might take for Kelly to find a spouse wouldn’t fit into the short
schedules of reality TV filming. I also knew that I wanted to explore nuanced religious
issues, which don’t always lend themselves well to television programs.

I
decided to make the film. I worked to save money, so I could take time off to
work on the film and pay for its expenses. People were generous, too, and
everyone worked for lower rates than they normally would because they were
excited about the project. 

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why?

AK: Probably “Clueless” by Amy
Heckerling. I thought the film was funny and smart, but it also had real popular
appeal. It also deals with a lot of the same themes I’m interested in and even
some ideas about how to find the perfect mate — themes explored in my film as
well. 

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