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Meet the 2014 Tribeca Filmmakers #21: Susanna Fogel Examines a Complex Female Friendship in 'Life Partners'

Indiewire By Ziyad Saadi | Indiewire April 14, 2014 at 2:35PM

Political inequality has long been an issue of protest among the LGBT community, but writer/director Susanna Fogel admits that progress has certainly been made in recent years. Her recent film "Life Partners," which tackles the relationship between a gay woman and a straight woman whose friendship is tested when a man comes into the picture, aims to allude to the ever-turning wheel of social development.
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Susanna Fogel

Political inequality has long been an issue of protest among the LGBT community, but writer/director Susanna Fogel admits that progress has certainly been made in recent years. Her recent film "Life Partners," which tackles the relationship between a gay woman and a straight woman whose friendship is tested when a man comes into the picture, aims to allude to the ever-turning wheel of social development.

Tell us about yourself. I'm a writer-director originally from Rhode Island, now living in Los Angeles. I've spent the past eleven years working with a writing partner, Joni Lefkowitz, and am now making the transition into feature directing thanks to this script we wrote together and our incredible producer Jordana Mollick. I realize that question was about me but I have to start by crediting my two collaborators who aided and abetted me taking this leap.

What was your biggest challenge in completing this project? The biggest challenge in this process was, ironically, related to exciting and relevant political progress. When we initially developed "Life Partners," first as a short play in 2011, then as a feature we workshopped at the Sundance Writers Lab, the politics (and political inequality) of one friend being a lesbian and the other one straight were a central focus of the plot. Although thematically the film is about an evolving friendship and the sexualities are incidental, the politics of that time contextualized it. And then, midway through the editing process, DOMA was overturned. As thrilled as we all were, we found ourselves faced with an unforeseen challenge as filmmakers: was our film suddenly going to become a period piece? Should it be one? What would be the most emotionally effective, progressive story we could tell given the change in the Zeitgeist? Ultimately, we chose to deemphasize the politics and keep the movie present-day, favoring the emotional journey of the friends. I'm hoping the result is that we've ended up with a film that normalizes a gay-straight friendship without overly politicizing the sexualities, making for a more accessible and contemporary film.

What do you have in the works? Right now, I'm developing another original script with my producer...and in the meantime am also really excited by the possibility of directing another writer's work. When Joni and I were starting out in our 20s, it was impossible to find directors well-suited for our material whenever it was from a female perspective. Not unrelated: every "meaningful" director on those lists was male! We watched as our male writer friends got their films about friendship, romance and coming-of-age made by up-and-coming feature directors, but it always felt like a much narrower target for us. So while I would never limit myself to female-driven stories, I would love to be thought of as a director to whom unique female writers can send their beloved but "execution dependent" scripts and execute them to the best of my abilities. And slowly help to change the marketplace one wry, heartfelt little movie at a time.

Did you crowdfund? If so, via which platform? And if not, why? With this project, we were lucky enough to find incredible investors and didn't need to resort to crowdfunding. That said, I realize I won't always be so lucky and try to learn as much as I can about those financing models to empower myself for future work in different budget ranges.

What camera did you shoot on? We used the Red Epic and shot the film in Widescreen. My DP, Brian Burgoyne, worked wonders with extremely limited resources.

Did you go to film school? If so, which one? I didn't! I studied English in college and approached filmmaking from a writing background, while trying to learn as much as I could about the technical side of things by making shorts and a webseries.

What films have inspired you? I love Nicole Holofcener's films for their constant duality of humor and emotion and their focus on very real, if flawed, dynamics between funny people. I also love the work of a French director named Cedric Klapisch, whose films ("L'Auberge Espagnole," "Russian Dolls," etc.) combine total naturalism with a fun, poppy style that makes them as widely accessible as they are smart. I love how his films sneak up on you: it's only after two hours of having fun as a viewer that you suddenly realize you are also feeling something truly profound. I aspire to be a filmmaker like that, whose work makes people laugh, feel and think without trying too hard.

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2014 festival. Go HERE to read all the entries.

This article is related to: 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, Meet the 2014 Tribeca Filmmakers , Susanna Fogel, Life Partners, Festivals