‘The Tale’: Jennifer Fox on the One-of-a-Kind Rollout That Made Her Stunning Memoir More Than a Movie

Writer-director Jennifer Fox spoke to IndieWire about her incredible efforts to drive discussion of "The Tale" beyond what's in the movie.
The Tale Laura Dern HBO
Laura Dern in "The Tale"
Kyle Kaplan/HBO

Jennifer Fox made a well-considered decision when taking her Sundance film to HBO, but she always wanted the conversation around “The Tale” to extend beyond TV. Her cinematic memoir, chronicling the filmmaker’s investigation into Fox’s repressed history of childhood sexual abuse, was always meant to serve as a bridge from tragedy to healing — for more than just one person.

“I want them to have a discussion that isn’t just about the film and the experience in the film, but also how the film relates to their lives,” the writer-director told IndieWire before its HBO premiere. “Obviously, the film is about this one traumatic event, but I hope it connects to many traumatic events; so either how it relates to your personal experience or people you know — friends or family — or also how you’ve told yourself stories in order to survive your trauma.”

“Like, let’s look at it both ways: Let’s investigate the film, but let’s investigate how the film relates to you,” she said.

Since its debut on HBO, the Emmy-nominated film has screened around the world. Following its breakout screening in Park City, Fox’s film has played at festivals including the Tribeca Film Festival (New York), Sundance London, the Transylvania International Film Festival (Romania), the Oslo Pix Festival (Norway), Filmfest München (Germany), the Durban International Film Festival (South Africa), and the Stony Brook Film Festival (New York).

But festivals are just part of the bigger picture. Fox and HBO have screened the film for a variety of organizations that share connections with the film’s story. Just a few of these “outreach screenings” include the National Association for Social Workers Conference in Washington D.C., Aspen Spotlight Health, World Childhood Foundation in Sweden, and Women in Film & Television UK. Some use clips to drive discussion, while others have in-depth conversations with Fox — and the audience.

The Tale Jennifer Fox - Director Quote
An image from “The Tale’s” discussion circle materialsHBO

Events like these deliver the film’s messages of self-reflection, acknowledgement, and hope to large groups who need them most, but Fox also took steps to facilitate conversations on a more personal level.

“We’re doing a big PR push to gather your friends and family and coworkers to watch it together,” she said. “Outside of HBO, we’re creating a home viewing guide, to help stir conversations, and a facilitator’s guide for professionals if they want to gather more people. Our whole push is ‘talk.’ We just want to start a new conversation.”

Anyone who signed up through the film’s website would receive a Google Drive link to discussion circle materials, including flyers to post on social media, a 24-page screening guide for individuals, a 30-page facilitator’s guide with statistics about abuse as well as steps to take action against it, a social media toolkit, and tips for discussion circle leaders, including how to support and help any viewers who were triggered by the film.

“You see in a film the goal of the filmmaker,” Fox said. “A lot of the time you see films where the goal of the filmmaker is either to become rich or famous, but when you see films that are really about someone expressing their art, you feel it. They are the films that stick in our social consciousness. […] I hope you can see that in this film.”

The Tale Common - Cast Quote
An image from “The Tale’s” discussion circle materialsHBO

Fox hoped combining her personal journey without a veil would help audiences connect in that way. “The Tale” is a blend of truth and fiction as only a documentary filmmaker could evoke, and Fox has been an accomplished documentarian for decades. This is her first scripted feature.

“I think it’s very much why it took me until my mid-40s to even recognize what the story was, and I think what you’re seeing is a mature filmmmaker. I’ve been making films since I was 20 years old. My life is my work; [I’ve] used making stories about other people to investigate myself, to understand myself.”

Fox said she wouldn’t have been able to make this film in her 20s, and she knows that because she tried.

“One of the things that’s funny is how we celebrate youth, but as an artist you need self-awareness in order to say anything,” Fox said. “I’m 58 now. […] In my 20s I could not have told this story. In my 20s, I tried to write this script, and I failed and threw it away. So it’s really about maturity and always being on a path of self-awareness. And frankly, I’ve done a lot of therapy — not for the film’s sake, but this is part of my life. I’m a Buddhist, and I meditate, and I’ve taught for years, and I’ve made films for years. All this goes toward some sort of self-reflection.”

Now, Fox wants to keep making films that utilize elements of fiction and documentary filmmaking.

“I want to continue making fiction,” she said. “For me, that is the new frontier in terms of my art. And to bring some of the power of documentary into fiction and just keep moving forward in mixing the mediums. […] To me, the form of a film should follow the story, and this form had to be fiction from the get-go. I never considered that this could be a documentary because nobody would talk. There was no evidence. Then the layer of trying to investigate what was in my mind — memory, and also when you can’t get an answer you’d go into fantasy to construct a story.”

[IndieWire’s Consider This series is meant to raise awareness for Emmy nominees our editorial staff and readership find compelling, fascinating, and deserving. Running throughout awards season, Consider This selections may be underdogs, frontrunners, or somewhere in between; more importantly, they’re making damn good television we all should be watching, whether they win or not.]

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