Catherine Gund, the Director and Producer of MAKING GRACE, has a lot to share about her experiences during the creation of this awesome project. Below are some of her answers to questions asked about this film.
Why did you make MAKING GRACE?
There was a "lesbian baby boom" happening in this country and nobody was making a movie about it. I wanted to follow a couple of lesbians or two couples or three and see where their journeys to become families would take them. There are many ways to become a lesbian family: adoption, having a known-donor, various kinship situations (i.e. nieces and nephews), having children already from a previous heterosexual relationship, or using an anonymous sperm donation. I knew people who had done all of the above. I had personally chosen the route of known donor. I wanted to learn about another choice, so I began to film couples who had chosen to use anonymous donors. Some already had kids or babies, some were pregnant and some were just thinking about it all. I asked them to tell me their stories, their hopes and dreams, their very thoughtful plans.
How did you choose to focus the film on Ann and Leslie?
I filmed preliminary interviews with about eight couples, including Ann and Leslie. Ultimately, it was a simple choice. Ann and Leslie were well poised to be the subjects of the film because they're not at all self-conscious in front of the camera or with each other; they're down-to-earth and honest; they were willing and eager for me to work with them; and at the time we started shooting, they were just starting out themselves. I wanted to work with people who were starting out... and who had a sense of humor about the whole thing, especially about themselves.
What about Grace?
Well, I lucked out. You can't know what's going to come along when you do this kind of verité filmmaking which is why I love doing it. I was hanging out with these women for almost a year before they got pregnant, and then nine months of worrying (mostly on Ann's part) and then out comes the cutest little baby girl. Grace is excellent. I guess I should say that Ann and Leslie lucked out.
What was the process of making this film?
After the preliminary interviews and the choice of Ann and Leslie, I filmed for three years. It took a year for Ann to get pregnant following her ectopic pregnancy; then there were nine months of pregnancy; and I filmed the first year of Grace's life. The film ends with her birthday party on Staten Island. I shot very simply on mini-DV using a great little, relatively old, Sony camera. I did all of the filming and sound alone so as to minimize the intrusiveness on their lives. A big crew can be intimidating and that can be reflected in self-consciousness or other ways of being unnatural in front of the camera. It was always just me and them, usually before or after we had a meal together. Over that time I got about sixty-five hours of video which is cut down to about 80 minutes.
While you were spending so much time documenting their lives, did Ann and Leslie ever seem NOT to notice your presence?
Not really. I can't say I ever felt like they forgot I was there. But I also never felt like they changed what they were saying, feeling, doing just because I was there. They're not very self-conscious people. Also, I think it was a good opportunity for them to explore some of the issues I was raising and to get a reality check: "Yes, people do this all the time and it's nerve-wracking and exciting and exhausting and life-altering and joyful and frustrating..." But also, "No, not everyone has to explain themselves constantly and defend their most basic and natural actions and reactions." They were in the spotlight already in their families, in their communities, in their neighborhoods, and now in the film. It didn't seem like a big leap. Ann's father, however, took the camera from me one time and turned it around to film me. We all laughed, but I could tell my recording was a bit wearing on other people who are in the film, if not directly on Ann and Leslie.
Has Ann's sister Mary seen the film?
Yes, and she loves it. She was a gift to the film because she embodies the mainstream, heterosexual position and beautifully demonstrates how love and respect for your family member will take you miles ahead in terms of acceptance and more love. She's moved so far beyond tolerance that it gives me great hope. It reminds me of the old-fashioned idea that knowing and caring about someone who is different than you can teach you much about love and kindness.
Ann's parents are also presented in a very candid light. They are mainstream; they are scared; they are resistant to change. Yet, they are wonderful; they are supportive; they come through for the Krsul-Sullivan family again and again. They are two of the best grandparents I've ever met. After the film was completed Ann and Leslie moved to Michigan, to the same remote, rural area where Ann's parents and sister's family live. Most queer people I know move AWAY from their families of origin, not into the house next door!
How was that move to Michigan?
They love the lake and their house and being around Ann's family. They're starting to make friends, and they go into Chicago for special outings. But Leslie and Ann have talked with me about how difficult it is to be outside of an urban center, especially when they were used to living in NYC. For example, they were rejected by a church. (They found another one, Episcopalian).
One of the clearest examples Leslie gave me was that when they go to restaurants with their children family night out waiters routinely ask if they want separate checks. How's that for invisibility, erasure, denial? That makes me sad, and it's going to be a powerful context for the kids to grow up in. Having Ann and Leslie for their stalwart examples, those kids will surely grow up committed to social justice and fighting for what's right.
There are no second parent adoption laws in Michigan, and the women were told not to bother going through the process in New York because it might not be recognized in Michigan. So they're flying by the seat of their pants, as it were.
What other material about alternative families exists?
Not a lot. Gay marriage is in the mainstream press a lot these days. There are some docs about gay men making families, like Daddy and Papa which I love, as well as Paternal Instinct which came out last year and a few others. But there were none about lesbian mothers. There's a documentary about single mothers and of course many about lesbians who aren't mothers. Making Grace is still the only one that focuses on lesbian moms.
What's your feeling about the gay marriage climate that this film is being released into?
I think Making Grace can be very useful in countering the nightmarish imagery perpetuated by the evangelical right wing of evil, child-molesting queers who set a terrible example for their children and raise deranged kids. Making Grace tells a universal story, a very mainstream story really. A viewer might even forget that it's not your "regular family" being depicted here. Many eager couples have faced infertility issues and even more potential viewers have weathered the wonder and craziness of pregnancy and childbirth. I think we need more and more stories about real people and what their real lives look like. I don't think the mainstream of the gay community realizes that either. For me it's not about looking like everyone else. It's about figuring out how to love and live in a way that works for you, your family and your community, and celebrating the diversity that's contained there, not squashing it.
What is a memorable moment from the making of the film?
Of course it was the birth of Grace. Ann was incredible. As you can see in the film, that baby was big. She came out looking like a three month old. We couldn't film the actual birth because of liability issues for the hospital, but it worked out for the best anyway. I was happy just being there, all of us together, to help and support Ann and the baby entering the world. As my mother says, seeing a baby be born is one of those things everyone should do before they die. And then Grace had that gorgeous red hair. Also, the sweet nurse who ties Leslie's identification tag on her wrist and the first person to ever call Leslie "Mama" later told us she is a lesbian too. That was perfect.