Nebbishy filmmaker Joanna Arnow documents her yearlong relationship with racially charged poet provocateur James Kepple. What starts out as an uncomfortably intimate portrait of a dysfunctional relationship and protracted mid-twenties adolescence, quickly turns into a complex commentary on societal repression, sexuality and self-confrontation through art.
What was the inspiration for the film?
I decided to make a personal documentary in the summer of 2010. For the past few months, I had been dating James Kepple, a provocative Texan poet, and he asked me to film the first night of his weekly open mic as a favor. That night we got into a fight though, and the audio was recorded without either of us knowing. While this moment had been painful at the time, when I listened back to the recording later I found it interesting that the same conversation became funny with some distance, and began to think about documenting the relationship further.
Tell us one story from when you were making the film that reminded you why you wanted to work on it in the first place.
There is a scene when I go to Brighton Beach to talk about my thoughts on the relationship and the ending of the film. But when I was trying to shoot the scene on one specific bench, all these Brighton Beach old-timers kept getting in my shot, and using the bench to get the sand off their feet while I was trying to wax eloquent about my feelings etc. I was frustrated while shooting, but later realized the ridiculousness of the situation – it reminded me how even though we try to shape and control elements of our work, there can be real freedom and humor when we allow ourselves to lose that control.
What was the most challenging part of making this film a reality?
I began editing this film just a few months after my boyfriend and I had broken up – because the film was about our relationship, post-production was slow-going at first.
What advice would you give to other DIY filmmakers struggling to get their projects off the ground?
I think the saying “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” is very applicable to independent filmmaking – it is important to keep moving projects forward and stay optimistic throughout the process, especially when there are setbacks.
For those who know nothing about this film, what is one thing you’d want to tell them?
I would say that the smiley face in the title is pronounced, and if you’ve ever wanted to watch someone pull their own tooth out, this film’s for you.