Christina Choe Attempts to Bring More Female Anti-Heroes to Movies with 'NANCY'
How many examples of female anti-heroes can you come up with off the top of your head? Probably not enough.
Brooklyn-based filmmaker Christina Choe has made a name for herself with her acclaimed short films The Queen, FLOW, and I am John Wayne. After being inspired by a story of an identity imposter in her own life, Choe is expressing those themes with what will be here first feature film. So if you're looking for more female driven anti-hero stories, here's your chance to get behind a promising project of identity and moral ambiguity. I talked with Christina about whether or not society is ready for female anti-heroes, the dangers of filmmaking labs and living in the age of a manufactured self.
Sometimes I think about how much social media is changing the psyche of the world. Presenting your best self, a manufactured self, a happy-vacation self, y'know?
NFS: When did you start making films and what's your background?
Christina: It's funny because there are people who have stories of their parents giving them a camcorder and making movies in their backyard. That's not me. I grew up in Jersey and my parents were immigrants from Korea and really wanted me to do the practical thing like be a doctor or a lawyer. I've taken this very non-direct route into narrative filmmaking. I started off doing very social conscious experimental documentaries and then went into the doc world, editing, and then started writing.
NFS: How has coming from documentary helped shape this project in particular?
Christina: With NANCY I think part of my fascination with it is the line between fiction and nonfiction and storytelling and performance and what's real and what's not. One of my favorite movies is Close Up, I just think that movie is so fucking amazing. It's those themes that I'm obsessed with. I don't know why...
NFS: Especially now with the way that we capture images and sound but also the perception that audiences have on what a performance is.
Christina: Sometimes I think about how much social media is changing the psyche of the world. Presenting your best self, a manufactured self, a happy-vacation self, y'know? The performance of your identity. It's just organic to people now, it's so engrained in the way we operate in the world now that we don't even think about it. When I was in LA I saw these four Japanese girls walking down Melrose with their selfie sticks out and just the idea that when you go to a concert everyone has to be experiencing it through documenting it. It's just bizarre because I remember a time when things weren't so mediated.
NFS: Especially themes of your film as I understand them, creating a persona from the ground up. You had a teacher that was lying about who he was. I think the question you ask in your Kickstarter video is really interesting: does it take away from the experience knowing that he was an "imposter?"
Christina: I think because I'm a storyteller I wasn't as upset because I found it so insane and fascinating. Clearly he fooled us, and for a lot of people they say he was the best teacher he ever had. But I'm sure if you were close to him and he was lying about all these other things, that could cause major trust issues.
NFS: What is it that interests you about the anti-hero?
Christina: There's just very few examples of women being morally ambiguous or duplicitous or these classic symptoms of an anti-hero character. But more and more it's part of our pop culture, every TV show has a character like that. Why have women been relegated to playing certain roles on screen? Why are there not more of these kinds of characters?
NFS: So you're saying women are just as duplicitous as men are.
Christina: Yeah. Of course! As a society we clearly enjoy these characters a lot, and it's actually a very successful commercial formula. Maybe it's just me and I'm crazy, but I'm just like what if NANCY was starring Matt Damon? Would we then have no issue with financing?
NFS: Especially if Matt Damon was playing a character named Nancy.
Christina: If he was in drag then we'd have 5 million dollars.
NFS: Do you think you've faced a lot of adversity just because of the fact that you have a female lead character?
Christina: It's not necessarily articulated as the reason all the time but I think it's a big part of it. That's what's challenging about getting into gender and representation in film. I think there's multiple reasons and I don't know if society would have a harder time accepting female anti-heroes and I think that's a bigger question.
NFS: It seems like female filmmakers are on the rise and it feels like there's a solidarity there, or a movement. How do you feel about this movement and being labeled as a female filmmaker?
Christina: There's multiple sides to it. Before this I feel like people tried to put me into the Asian-American box, and I did go through a phase of that. When we're at the point where the statistics are 50/50 then we don't need the throw this label around so much. But the reality is that it's not 50/50. I do take comfort in the fact that there is solidarity and there are other female filmmakers. But in my ideal world I don't want to be called that, I want to be known for the film and not because I'm a female. I don't want to be restricted by any kind of label.
NFS: So you've had a long road already to get to this point. How many labs did you go through with this script?
Christina: I started researching in 2012 and writing a script the same year. I think the first lab we did was IFP and then we did Venice Biennale. It was interesting to get out of the America indie world. I felt like my taste is more aligned with Europeans, they're not afraid of open endings or an ending that isn't tied up in a bow. They actually respond to that more, I feel like they expect that.
NFS: That reminds me of Paul Schrader's definition of American vs. European cinema. He says American movies are based on the assumption that "life presents you with problems" and European films based on "the conviction that life presents you with dilemmas." Problems being something you solve and dilemmas are just things you have to live with.
Christina: That's a great quote because I totally see that and feel that. Here it seems like "Okay, what's the arc, what's he gonna learn, how does it end? Is it happier?" It's just so boring. It just feels so limited of the human experience. That's not life. It can be sometimes but I just don't find that very interesting. It was cool to get other perspectives. Then we did the Hamptons screenwriting lab and then I just did the director's lab for Film Independent.
There's things you can do to practice directing and get better even if you're not green lit to go.
NFS: That's a lot of labs. What do you feel the biggest benefit of going through the labs are and does it take anything away for you?
Christina: It can be dangerous if you're the kind of person who takes every note and doesn't filter. I've seen it happen in film school where every single professor's notes get into the script and it's a mess. Maybe it's because the film school experience is doing all these genres of film before I was able to filter through numerous voices. But I think if you oversaturate with them you could really lose something, like the special part of your film. I've seen that happen a lot, not necessarily with labs but in film school. It can happen with any kind of institution.
The cool thing about the director's lab at Film Independent was that we got to practice scenes and work with actors. An independent film doesn't usually have that luxury. We had great mentors. When you're directing, which only happens once every few years -- if you're lucky -- it's cool do be practicing. I took an amazing acting class. You can do things to practice. The guy who wrote Chinatown took an acting class 3 times a week for 9 years. There's things you can do to practice directing and get better even if you're not green lit to go.