Let’s face it: we all have a bone to pick with our moms, though few can say they’ve confronted these issues with their mothers on camera and shown it across North America. Gayle Kirschenbaum, a TV-producer turned documentary filmmaker, is one of these glaring exceptions. On Thursday, August 6, Kirshenbaum will be premiering her documentary feature, Look at us Now, Mother!, at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
The journey to creating this feature started in 2007, after the release of Kirschenbaum’s award-winning short film, My Nose. As the title suggests, this film focuses on, well, her nose. Particularly the relentless criticism and shaming she receives from her mother on the size and shape of it, and their visits with plastic surgeons. The film accrued wide praise and press, even getting on the front page of The Washington Post style section, where the writer stated “If you have a mother like Gayle Kirschenbaum, you better get yourself into psychoanalysis.”
While premiering My Nose at numerous film fests around the world, Kirschenbaum was surprised by the amount of people who would approach her after the Q&A to talk about their own relationships with their mothers. “I started hearing everybody’s stories and realizing there are a lot of people who were suffering and had a lot of pain because of being raised by a critical or abusive parent,” She says. This led to Kirschenbaum creating a seminar called “Transforming Difficult Relationships” where she helped participants reframe how they perceived toxic people in their lives and learn to forgive. This inevitably gave her the inspiration to tell the full story of her relationship with her mother, digging past where My Nose left off.
“I never expected to turn the cameras on myself in such a deeply personal way,” Kirschenbaum says. “But I felt tasked to the job. I saw a need and so many people hurting, so I said, ‘Okay, I need to tell my story in a film.’”
Kirschenbaum’s documentary approach to Look at us Now, Mother! brings an unfiltered rawness to the screen, magnifying an often humiliating childhood, a ruthlessly critical upbringing and the damage carried over into her adult life. But the film is equally about her journey to forgiveness and developing a healthier relationship with her mother after her father passes away unexpectedly. The documentary contains lengths of home-video footage never meant to be released publicly, adding to the brutally honest narrative that exposes Gayle and her mother to themselves, each other and every person that watches the film. The interactions are both hilarious and sad, uplifting and off-putting.
Production of the film was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign in 2011, and the team will be starting another one this summer to raise money for distribution.
Tickets for Look at us Now, Mother!
McCormack Family Theater – Brown University
70 Brown Street, Providence