Interview with Director Poppy Gordon: “This film is a unifying act and gives me hope for the future.”

Poppy Gordon’s short film For Your Consideration is a brilliant comedic short film which takes a look at a group of women who come together to brainstorm ideas for an Oscar-worthy film. This film, which takes a snapshot of American culture and dares viewers to laugh and cringe at how it is manufactured, will be screening at the Oscar-qualifying festivals Rhode Island International Film Festival and Odense International Film Festival this month. We had a chance to catch up with Poppy to discuss her brilliant yet relevant film.

This film feels like a breath of fresh air. Like it was a long time coming, but not soon enough. Did the concept for this film come to you naturally as a result of all the recent movements? How did these movements manifest themselves in your own life?

I’m so glad you responded well to it. I actually had the concept for it about a year and a half ago and then Aldo Arias and myself spent about 6 months writing, workshopping and refining it to get it into its final camera-ready iteration. Then by the time the film actually came out, much of its subject matter had turned into the movements we see now in their current form. The concept did come to me pretty naturally though for sure as a result of just all that I was seeing around me and yes I was also being affected by it. Having been a female filmmaker and feeling systematically marginalized for many years played into it. Aldo and me both having immigrant backgrounds, as in – having outsider points of views on the forces that were shaping our commonly accepted culture definitely played a role in the characterizations of our perceptions. Also, the film speaks about class and how it often times fortifies its position even in situations where on the surface it intends to do good. So this sort of opportune tokenism was something that I was all of a sudden see pop up all around me, and it did seem to perpetuate the systems of exploitation in place, just this time under the guise of “helping”. 

The best stories always have a bit of truth to them. In this case, it is boldly screaming out the film industry’s truth for all to see. Was there any hesitation when you decided to make this film? 

That is a very poignant question. There wasn’t any hesitation on my part because since I was self-financing the film, I really wanted to speak my unique truth and not feel the need to self-censor out of fear of what I thought would be “acceptable” expression for someone in my position. I had a real need to speak my truth and participate in the larger conversations I saw taking place around me, and I wanted to go beyond the very binary and simplistic forms of articulations I felt surrounded by.

In doing so, I was also very aware that it was a kamikaze first time film and I was indeed concerned that I wouldn’t get into any film festivals, as in – no one would actually see my film – and not only that, that festivals would blacklist me forever moving forward. And luckily, we’ve gotten into far more festivals than I ever expected but still we didn’t get into some others, and of course I won’t know if I did actually upset certain programmers and if they have a little negative X next to my name for the future. But I take that into account, it was a bit of a call to intellectual arms, and a desire to dialogue with those in the position of power to determine who gets to be seen and heard at festivals as well as in our industry at large.

There is a lot of on-the-edge humor in your film, that must have been difficult to circumvent, but was clearly necessary to get the point across. In your own life, have you experienced people thinking to be ‘woke’, but in actuality are just following the current trend, which fuels more insensitivity to the cause?

Oh yes, I’ve definitely experienced some people thinking they were very “woke” but in reality, they were being incredibly self-serving and exploitative. I work as a commercial director when I’m not making my own films, and sadly I’m privy to too many disturbing sidebar conversations especially when it comes to corporate wannabe responsibility that I’ve found personally upsetting. I do try to speak up in the moment but none the less, it sticks with one. And I think Hollywood is in the business of trafficking, monetizing, capitalizing on stories of human suffering. And there is a responsibility in that and sometimes one can tell work comes from a genuine place and sometimes one can tell that it was a calculated piece of marketing that intentionally or unintentionally exploits the exploited. And too often, the industry goes on to award those films, a result of disingenuous glad-handing and power players patting themselves on the back. And yes, I do think that such performative and self-serving wokeness tends to set causes back ultimately. 

I do believe for more meaningful dismantling of systemic biases in storytelling to take place, people in positions of powers need to make room for new voices from new backgrounds. And by that I don’t mean a pile on to the few filmmakers that have now been designated as “safe/profitable”  – as that won’t move the needle and even risks returning to tokenism. 

The marketable appeal of movements goes way beyond corporate responsibility and has become a distinct selling point used to make a profit instead of an act to stand by our fellow man. Does it demean the serious issues these marginalized groups face, or does it give them a platform to further say their piece? And if it does give them a platform, is anyone really listening or are they shouting into a vacuum of unrepentant trends, their voices lost in all those that have gone before?

I think many brands, institutions, organizations have been culturally shamed into creating the platforms for new voices and stories to emerge since our recent mass uprisings. It’s sad (but not surprising) that’s what it took. I think studios, companies, etc. all those trying to make an effort now to include new diverse ways of thinking and seeing things, just need to look at themselves first, because they are part of the system — they pull the levers of a broken, biased machine.

Also, I think it’s a current danger in wanting to signal allyship and amplification that can force first-time filmmakers into a box and then presented within a formulaic category for digestibility. For instance, do I, as a female filmmaker, need to make works about strong, awesome women to get financed – do I need to make the next Wonder Woman to be counted? If I’m an immigrant, is my voice only valid when I tell border stories – what if I want to just make a buddy comedy? Or a space opera? Does my imagination matter or just my history? I would love to see new voices being added to the mix, because of the uniqueness of their perspectives and what they have to contribute, not because they are being utilized as some band-aid, checkmark, marketing facelift for an organization that has been blamed for doing too little in the past. 

The producer character in your film seems to actually hold a dismissive and even derogatory view on all the issues addressed in the meeting. Rather, it feels like a callous approach to best monetize on other people’s long-suffering stories. What do you think the film industries reaction would be to this film?

Funny enough, those in the industry who have seen it, have found the film very on point and funny. I’ve been told that the film accurately describes their board meetings — even one festival I can’t name sent me personalized feedback on the work though they didn’t take the film — they said it perfectly captured the inner workings of their festival selection process. 😉 I think industry insiders can look at the film and have a cringe-worthy laugh, it’s a unifying act and gives me hope for the future. Or they can look at it and tremble because it hits too close to home. And that gives me hope too.

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