Q&A with Emily Ray Reese – Writer/Director of Baby Lu
Also, Enter to win a Queer Media Package
Imagine that you grew up in a rural town of six inhabitants, where you lived off of hunting, fishing and farming. You were raised in a community that lived outside of conventional society, and you are queer.
Look back on your journey into coming into your sexual orientation and your queer identity.
Now imagine how it would have been different if you grew up in that ghost town of six people.
Emily Ray Reese, writer and director of Baby Lu, grew up in that rural community, and her film explores coming into her sexuality, coming out and creating a language to communicate her queer identity to her father. Baby Lu is a queer coming of age story set in rural New Mexico that explores a daughter-father relationship tested by societal norms and an unconventional setting.
I’m running a contest to support Reese’s Kickstarter Project to fund her film, which ends on Tuesday, June 19th. Reese and producer, Tati Barrantes, have raised $32,951 of their $50,000 goal. If they do not reach their goal in time, they will not receive any of the money to fund their film, Baby Lu.
With 4 days left, you can help them meet their Kickstarter goal. The prize, a Queer Media Package: a 2012 Autostraddle Calendar, a 2012 I Love Career Girls Calendar (the hottest lesbian calendar I’ve ever seen), the film Itty Bitty Titty Committee, the March & April issues of Out Magazine, the March & April issues of The Advocate Magazine, the September 2011 issue of Curve Magazine and the 2012 March issue of Curve Magazine (which I signed my interview with actress Alexi Melvin on page 48).
To win the Queer Media Package, you can share this interview and contest with your friends on Twitter, Facebook and via email. Each share will get you 1 raffle ticket. If you make a pledge to their Kickstarter project, of at least $25, you will get 3 raffle tickets. To let me know that you’ve shared this post or made a pledge to their Kickstarter project, tell me by leaving a comment below. I’ll announce the winner on June 27th and will ship the Queer Media Package to the winner on July 3rd.
Aside from talking to Reese about her Kickstarter Project, we talked about her unique upbringing in rural New Mexico, her passion in exploring developing cultures and how her experiences have shaped her queer identity, as well as her film.
You have traveled to Nepal and El Salvador, investigating the struggles of developing countries and cultures. What common struggles have you discovered, and what comparisons can you make to growing up in rural New Mexico?
I think the most common struggle is the the battle of fatalistic thinking. Growing up in a small place with a strong cultural view – it is hard to see outside of that box. Growing up, I definitely had a fear that I was born into a poor family who lived everyday hand to mouth and that I would spend the rest of my life living that way. I was privileged to grow up in the States which offered me more exposure to the outside world than many young women in Nepal or El Salvador, which allowed me to strive outside of my socio-economic boundaries, but I do think this is rare. Most women from my home town, as well as the friends I made in El Salvador and Nepal, have given into the idea that they have to live within the social circumstances they were born into.
Referring to your hometown, you mentioned that you had to hunt, fish, farm and “earn your right to live in such a beautiful, but unforgiving place.” How was it unforgiving?
The small towns of Northern New Mexico were I grew up are located in a high mountain desert. This landscape is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, but it does not provide many resources for a thriving economy. The two main employment providers in northern New Mexico are the ski resorts and the local Moly Mine. The lodges only provide work for three months out of the year and the Moly Mine is an extremely low paying and dangerous job with a company who has been poisoning our water for the last 50 years. Living in a desert, our water is our most precious resource.
My mother was a ski instructor my whole childhood, and in the summer she farmed and sold hay and alfalfa. My father refused to participate in the mine, he instead followed his passion and started his own hunting and fishing outfitting service. With constant droughts, harsh winds and rocky terrain, both my parents have always had to physically work very hard to earn a living. I have a great amount of respect for them and their passion for living off of the land.
You are currently living in New York where you are developing more films based around your experiences in Nepal, El Salvador and New Mexico. What about developing cultures impassions you, and what message do you want to communicate through your films?
What interests me most about developing cultures is the personal conflict, especially when you’re young, to nurture the cultural values of your upbringing, yet to be brave enough to explore outside of your world, and accept or be open to different perspectives and values. In my films, I often find myself trying to communicate the need for a bridge, understanding or empathy between one’s upbringing and the rest of the world.
Having experienced both developing and modern cultures, you are impassioned to explore the universal questions we all face as part of society. What are those universal questions, and personally, how have you experienced them?
For me the most intriguing universal question is What is happiness? or How do you quantify happiness? Having grown up in a struggling family and having lived with struggling families in both Nepal and El Salvador, I have often been tempted to think that wealth could solve anything. But as I have experienced life more and more I have come to realize that happiness has nothing to do with what we do or do not have. It has to do with living lives that are satisfying to ourselves and our dreams. As far as I have experienced to be happy, one must be active everyday working to meet their own goals. Those goals can be anything from being a good mother to being president of your country. What I find so interesting is the conflict of people, communities and countries, wanting what others have, not because they need them, but because they think they need them. That doesn’t mean I want to belittle the struggle for human rights, which I believe in whole-heartedly. I believe fighting for one’s basic rights is fundamental, such as a women’s right to an equal wage, the right to marry for the LGBT community and the specific right in my hometown for clean water.
What was it like coming into your queer identity in an isolated, non-modernized society?
Coming out in my community has been hard, but mostly because my family has been very uncomfortable with my sexuality. My family’s reaction instilled a lot of fear inside me as to what my larger community’s reaction would be. I was also fired from a bartending job in my hometown shortly after I started dating my first girlfriend. I was fired for “causing a disturbance” in the kitchen when I was defending myself against the kitchen workers’ homophobic comments. Because of these experiences I have only recently publicly been open about my sexuality, and most of my fears were thankfully just that. The majority of people have continued to treat me with the same amount of love and support as they always have, and I’m very grateful to my community for that.
Baby Lu explores the relationship between you and your father, particularly relating to your coming out experience. How did you two explore your queer identity together without talking about it openly?
My father has a way of tacitly communicating his acceptance. He also communicates his acceptance with respect and kindness towards my partner when I bring her to visit. He absolutely loves her and after reading about my queerness in our local newspaper, he even mustered the strength to tell me what a “special and classy woman” she is and that I had “done good with her”.
Did you have a moment of acceptance relating to your sexuality? If so, growing up in a rural community, what resources helped you reach self-acceptance?
Due to the cultural views I was raised in, I still struggle with acceptance of my sexuality. I can’t dictate who I fall in love with and what gender that special person is. In reality, I know that for me it’s not about gender but about the right person. This perspective was definitely influenced by meeting Jane and Jonah, an older same sex couple who live in a neighboring town in New Mexico. Getting to know this couple helped me realize that same sex couples could live healthy and happy lives together, even in rural New Mexico. I’m sure as I continue to build a happy and satisfying life for myself the acceptance factor will naturally happen.
What has it been like making a film that explores your childhood and relives your experiences coming into adulthood?
Baby Lu is a great balance of memory and fiction. The relationships and characters of the film are all derived straight from my childhood, but the circumstances and actual events in the film are mostly fiction. For me, this has provided the right balance of material that is very personal, yet I also have enough distance from it that I feel free to let my imagination run. The most difficult thing has been explaining this to my supporters. Many people just assume the story is based completely on my life and sometimes are a little disappointed when I tell them that it is mostly fiction. I think it has also been a little hard on my mom. In the script the little girl does not have a mother, and this made a lot of people think I don’t have a mother, when in reality my mom is one of my biggest supporters.
What do you want viewers to take away from watching Baby Lu?
I have always felt like an outsider between the two worlds that I live in. As a kid, I felt that I had different values than the hunting, gun loving community I grew up in. Now that I am an adult and have become a part of a very progressive and queer friendly community here in Brooklyn, I still however feel that I have to balance the politics of my upbringing with my current community. My goal for Baby Lu and its story is that it can inspire some empathy that will allow my audience to identify similarities between both cultures. I hope that by seeing the world through Lucinda’s eyes, I may be able to bring these opposing worlds together to cultivate dialogue and forgiveness.
What are three reasons why people should contribute to your Kickstarter Project to help fund the making of Baby Lu?
The first reason is that New Mexico and its culture of hunting, fishing and “living off the grid” is a unique world that is rarely explored in cinema, and we’ve never seen a film specifically tackle coming of age and coming out in that region. The environment and the history of the region really enriches the film and sets an incredible backdrop for the story.
Baby Lu is also a very relevant film in today’s political and social atmosphere. With the economy, gay rights and gun control at the forefront of America’s politics, and violence from bullying on the rise, Baby Lu is a beautiful and forgiving story that relates and provides interesting perspectives on these current issues.
Baby Lu is a film that is not being produced in the big money studio system, instead it is a small film that is completely being made from the hearts and hard work of our team and the generous donations of our supporters. Without these donations and moral support, Baby Lu could not become a reality and the world would miss out on this important story being told. This film is truly being made by hundreds – what a beautiful thing to be a part of!
Be sure to share this interview all over social media, and contribute to the Baby Lu Kickstarter campaign, then leave a comment below on what you did and you’ll be entered into the contest to win the Queer Media Package. 🙂