Everyone has a complicated relationship with their mother. Even if your mom is your best friend, she is probably the one person in the world who simultaneously loves you and knows how to push your buttons better than anyone. Filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum knows this only too well.
Kirschenbaum directed her documentary film “Look at Us Now, Mother!“–a film that details her complicated relationship with her mother Mildred, and how she forgave her mother before it was too late to forge a better relationship (the documentary was made when Mildred turned 90). The film shows them often butting heads in a way many of us can relate to. For an idea of what their relationship’s been like, Kirschenbaum previously made a film called “My Nose,” which focused on her mother’s desire for Gayle to get a nose job (which we interviewed her about here).
I was thrilled to be able to talk to Gayle about her film, her favorite TV show, and more:
Why was the relationship with your mother so complicated?
No relationship is as complex and highly charged as that between mother and daughter. Nor is any relationship as competitive. Battles between mothers and daughters about weight and looks can cause communication to break down. And mothers who are narcissists do a lot better having sons than daughters. Have you ever noticed how many self-help books there are out there about daughters of narcissistic mothers?
My story is no different than many others. My mother had her own childhood pain and unleashed her anger out on me from my earliest memories. I grew up hearing I was suppose to be Gary. And she was quite surprised when she gave birth to Gayle instead. That definitely got us off to a bad start. There is a lot that goes into this complicated relationship. She is the first American born in her family. They never hung out their dirty laundry. They kept secrets. And learned how to bury emotions along with burying tragedies. They also wanted to pass. To fit in. So having a nose job and straightening your curly hair was all part of it.
How did you set out to make the documentary?
I made this film due to a response to the short film I made called “My Nose” about my mother’s relentless campaign to have me get a nose job. So many people stood on line after the Q&A to tell me their own story. I realized how many people were in pain, because they did not let go of the anger and resentment they felt from their childhood trauma. I heard people saying”My Nose” was courageous. I knew it was not, and I knew that I needed to help people. And that is when I decided to make “Look at Us Now, Mother!”
What was the process like?
It was the hardest and most important film I have ever made. When mom kept telling me she didn’t know, and didn’t remember, as I kept trying to get answers about her past, I knew I needed help. I asked her to go to therapy with me and she agreed. That helped as she began to share some things, and more importantly, the therapist’s insights helped, too. Editing the film was quite challenging.
I wanted to take my audience on this journey with me that I knew would be painful, and I assumed they would be thinking about their own story while watching mine. I did not want anyone to slit their own wrist. Hence I did not want to make it too dark. I wanted people to also laugh. Laughter is healing. Mom is the Queen of the one-liners and I can be irreverent. And I wanted the audience to see how I was able to forgive my mom.
Favorite comfort food?
A chocolate Haagen Daas ice cream bar.
If you could be anyone or anything, just for one day, what would you be?
A sky diver.
What was your favorite children’s book or young adult novel growing up?
What TV show have you binge watched?
Barely watch TV other than news and some non-fiction programming, although I do DVR Oprah’s “Supersoul Sunday.”
Who are you, in one sentence?
A person with a huge curiosity about people and cultures from all over the world, and a desire to bring people from diverse backgrounds together.
Biggest pet peeve:
When someone is very late and they did not call to say they were running quite late.
If you were a Jewish holiday, which one would you be?
When I was a little girl, after I saw the movie “Gigi,” I wanted to be Gigi.
“Look At Us Now, Mother!” debuts in NYC, LA, and Florida on April 8. See showtimes here. Check out the preview for it here: