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An interview with Nicole Conn

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  • "Claire of the Moon"

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  • Movie review of "Claire of the Moon"
  • by Jenni Olson
    October 3, 2002


    PopcornQ producer Jenni Olson chatted with director Nicole Conn about the 10th anniversary DVD rerelease of "Claire of the Moon."

    Starting out as a labor-of-love lesbian feature at a time when there was virtually nothing out there, "Claire of the Moon" is certainly now among the best-known lesbian films ever made. Can you tell us a bit about how you got the project off the ground and what it was like making a lesbian feature in the early '90s?

    Actually, Jenni, calling "Claire" a labor of love is truly the best way to describe making this film. I really had very little film experience at the time, and it obviously shows on the screen. I have always said "Citizen Kane" this film is not, but it is emotionally successful, and I have women from all over the world who tell me how much they identify with Claire's journey. Making the film was also a passionate endeavor, as I believe all coming out stories are. It's the love story that tops them all, a love affair with the deepest part of who we are.

    Making the film was the hardest work I've ever encountered outside of raising children. Raising the money was hell. The worst part of the entire experience was not being able to pay back my original investors. We thought the timing for a lesbian film was perfect, but what we discovered is that "Claire" had to first prove there was a lesbian market that would go see movies in theatres. After we did that with our distribution efforts with Strand Releasing, "Claire" became the catalyst for mainstream distributors picking up future lesbian-themed cinema.

    You wrote and directed the film. What was your background prior to making it? Were you a screenwriter? Had you directed previously?

    My greatest experience was life. I'm a self-taught person and have never had the opportunity to engage in higher education other than business school -- which actually served us well in the marketing and distribution of "Claire."

    I had two extraordinary teachers on the set: my producer, Pam Kuri, who gave selflessly throughout the project, as well as my DP (director of photography) Randy Sellars, who taught me to realize my vision through cinematography. My greatest teacher, however, is my endless love affair with black and white film. "Claire" has been accused of being overly romantic and sappy. But at my core I'm an over-the-top romantic, as most people can tell who are familiar with my body of work. And you know, in today's world I don't think romance hurts anyone one bit.

    Can you talk a bit about the reception the film got when it first came out? You did really great in certain markets and got some very critical reviews in other markets, but ultimately a LOT of women came out to see the film, yes?

    Jenni, the reception to the film was the most difficult and confusing aspect of the entire experience. We got rave reviews from straight papers. We got critic's pick from the "L.A. Reader" the week we premiered in Los Angeles. We were hugely successful throughout Middle America, in L.A., Seattle, Chicago, Portland and the entire Bay Area with the exception of San Francisco. We did great numbers in S.F. and NYC, but the critics killed us. The lesbian critics, that is. Although we had a lovely write-up from Janet Maslin in the New York Times, I think the more gritty urban areas, the geographic regions exposed to art house and experimental film, just had no use for "Claire." I always said that "Claire" was a social phenomenon in the sense that it divided and explored the vast differences between the political dyke and Jane Q. Lesbo.

    Barbara Grier of NAIAD Press once said, "in the end there will only be a handful of lesbian films left standing, and yours, my dear, will be at the top." And after 10 years I believe "Claire" is the single best-selling lesbian film out there, and "MOMENTS: Making of Claire of the Moon" is the best-selling lesbian documentary.

    What have you been doing these past 10 years? Have you made other films or written other screenplays? Also, can you tell us what the lead actors have done recently?

    Oh, my gosh. Taken about a million lunches, pitched a zillion ideas, peddled scripts. Done the whole L.A. "thang." I just published my fifth novel, "She Walks in Beauty," last October. I have had a host of scripts in option and "Angel Wings," based on my book (Simon Schuster, 1995), was fully financed for a year and a half with Elizabeth Shue attached as the lead. I was slated to direct, so it was a huge disappointment when that fell through. I directed a couple of shorts, documentaries and "Cynara -- Poetry in Motion."

    But most important, I've found the love of my life, Gwendolyn H. Baba, who ironically is as political as they come. She's the national board co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign. She and I have been raising our beautiful daughter, Gabrielle, and we recently experienced an absolutely life-altering event when our son, Nicholas, was born 100 days early, weighing only one pound. After living at the hospital for almost half a year, Nicholas and I are finally reunited with our family.

    Can you tell us about some of the special features on the new 10th anniversary collector's edition DVD?

    The best part of the DVD for me is that Pam Kuri and I got to sit and reminisce about the film, all the hell and delirium (good and bad) that we went through to get the damn film in the can. We laughed, we cried. It was great. I think our commentary answers a lot of questions people have had about the film, and we share a lot of filmmaking secrets about how we stretched our nonexistent budget. Pam also speaks rather poetically, I might add, to "Claire" and puts the film in historical perspective. And there is some very juicy gossip (you know those set romances!).

    Wolfe Video also included a segment on lesbian erotica I did for the BBC -- a sort of behind the scenes of "Cynara -- Poetry in Motion," which is a lot of fun.

    Will there be a "Claire of the Moon" sequel?

    Really, haven't you ever heard the definition of insanity?

    And finally, what's on deck for you? Any new projects you can tell us about?

    Of course I'm always trying to get 17 film projects off the ground, and I have a new novel I'm trying to get published, but this is all secondary to my current project.

    Bizarrely enough, I happened to purchase my professional 3 broadcast camera the day before Nicholas came into the world. My brother and I ended up documenting his life in the NICU. So I'm working on a documentary about the real world of neonatal units. I'm also working on a book about the same subject, exploring the sort of philosophical questions that one is forced to examine while sitting in a hospital 14 hours a day: at what price life? It's a major departure from the work I'm used to doing, and I think it is the best thing in the world for me as an artist.

    A psychic told me a few months before Nicholas was born that the next piece of work I did would be from "my solar plexus ... the gut area," and that it would be "the real stuff." Well, it don't get any more real than watching a one-pounder battling for life, oftentimes every minute of the day. He's a miracle and has a lot to teach the world about the grace of being.

     
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