Joanna Arnow about „I hate myself :)“
“I wouldn’t put limits on myself”
New York based director Joanna Arnow is celebrating the international premiere of her first movie „I hate myself : )“ at the Unknown Pleasures Film Festival in Berlin. She documents in an unsparingly frank way her relationship to her then boyfriend James Kepple. We talked with her about sex scenes, relationships and self-discovery.
Why did you decide to make a movie about your relationship with James Kepple?
I had been dating a provocative Texan poet, James Kepple, for a few months when he asked me to film the first night of his weekly open mic night as a favor. That night we got into a fight and the audio was recorded without either of us knowing.
Even though this moment had been painful at the time, when I listened back to the recording later, I found it interesting that the same conversation became funny with some distance, and began to think about documenting the relationship further. I thought others might be able to relate to the dynamics of our relationship – and also find them entertaining.
How did you organise the shooting? Did you always have the camera ready?
My approach varied. I shot as much as I could with James, but it wasn’t as much as I would have liked because he often did not want to be filmed. I definitely did not always have the camera ready to film him, but I did have it on hand a lot of the time when I was editing with co-editor Max Karson. Once I started shooting the edit process, we filmed most of our substantive discussions about the documentary.
How did the filming influence your everyday life in the production time?
I loved shooting this documentary. The filming was spread out over two years though so it didn’t impact my every day life that much – I might shoot multiple times in one week, but then go for a couple months without filming. It did feel strange to be the girl at filmmaker events going around telling people I was making a documentary about my boyfriend though.
There are scenes when you and Max Karson view the shot material. How did looking at the raw material influence the production?
I always reviewed the footage after each shoot to see how the footage was working and think about my approach for the next shoots. I then began the edit process after over a year of filming, and brought Max on as co-editor. I thought it was important for me to be a protagonist of the story, in addition to James, because I had changed a lot over the course of making the film. But since I was behind the camera most of the time, I didn’t have enough footage to show this change without using voiceover or interviews. I felt that this approach would not fit well with our subject material, and wanted to instead communicate my part of the story in a more conflict-driven way – because Max and I were having some particularly interesting conflicts as we constructed the narrative, I decided to film our editing sessions.
Did it give the movie a certain direction?
While building my part of the story, I felt that the film could become self-indulgent if I didn’t push myself to tell the story very honestly, allow myself to look bad, and take real risks. So in the edit process, the film moved in a bolder direction