POV: What is your motivation as a filmmaker? Why did you chose documentary in this case?
Jennifer Dworkin: Love & Diane is my first film. I didn’t decide to make a film and then go out and find a subject — it was more the other way around. My desire to make this film came out of personal experiences I had as a volunteer teacher in the New York City homeless shelter system. Over the course of several years I worked with children in two shelters. I ran an informal after-school program. We did a variety of projects based on the children’s lives — writing diaries, performing short plays and raps. We also created photo essays and Super 8 films of daily life. As I listened to the children in my classes and looked at their work I realized that I was learning more than they were. I remember one day two girls performed a play they had written called “Shelter Girl.” In three short acts the play portrayed a girl adapting to her outcast place at school, finally turning to violence. I spent time in the children’s schools and visited group homes to see children from my group who had been taken from their mothers. I wanted to find a way to convey what I was learning to other people and I began to experiment with making a film that would incorporate the children’s pictures and words with observational footage of their lives.
I think documentary at its best allows the audience to imaginatively inhabit an alternative point of view, if only briefly — to see the world as they have never seen it before. That is what I find most exciting about documentary film.
POV: What generally inspires your interest?
Dworkin: I suppose I am fascinated by other people — how they become who they are, what things look like from their point of view.
POV: What inspired you to make Love and Diane?
Dworkin: Although I had started to make a film about the children I was working with at the shelter, the real inspiration for the film was Diane and Love themselves. I had become particularly close to a family of children living with an uncle at the shelter. This was Diane’s brother Victor, and her sister’s children. Victor introduced me to Diane and her daughter, Love.
When I first met them, Diane’s children had been home for about a year and her son, Charles, had recently committed suicide. I remember the first time I talked to Love very vividly. She talked about the day she was taken away from her mother, the story that opens the film. Then, Diane joined us and they started talking to each other. The story of their lives was so powerful. They had survived so much pain and loss with such strength and love for each other. I knew that what had happened to Diane’s family was sadly representative of so many thousands of other children lost in the system. I felt this was an important story to tell and one that needed a great deal more attention. The Hazzard’s story is definitely rooted in the workings of our social welfare system, in a particular time and place, but at an emotional level it is a story with universal elements — one that addresses questions of guilt and forgiveness between parents and children.
I was struck not only by the story Diane and Love told me but even more so by the extraordinary level of self-knowledge they displayed and by the force of their desire to understand what had happened in the past and to change the future. Both Diane and Love were very interested in having a record of their experiences. At that point we had no idea of the dramatic changes that were in store for the family. And I certainly had no idea how many years I would spend following the story. From the beginning we saw the project as one that involved a collaboration, although sometimes a rocky one, between the family and me. And from the beginning both Love and Diane insisted that the film should portray things the way they really were; nothing should be sugarcoated.
POV: What were your goals in making Love & Diane? And what would you like to see happen with it?
Dworkin: I wanted the film to allow audiences to experience the kind of change of perception that I had. One goal was always to do justice to Diane and Love, to present these very complex, smart, women truthfully — to give them room to speak for themselves and explain their actions and feelings. At the same time, I wanted to look at their situation as the outcome of a long historical process that has immersed both clients and social workers, therapists and lawyers in a complex web of relations. There are many shades of gray in this story and few easy answers.
I hope that the film will spark discussion and re-evaluation among those who work professionally in child welfare, mental health professions or family law. This is a goal that I share with the family. But we also hope that the film will give people in situations similar to Diane’s and Love’s a sense that their lives have been represented with respect in a way that both acknowledges the pain they know but also the strength and love that keeps people going in the face of terrible odds. In the end, although it is a sad story, it is also a hopeful one.
POV: What was the most surprising thing to you in making Love & Diane?
Dworkin: One source of initial surprise to me was the workings of the “system.” I was amazed by the extraordinary complexity of the rules governing various programs and agencies and by the realization that the rules were equally murky to many of the social workers themselves. Sometimes it felt like being lost in an endless series of corridors leading in circles. Occasionally these confusions helped, allowing benefits that were no longer due to continue, but more often they led to ridiculous problems. For over six months, for instance, Diane’s teenage children were kept from moving back to her house by the fact that the beds she had for them had been described as inadequate. While they waited they slept all in one room at a friend’s house — on the floor. Since they were “in care,” Diane’s children were not allowed to visit their old home. When the new beds were delivered they were much worse than the old ones. They were given away and the children returned home. I hadn’t realized the enormous power that the system holds over the lives of the people who are caught up in it — and how that power can destroy any sense of autonomy.
POV: What are you currently working on or what would you like to be working on?
Dworkin: I am planning to make a film about kids in high school.