POV: How do you film a subject who you have a strong personal involvement with?
Jennifer Dworkin: I don’t really see how you can spend years making a film about someone else’s life and not develop a strong personal involvement. But I do know that some documentary filmmakers set themselves very stringent rules to avoid influencing their subjects’ behavior. That was the traditional stance of cinema vérité. In Love & Diane, though I share many of the goals of vérité, I took a much more informal, intuitive approach—both in the film itself and in my relationship to the family. I wanted to know as much as I could about their lives—to immerse myself as well as I could in their world in order to understand the story I wanted to tell. The film takes place in the world of the courts and social services offices but also in the very intimate private world of the home. That Diane and Love were willing to trust me to tell such a personal story was extraordinary. In the face of that it would have been unnatural to avoid responding and helping when I could. Over the years I found myself driving Willie back to group homes he had run away from, helping Love find legal help at Brooklyn Legal Services when her court appointed attorney seemed incompetent, and helping Diane move to her last apartment one day ahead of the eviction notice. And I offered lots of advice to Love, though none of it had any effect. There were moments of conflict and many discussions about the purpose of the film and what we all wanted out of it. I was sometimes so drawn into the life of the family that I felt out of place anywhere else. Though filming has been over for several years I still see the family frequently.
I know that the filmmaking itself made things different in a variety of ways. Quite early on in production I think that both Diane and Love began to see the presence of the camera as a forum for speaking the truth to each other. I don’t mean that they acted for the camera or were even particularly aware of it at these moments — more that they found a use for it that served their own purposes.
I thought about including myself and my relationship to the family in the film itself. But that didn’t feel right for this film. That relationship was central to the making of the film but it wasn’t what the film was about. For me the heart of the story lies in the relationship between mother and child, in the question of whether terrible actions in the past can be forgiven and, on another level, in an exploration of the interaction between the “system” and the people caught up in it. Of course my involvement with the family changed certain things but nothing that was central. My presence remained marginal to a series of events that had a terrible momentum of their own. And I know that my intervention did not give Diane the courage and hopefulness that allowed her to survive and triumph against terrible odds.
Left: Love and Donyaeh at the park
My goal in the film was to try to convey how the world looked to Diane and Love and how they explained and understood their lives. I think that the great force of vérité films comes from that sense of unmediated access to the lives and experiences of other people. It’s an illusion in one sense—the filmmaker does stand between the subjects and the audience. But in another sense it allows the audience to engage emotionally with the people in the film and understand their lives on a deeper level.