Director/producer Jay Rosenstein talks about gender issues, air conditioning and film audiences of the future.
What motivated you to make a film about the Amasong Chorus?
I had seen the group and of course, I thought they were incredible. So I was fascinated by two parts of their story. First, how did a group of basically volunteers—many of who couldn't sing—become this amazing musical ensemble, and two, how on earth could a chorus not only exist, but also thrive in a conservative community while calling themselves a lesbian chorus. And not try to hide the lesbian part, but actually advertise it.
What has the reaction to the film been like?
All positive. It has screened at many gay and lesbian film festivals worldwide, and is in fact the first documentary I've done that's gotten international screenings.
Was being male ever an issue in making this film—or showing it to audiences?
It was definitely an issue in making the film. Amasong rehearsals had always been a women-only space (concerts were for everyone, however). I had to make a presentation in front of the entire chorus about my intentions for the film, and they had to vote whether or not to open up their rehearsals, for the first time, to a male presence. And from my side, the vote had to be unanimous. There couldn't be anyone in the chorus who didn't want to be filmed. And in fact they approved it unanimously. After the film came out, many chorus members told me that they weren't even aware I was there, so my presence ultimately wasn't an issue, of which I am glad.
What do you think someone who sees your film in 100 years will think?
I would hope it would be: "So they had lesbians in this group. What's the big deal?"
What do you hope to achieve with this film?
I hope it is a link in the chain that helps continue the process of normalizing lesbians and gays as part of the mainstream. I also hope to expose more people to the incredible music of Amasong, and the musical genius of their original director, Kristina Boerger.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Honestly, my motivation waxes and wanes. Sometimes I am incredibly motivated and other times despondent! But usually seeing a great documentary helps get me inspired again.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
Public television gets the widest audience, and I have had nothing but good experiences with PBS.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
I did go to the National Women's Music Festival with the chorus when they performed there. And it was a 100-degree, 100 percent humidity Midwestern June summer day, and the hall they performed in had no air conditioning. I was miserable (so were they). They also went on at 10:30 at night. So I shot all day and night in that incredible heat, and ended up not using any of the footage in the film. Oh, the beauty of making a documentary!
Which filmmakers have most influenced your work?
I don't think he's influenced my work, but I love D.A. Pennebaker's films.
If you could have one motto, what would it be?
Lately my motto surrounding my films is: "it is what it is." It's a way of trying to reach acceptance for what I've made, especially when the film doesn't bring me the glory I had hoped for.
What are your three favorite films?
Feature films are Manhattan and Tender Mercies. My favorite documentaries always change, but I consistently love Gimme Shelter, Monterey Pop, and Alan Berliner's Nobody's Business, which may be the best-edited film of all time. I also love Startup.com.