Kristy Guevara-Flanagan has made award-winning documentary films focusing on gender and representation for two decades, including feature docs “Going on 13,” “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines,” and “What Happened to Her.” Her documentary short “Eagles” was a SXSW Grand Jury Award winner.
“Body Parts” is screening at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, which is taking place June 8-19.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
KGF: “Body Parts” looks at the making of Hollywood “sex” scenes from a kaleidoscopic range of perspectives, and traces how a cinematic legacy of exploitation and ingenuity has shaped the entertainment industry and its audiences.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
KGF: “Body Parts” was born from an earlier short I made about the trope of dead women in film and television. I had always been struck by the ubiquitousness of the dead woman on screen — fetishized or brutalized, but always lingered upon visually. “What Happened to Her” is a film made entirely from film and TV clips paired with an interview of an actor who had played a dead body. I was struck by the power of this pairing and its ability to speak to both what we see, its effects on audiences cumulatively, and how these images are made.
Originally, I was interested in the performance of body doubles for nude and sex scenes. That these idealized bodies are brought in and stitched together to present a perfect image of feminine sexuality — while simultaneously being uncredited and paid less than stunt performers — was telling. Once I began to talk to actors, I realized there was so much more involved in the performing of sex scenes and nudity, and that the stakes were so high for those most often asked to take their clothes off: young women.
Nudity riders, modesty garments, merkins, deep fakes, and rape stunt coordinators? That so much negotiation and construction went into the creation of nakedness felt topical and urgent as an exploration of gender and its representation. In the midst of my research, Times Up and #MeToo exploded onto the scene and these very concerns became foregrounded in the news cycle. We followed the story and, five years later, here we are.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
KGF: I want audiences to better understand, as you might with an ingredients list, what goes into the making of the films we consume. I also want people to make the connection between the images we see and how they affect our culture. I hope to introduce a general audience to new industry protocols, like intimacy coordination, that are changing the way sex scenes are made. And finally, I want to show how women behind the camera are finding exciting and expansive ways to explore themes of sex and desire.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
KGF: Everything! Raising money for a non-character-driven story. Finding people willing to speak on the record when the industry is still so shrouded in secrecy and shame. Getting access to celebrities when we didn’t run in those circles. The pandemic! And then, editing a film with an ensemble cast that spans decades: what to include and what not to?!
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Please share some insights into how you got the film made.
KGF: For most of the five years it took to complete “Body Parts,” my producer Helen Hood Scheer and I made the film with grants, deferrals, discounts, and in-kind donations. We started the film in the spring of 2017, and by the time the Weinstein scandal and its vast reverberations became mainstream news that fall, we already had grant applications submitted to a few places.
California Humanities and Sundance provided crucial early research & development funding. We were also selected to participate in the Women in Film/Sundance Financing and Strategy Intensive Workshop and IFP Spotlight on Documentaries — now rebranded as Gotham Week — through which we met additional key supporters, Ruth Ann Harnisch and Fork Films, both of whom wound up supporting us multiple times.
We were able to stretch initial funds from these four very far — in large part because we both work as full-time professors — I run UCLA’s MFA in Documentary Directing program, and Helen spearheads CSULB (California State University Long Beach)’s creative nonfiction program. This allowed us to have a steady income while working tirelessly on the film, and our universities provided a lot of tangible resources including grant funding, filming locations, and gear.
Eventually, we won additional grants from other sources — the International Documentary Association Enterprise Fund was especially generous and timely. Once we got accepted to Tribeca, we were able to secure equity funding from Level Forward — who will also run our Impact campaign — and an additional grant from the DeNovo Initiative to help finish the film.
Throughout the process, heartfelt contributions from a dedicated team of collaborators were crucial ingredients to getting this made. A lot of people worked below market rates and gave their all because they believed in what we were doing. We couldn’t have made the film without their support.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
KGF: My mom. My mom was a self-taught English and Drama teacher. As a high school drama teacher, she put on the most elaborate and inventive plays on a shoestring budget. She was passionate about the arts and I have no idea where she got that impulse from; it wasn’t anything she studied when she got her teaching credential — as a young, single mom all the more.
Literature, plays, and music were a big part of my upbringing. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the arts, but I wasn’t particularly good at any of them until I picked up a still camera. That was when it all came together for me. I didn’t know what a documentarian or documentaries were, but I became obsessed with taking pictures of the world around me. I later discovered [that] the pictures I took and the little films I made were called documentaries.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
KGF: I was once at a festival and I was grilling a (male) documentarian about his craft when he turned to me and asked: “Why’s a bird like you interested in all this camera stuff?” I actually had a film in the festival and he completely tried to shut me down. So that is sort of non-advice. Really, just a worst moment as a female filmmaker.
The best advice I heard recently was to find the deadline in your film. What is the deadline for the characters in your film? Give them a schedule and a time-limiting goal. While [the person] was talking about fiction filmmaking, I think it can equally apply to non-fiction. I love trying to utilize fiction narrative hacks for non-fiction.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
KGF: Take the long view. It’s a freaking mad juggling act, especially if you need to earn a living and have care-taking responsibilities. You can’t do it all, all the time. So you need to be patient, consider the long haul that having an artistic career is, and understand that that career can’t possibly always come first.
Set long-term goals: one year, five years, your life! And then reassess. It’s not a very glamorous perspective. I just like to be practical and realistic.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
KGF: I have been hugely influenced by the documentarian Lourdes Portillo. I love her blend of humor, politics, and the personal. “The Devil Never Sleeps” (“El Diablo Nunca Duerme”) is one of my favorite films of hers. I loved the visual methods in which she questioned her uncle’s death, her family’s hidden secrets, and a Mexican underbelly of corruption.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
KGF: At the start of COVID when everything was shut down, I discovered the world of online workshops sponsored by small arts entities. I took [workshops in] DIY cyanotype photography, 16mm and 35mm hand processing, and stop motion collage, where they sent you kits, and you Zoomed together and checked in weekly. It connected me to art-making in a direct, hands-on way that was vitally important when I couldn’t do anything on my own film-in-progress. Thank you to Shapeshifter Cinemas, the Echo Park Film Center, and the Pacific Northwest Film Forum for these brilliant analog workshops.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color on-screen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?
KGF: Well, this is entirely the modus operandi of our film. I think filmmakers need to proactively diversify who is in front of and behind the camera. It also means sometimes taking risks on people who may have less experience because they haven’t had the opportunity. I know how time-consuming that can be to go outside of traditional networks and seek out more diversity, but nothing will change otherwise. I loved learning about how Joey Soloway had trans people in every department on their set because there weren’t trans people necessarily with that training yet. That’s easier in episodic, of course.
With documentary, I would add that it is important to have the community weigh in on all stages of your story-making, especially when you are coming from outside of that community. Being a documentary filmmaker is a huge responsibility. These are real people with real lives, and they don’t owe us anything. The balance of power is entirely in our hands and the responsibility needs to be treated with respect and attentiveness.