Collaborative Arts LA a.k.a cARTEL is the main production company running the No Budget Film Festival. Negin Singh is the artistic director and was a very prominent figure all over the festival.
In addition to the competition shorts, cARTEL also features segments of films that were not in competition. These were films featuring local artists or past festival filmmakers.
Of the cARTEL selects, Finding June was the one that brought tears and clutched my heart strings pretty hard. Successfully funded by a kickstarter campaign, the short involves a deaf woman named June who was just diagnosed with breast cancer. She attempts to cope with it by a support group,friends, and family. Issues with communication begins to bring all the emotions to the surface until she just can’t handle it.
This struck a personal chord since my mother passed away from breast cancer a few years ago. The movie paralleled a similar issue with communication with my own experience.Just like the Spanish speaking women in the film, there was a language barrier between my mother and people treating her. This caused a lot of uncertainty and fear, emotions that June and the Spanish women experienced.
The scene that brought the tears to my eyes was the quiet moment between June and her brother. As she struggles, he is there silently holding her hand. It is silent but it is a strong communication between two people. A firm,solid touch that there is support.
Breast cancer has affected so many people and yet so many remain in the dark until it happens. Resources are limited to other communities and disability affliction. Sheds light on it. Since I had such a close connection with this disease, shorts like these will always elicit some sort of emotion. Most of the time there is a sense of superficial disconnect with the material. Finding June is a short film but it holds enough significance that the filmmaker has experienced it and understands.
Anna Schumacher is the writer and director of the film. She was kind enough to answer some questions about the film and her work.
Q: Simple predictable question: what was the inspiration behind Finding June?
My grandmother passed away from cancer, one form being breast cancer. She was a hero to my small self at the time and the kind of strong human and confident woman that I aim to be. Because of the importance of her life and her battle with cancer I have remained active in community events related to cancer awareness, education, fundraising for research etc. Also, in the last 5 years I have become deeply involved with the Deaf community. The universe came together in such a way that I found American Sign Language at an aimless point in my life and was open to new stimulation and surprise. I felt immediately compelled by ASL and immersed myself rather quickly. Because of this I’ve met many talented and vibrant Deaf people from all walks, one of the them being Ruan du Plessis who was the Director of Photography for Finding June. At a premiere for another Deaf-produced film of his, I met the producers wife (Deaf) who shared with me that she was a survivor of breast cancer and since her experience she, and several other woman, founded and ran an organization called Pink Wings of Hope. This organization was, at the time of foundling only several years ago, the ONLY support group for survivors or those currently in any stage of treatment or battle with breast cancer for individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing. The ONLY one in the whole nation. I was floored. and inspired by her. And felt the presence of my grandmother. And it like a switch flipped on and i thought: I want, I need, to make this story live somewhere; the creative itch latched on, my mind began working, and I wrote, and re-wrote, and consulted, and made phone calls, and video-phone calls, and translation meetings, some variety of these every single day during our fundraising time to make this thing happen. It’s was a fast and hard pre-production but ultimately magical. ASL is a unique language in many ways but, in the context of June’s story, I wanted to explore how the culture of ASL and Deaf-world is paramount in truly engaging with others within that community, and how being a Deaf woman in a room full of hearing people who are supposed to be opening up about such a jarring and difficult experience as being a woman who’s body seems to have betrayed them is a uniquely trying thing to do. So, the question we attempted to pose, maybe answer, maybe posit, or initiate a dialogue about, is: is connection with others based on a shared experience, or language, culture? One, or equal parts of all?
Q: What are some issues that you wish to change within the community?
As a hearing person I have to remain aware of my place within a community and culture from which I’m not a native part. As an ally to Deaf people everywhere I really wish to focus most of my attention to being actively checking my hearing self and encouraging others who are hearing like me to also work at what it means to be an ally, unpack that privilege, and respect the language and culture we are learning about. I will never know what it feels like to be a Deaf person or what community advances or changes or steps are “best for them”. As someone who also works as an interpreter I see many problems in that power dynamic of a Deaf person “relying on” (whether perceived as such or not) a hearing person. One scene of Finding June shows June in a meeting and she finally decides she wants to contribute to another woman’s comment about family. The woman is still speaking so as June goes to interject, the interpreter signs to her to “wait” and essentially “silences” June. I painted that interpreter in a negative way to show that reality. Hearing people (or any person in a majority group) I think naturally don’t want to call themselves out, in a sense, but that’s one thing that needs to happen from the hearing people who choose to work within or engage with the Deaf community.
Q:What were your motivations and encouragements to keep working with the project?
Again, since this project is about two experiences I have not personally been through or lived, I was very aware of my writing process and being authentic and honorable about representing these experiences. I reached out to so many people: survivors, victims, families of those who have lost loved ones, my family, other writers, Deaf writers, Deaf/hearing siblings, ASL teachers, etc to cover as many bases as I could think up. Our crew was mostly Deaf, most of our actors as well obviously, and had an ASL coach on set who helped with the translations from the English on the page to ASL that was unique and fit to each character to show their own “voice” in a realistic way. Because of this, I got closer to, and in touch with, a TON of people. The excitement and inspiration that took hold as a result of this was something I think made other people happy and feel supported and therefore supportive of me as well. To have so many people open up to me and trust me really made me want to see it through to the end.I also had the raddest, smarter, sometimes ragtag, hardworking, supportive crew I could ask for. from lights, to assistant director, to makeup and translation, I was surrounded by excited people in the crew, and dedication, and that is a damn cool feeling. That kept me wanting to go go go.
Q: How has the response been after the people see the movie?
Great! I say that not because everyone comes to me and says it was damn amazing, but because dialogues are happening. I see people saying that they never considered what it was like to have to use and interpreter for a doctor, or support group, or, hey, what about for therapy or a suicide hotline? I have men come to me and say, “you know I have a sister and I felt conflicted about how June’s brother was pushing her, but I feel his struggle, but he doesn’t have to “be the savior”, but I feel his loyalty”. Several people i know have started actually taking American Sign Language classes. Honestly, if I sent this film to festivals all over and it was never selected, I would sleep happy knowing that some festival curating team had SEEN it. That means the next time they stop off for coffee or go a baseball game and see people signing they will think about in a different way. And from what we made, I feel that the “different” will be good. The different will be a moving forward.
Q: What is your advice for aspiring filmmakers?
As the cARTel motto for No Budget has become: “NEVER STOP FUCKING SHOOTING.” Really. I have no esteemed credentials for being a filmmaker, no training that gives me an edge above anyone else who wants to use film as a medium for telling a story. I just am lucky enough to know other art lovers and they are brilliant. Search them out (and one who can find and push the record button). and so we PLAY, and we play hard like we are working over-time. Write stuff that is awesome. Write stuff that makes no sense. Write stuff that sucks. Find other lovers of those things. Get that shot that is maybe a little out of sync with what you think the film’s aesthetic is. Get that extra-extra-wide shot you probably don’t need. Have it all and create and re-create your art-baby. There is never anything you can do wrong in that.
Q: What are your future goals or projects that people can look for ward to?
am working on two projects right now, one farther along and one still in the writing phase, respectively. The first is a short abstract that deals with a lover and the idea of actively letting go humans (well, one human in this narration) whom one loves. He (male voice) almost floats above this story as he recounts it in that he is able to connect his behaviors to being a child. He was a lonely child, but the theme of love and loss was thick in his house. His removed perspective makes him almost more objective, which is logically useful when emotional but also so sad. It creates a longing to just be back in the love-frenzy, as it were. This was based on a poem/song I wrote.
The other I hope to be a feature which focuses on about a week in a bit of a mess of a young woman, and much of the story is about family and has many queer characters and themes. This time the story is around a community I am a part of which will be a new challenge in that while I may have to do a bit less interviewing and double-checking, I will be more aware of telling many personal pieces of mine as the story comes together. Daunting. BUT! I love it.
Finding June is definitely a work of passion and emotion. Congrats to Schumacker and her team in producing a film that opens up another perspective.
If you or someone you know is dealing with breast cancer, please check out these websites. There are more groups that available if you search for one online. You are not going through this alone.