I discovered the American independent filmmaker Ingrid Jungermann on the recommendation of Barbara Gregov, my colleague and member of Vox team. After watching a few episodes of the web series F to 7th, I realized that we share similar views on humour and LGBT issues, so I had to see almost everything Jungermann filmed since she and her ex-girlfriend, filmmaker Desiree Akhavan, worked on their joint web series The Slope.
Ingrid and Desiree have left behind a witty project that follows the life of a politically incorrect lesbian couple, portraying their most personal, intimate situations. After they broke up, Jungermann began filming the series F to 7th, in which she goes several steps further and follows the adventures of a neurotic lesbian on the verge of a mid-life crisis, who has difficulties with fitting into new queer identities and trends. You can read about how she entered this project through personal crises and doubts in an article she wrote for Huffington Post two years ago.
Ingrid is an interesting filmmaker who enters the film and screenwriting work with a sufficient dose of courage and self-irony, so one can reasonably expect that, in the coming years, she will be more engaged in TV production and film projects. In the meantime, we've managed to talk to her and get one of the first interviews in our region.
Ingrid and Desiree
I've read that you are currently working on a feature film called Women Who Kill, a crime comedy about love and death. Could you tell us a little bit more about the whole project and if it's close to realization?
I’m fund-raising at the moment. If all goes well, I’m looking to shoot in the spring. It’s a suspense comedy about how love can be the death of you. In it, a commitment phobe and her ex-girlfriend suspect her new love interest is a murderer. It’s like Manhattan Murder Mystery, but with lesbos in Brooklyn.
What opportunities does the independent film scene provide at the moment? Were there any specific problems you came across while filming the web series „The Slope“ and „F to 7th“?
Money is always a challenge. That’s why crowd-funding is a really nice option to have, but even crowd-funding is easier on people with money or connections. I write for what I have access to; I shape ideas around my limitations because limitations force you into being smart and simple. I also try to branch out, meet new people and give back to the community of people who have given to me.
Your voice, your writing -- that’s free -- and that’s what sets your show apart. That’s what makes people interested in helping you whether that’s in the form of viewership, collaboration or funding.
The first season of “F To 7th” received great critical acclaim, with Indiewire praising the series as “one of 2013’s best comedy web series,” and The Guardian declaring it “the best of a new wave of shows exploring contemporary lesbian life in the US”. There are many contemporary movies and series dealing with life of the young LGBT population, but few are focused on the life of middle-aged and older gay people. Why?
It’s most likely something very boring like young people buy movie tickets and watch more stuff online. Older communities are niche in themselves, and then you have the added niche of gay and so of course there will be less made as there is less consumed. I would love to have a sexier answer, but it’s most likely just about numbers.
You said that you are “fascinated by the phobias within our community”.
I'm a pre-middle-age lesbian in Croatia, and despite the cultural differences between our countries, I think that the themes you bring in are universal for LGBT communities in the western world. I would say it's a form of activism. Do you agree?
To call my work activism makes me feel a lot less guilty about not doing any good in the world. So I’ll take that. Then at least my narcissism serves me AND my people. I do think that if artists reach deeply within themselves and expose their insecurities and secrets and pain and shape it into art, then people will connect to it. To feel alone, exposed, outcast -- those are challenges we all face no matter who we are or where we come from.
Could you tell us more about the Film Production Award, the grant you've been selected for by Spike Lee - how did it come about, and what did it bring in for the second season of „ F to 7th“?
It’s only offered to NYU Graduate Film thesis students. I applied with four episodes and I guess Spike liked it. It was $5,000 and I stretched that out to make eight episodes. I also had $2300 as a thesis allotment. So that tells you how little money I had to shoot season two, and I was only able to do that because of Spike, NYU, and favors from friends and local business owners. That budget number is in no way realistic and I’m thankful I have talented people who are willing to support me and my antics.
I think the fact that Spike Lee supported a lesbian web series about a lady nearing 40 shows that he’s a cool guy. He also sent me a nice note once we launched, and I really appreciated that.
Do you already think about the third season of ''F to 7th''? Will it continue as a web series or do you have an ambition for TV production?
I’m always interested in keeping the web series alive but for the time being, I’m trying to get my feature off the ground and develop the TV version. Making the web version isn’t sustainable. If I do a third season, I’d like to have a proper budget where I’m able to pay people what they deserve.
''The Slope'' and ''F to 7th“ are mostly self-referential - in both series you act as yourself. How active are you in the Brooklyn's LGBT scene?
Not very active. I used to live in Park Slope and be on a rec softball team and drink at lesbian bars and have one night stands I can’t remember, but now I just write about all that. I am best friends with my ex, which keeps me alive when it comes to lesbian stereotypes. And I still live in Brooklyn.
How do your wider audience and your friends react to themes and stereotypes you deal with in ''F to 7th''?
It seems like people were sort of waiting for a homophobic lesbian to show up at the party. Here I am! I’ve mostly received very positive feedback. With season two, I pushed the envelope a little more in telling the story of a lesbian going back in the closet, and I think if you don’t start from episode one you sort of miss some of what I’m trying to say.
In the first season you've dealt with some general LGBT stereotypes, but the second is about a specific situation – unlike the first season, the episodes here are connected to form a story about an old-fashioned lesbian who, under her mother's pressure, suddenly decides to become straight. How did you decide to move in that direction?
My mother is a Jehovah’s Witness and doesn’t agree with the lesbo love thing. Last fall, we ended up arguing about something gay -- something Supreme Court-y -- and we didn’t speak for a little while. So I was inspired by that fight to make the season about the person I would be if I submitted to my mother’s wishes. I’m inspired by fights a lot.
It was also an opportunity for me to talk about the spectrum of sexuality and how gay people can be just as judgmental about your sexual preference as heterosexual people. And I keep telling bisexuals that there needs to be a bi movement, but I just get met with apathetic, indecisive eyes. I love the bisexuals. I wish they would come out proudly.
Finally, I wanted to talk about the born gay vs. become gay thing. Who cares? I’m gay because I’m gay because I’m gay. No one knows the answer nor should it matter -- you are who you are. If one night I drink too much and decide to eat chicken, I’m still a vegetarian the next day. So everybody just relax.
Ingrid Jugermann and Gaby Hoffmann
Famous actors like Ashley Atkinson, Anette O'Toole, Kristen Connolly, Janeane Garofalo, Michael Kostroff and others appear in both seasons of the series. How did you manage to get them to work with you?
Mostly sexual favors. I tend to donate my body to art. When THAT doesn’t work, I reach out to friends who know good actors and if my friends don’t know people, I go through agents. I also tend to write with specific people in mind. The script is short. The shoot day is short. And at this point actors see that other talented people have been willing to do the show and haven’t died or been shunned from society. So validation helps, too.
Is the creation and production of independent web series a business one can live off?
Your series was screened at indie film festivals in the USA. Have you had a chance to show them at European film festivals? If not, would you like to?
Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to screen in Europe. And I want to more. Are you inviting me over? I would love to do my movie or TV show with a European company and set it in Europe. How about F TO 7TH: Croatia?
''Gyno'' with Stewart Thorndike:
''Nurture'' with Annette O'Toole: