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Jamie Babbit Interview

Director of Itty Bitty Titty Committee

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Jamie Babbit with partner Andrea Sperling

Jamie Babbit with partner Andrea Sperling

© Kevin Winter/Getty Images

6/24/07

Jamie Babbit is part of the new breed of Hollywood directors and produces, who have been out their whole careers and are not afraid of making lesbian movies. In fact, they are trailblazers, bringing the stories of gays and lesbians to the mainstream. Award winning director Jamie Babbit’s first full length feature film is "But I’m a Cheerleader", which makes my list of Top Ten Lesbian Films of all time. Her latest film, "Itty Bitty Titty Committee" might just knock one of the other films off the list.

I had an opportunity to speak with Jamie Babbit before the screening of "Itty Bitty Titty Committee" at Frameline, San Francisco’s GLBT film festival.

Lesbian Life: Regarding Itty Bitty Titty Committee, you used an all female crew on this film. How was that different than how you normally work?

Jamie Babbit: It was great. I try and hire mostly women anyway, because I wish people went out of their way to hire me. There is so much sexism, especially in the crew positions. So I wanted to give really talented women a chance to show what they could do. That’s really important to me. I feel the movie is about women being political and feminist and I wanted make the process of making the movie similar to output.

What is it about the whole radical/political theme of this film that intrigued you?

I’m intrigued by radical politics. I was involved in a lot of political groups in college. I’m still involved in radical groups. I’d never seen a movie about what really goes on in those groups -- the romance, the disappointments, the comedy and the tragedy. I, myself, have never gone to as radical a place as "Itty Bitty Titty Committee", but in some ways I wish that I had.

What kind of groups were you involved with?

I was involved with off shoots of groups like the Guerrilla Girls and with abortion rights groups and with POWER UP and groups that promote empowerment of women and lesbians and abortion rights.

The music in the film is all riot grrl stuff. Why?

It’s what I personally like. The thing that I think is so successful about riot grrl music is that it was a lot of fun and really energizing. I think [riot grrl bands] did such a good job of making feminism really fun and I wanted to make the cinematic equivalent of that.

There was also a movie that I saw in the early 80s called “Born in Flames” which was a big inspiration. This movie is very similar to that movie, even though this movie is a comedy and that movie is a drama. A bunch of radical feminists blow up the World Trade Center.

There’s a controversy at this festival. [A film was removed from the schedule after protests of it being trans-phobic.] Do you have any thoughts about Frameline’s decision to pull the film?

I understand Frameline’s decision and I also understand that it’s difficult, as a filmmaker, to please everyone. But I also understand that there are things that can be really hurtful to a community. The thing about San Francisco more than any other place, is that it’s a very, very politically charged atmosphere. It’s one of the things that I love about it, but it’s also kind of absurd. For example I came here eight years ago to screen a short film called “Sleeping Beauties” in the Girls Shorts program and that same year there was a documentary about the women who was “Roe” in Roe V. Wade and about her conversion to become a born-again Christian and how now she’s anti-abortion. It was a great documentary because it was about a woman who had been used by both sides. The pro-choice activists started speaking in a very strident way after the film. And it seemed so inappropriate. Just based on the movie. Obviously, I had been a part of the pro-choice movement for some time, but I just think there is a definite strident quality to San Francisco that is very San Francisco.

That’s something I wanted to address in this movie. I think people who are very extreme in politics are necessary to move the movement forward and every movement needs extremists.

I heard that one of the things you were thinking about when making the movie was showing it here. So how are you feeling right now?

Really excited and really, really happy. Because the movie is so political and I feel like if it speaks to any community, it speaks to this community. Especially living in L.A. where it’s really apathetic politics, it’s nice to be in a place where people are really political and will really appreciate the film.

Were you expecting the film to win as many awards as it has?

(It won Best Lesbian Feature at the Barcelona International Gay & Lesbian Film festival, Best Narrative Feature at Melbourne Queer film festival and Best Narrative Feature at South by Southwest Film Festival.)

Definitely not, not at all. Mostly because I was expecting it to be a film that was really about the community and made for the community by the community. I was surprised that at South by Southwest it won the best film award, because it’s not a gay festival, it’s not a gay audience. I was surprised that so many men like the film. But I think it speaks to everyone’s time in their life when they were an extremist. That’s really a great feeling to know that it applies to guys too.

Do you make a living doing your lesbian projects?

Well, I’m directing The L Word right now, which is a lesbian project and I’m making a living doing it

Early in your career, did you have any reservations about being out?

No I never had any reservations. I don’t know, maybe it’s my age, or my parents. It’s been good. I live in L.A. I encounter a lot more sexism then I do homophobia. But of course, there’s sexism everywhere.

I know you have a child. How does that work, when both you and your partner (Producer Andrea Sperling) are both so busy?

It’s really hard. We rely on a lot of friends and a lot of help. But we’re both working moms. The nice thing about working in TV and making movies is I work all the time and then I don’t work at all. So I get like three or four months off a year, but I work really hard when I’m working. And I’m actually pregnant. So I’m on my way to the next one, due in November.
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