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The film­maker and artist ex­plores her in­ner man

With her ground­break­ing films Do I Love You? (2002) and Tick Tock Lul­laby (2006), films she de­scribes as note­book nar­ra­tives, Gornick has char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally led the au­di­ence through a thought­ful jour­ney as she grap­ples with the vi­cis­si­tudes of les­bian life in 21st cen­tury Bri­tain. Her lat­est film, The Book Of Gabrielle, a com­edy, is re­leased this month along­side a se­ries of live- draw­ing shows about re­gret, and a new book.

DIVA: Is it co­in­ci­dence that your new drama com­edy is be­ing re­leased along­side a show about re­gret?

LISA GORNICK: There was a time dur­ing the mak­ing of this film that I got de­pressed. It’s funny, I can talk about my “in­ner pe­nis” eas­ily but say­ing I got de­pressed feels harder. I was los­ing my mother – who has since died – and also at the same time I was in a way los­ing my­self. Since all my work is an hon­est ex­plo­ration of my­self, I found it hard to fin­ish the film. Dur­ing the film edit, I was com­mis­sioned by UCL Art Mu­seum to make a new live draw­ing show. Asked what it was go­ing to be about, I came up with what I was feel­ing at the time: re­gret. They loved the idea and I re­alised re­gret was a sub­ject that res­onated, so I per­se­vered. How­ever, the re­gret lifted and the film ma­te­ri­alised.

De­scribe The Book Of Gabrielle in a sen­tence.

What hap­pens when a les­bian wants to be a man and then meets a man who makes her change her mind?

Tell us more!

This is a com­edy about Gabrielle who is writ­ing a graphic book about sex. She meets Saul, an older nov­el­ist who also writes about sex, the writ­ing of whom she ab­sorbed since she was a child. He gets off on her be­ing a les­bian, she wants to ex­plore her in­ner man through him. Do they un­block each other or get in each other’s way? I like to rep­re­sent life, which is messier than neat nar­ra­tive. This film asks, what is a story? What is nar­ra­tive? And ul­ti­mately it asks, is our fu­ture fe­male?

You star as the tit­u­lar Gabrielle, as you have starred in all your films. What was dif­fer­ent this time around?

I’ve al­ways liked first-per­son sto­ry­telling: off the cuff, lat­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion. I do it with my live draw­ing shows and it was my aim when I started out in film­mak­ing too. This film was quite hard to make, though, and it got quite se­ri­ous, de­spite it be­ing a com­edy. Per­haps this was as a re­sult of how I felt at the time and so my per­for­mance is qui­eter than my more bub­bly pre­vi­ous films. If I look now at the rushes, there’s a still­ness to my per­for­mance that works but at the time felt re­ally weird.

The film fol­lows Gabrielle’s quest to dis­cover who she is in a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety. How much does it mir­ror your own quest for self-knowl­edge?

A lot of my work is a rage against pa­tri­archy. All my three fea­tures are self-por­traits but not au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. They’re draw­ings of who I am, not re­al­is­tic pho­to­graphs. So with this film I know I have a man within me. I also know that man has ways about him that I would de­test in a real man. That’s the nub of the film in a way, ex­plor­ing our in­ner men, even if they’re out­ra­geous.

That brings us neatly to les­bian sex, which in movies can be rather hit or miss, don’t you think?

The Book Of Gabrielle is a lot about sex but with hardly any sex scenes. I am in a quandary about sex scenes. I’m not sure I like them but that makes me want to ex­plore them. It’s such a sen­si­tive, in­ti­mate thing to por­tray and it’s been done so ter­ri­bly, of­ten by ridicu­lous men whose im­agery I have to wash out from my head so I don’t take it to bed with me.

Fi­nally, what can au­di­ences ex­pect from the live draw­ing event and other off­shoots of The Book Of Gabrielle?

Along­side ask­ing my­self, who is my in­ner man, when I made this film, I was also ask­ing my­self what is cin­ema now? The Book Of Gabrielle aims to ex­plore this through film, a live draw­ing show, a web se­ries and a book that all in­ter­act with each other.

“The film is about ex­plor­ing our in­ner men, even if they’re out­ra­geous”

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