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The Filmmaker’s Mother

Follow-up documentary explores complex mother-daughter relationship

Stephanie Butnick
August 24, 2011
Gayle Kirschenbaum and her mother.(Kickstarter)
Gayle Kirschenbaum and her mother.(Kickstarter)

Gayle Kirschenbaum’s short film, 2007’s My Nose, and the follow-up, My Nose: The Bigger Version, are two different kinds of documentaries. In the first, the Emmy-winning filmmaker Kirschenbaum turned the camera around to document her relationship with her mother, who since adolescence has relentlessly pressured Kirschenbaum to get a nose job. If this lighthearted short depicted an extreme version of an unfortunately common battle between mothers and daughters over looks—or, more poignantly, between Jewish mothers and daughters over Semitic-style noses—the feature-length documentary, currently in post-production, becomes a broader examination of the complex relationship between the two women.

It’s like therapy, Kirschenbaum’s mother explains of the longer project, which was filmed in the years since My Nose was released and which Kirschenbaum is hoping to complete with the help of donations. Moving from what Kirschenbaum described to me as a “pretty brutal” relationship with her mother that began at a young age, the film chronicles their reconciliatory journey—which, true to her mother’s word, included therapy sessions. Now they speak at least once a day and have traveled extensively together, a pursuit that would seem to entail quite a lot of one-on-one time for the once-combative pair.

I asked Kirschenbaum what her mother thought about her portrayal in the short film, in which she comes across as a particularly cruel breed of critical mother, referring to Kirschenbaum’s nose as a “schnoz-ola” and comparing her profile to the Buffalo nickel. “My mother is who she is,” she told me, adding that her mother didn’t think she came off poorly.

For Kirschenbaum, the film is an honest depiction of her struggle to find her own identity while coming to terms with her mother’s physical critiques and, finally, understanding and embracing her mother. But it’s also a resource for others who have similarly critical individuals in their lives, she insists. She is campaigning for the opportunity to bring the film to completion (donations welcomed here). Here’s a look at the teaser:

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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