One on one with GBF grantee Leah Galant
Death Metal Grandma, a documentary short directed by twenty-five year old filmmaker, Leah Galant, published last week on the NYT Op-Docs! Galant, who is based in NYC is already hard at work on her next documentary, but she made time to answer some questions about her film, working with the GBF team, and advice for other filmmakers.
First of all, tell us a little more about your film, Death Metal Grandma
97 year old Holocaust Survivor, Inge Ginsberg, rose to fame as a songwriter for legendary musicians such as Doris Day, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. DEATH METAL GRANDMA follows Inge Ginsberg’s journey to break out as a performer of death metal music and as she prepares for an America’s Got Talent Audition. The short documentary interweaves the rich personal history of Inge’s life as she attempts to merge her personal lyrics with the contemporary genre of Death Metal.
What was your main goal with the film?
Beyond how incredible Inge is- I wanted to capture the nuances of old age especially for elder women. Inge is compelled to get her music out into the world because she feels that elder women are cast off and forgotten from society. It's such a shame that this culture doesn't honor their elders like other cultures do because they hold so much wisdom and especially Holocaust survivors because pretty soon there will be none left. Inge drew just as must strength from being around young people as we did from being around her immense wisdom and resilience.
How did you find your story and your main character, Inge?
I had just finished filming another film about two holocaust survivors called Kitty and Ellen when my friend texted me that he was on her music video set and that I should check her out. I immediately without hesitation knew I wanted to create a documentary with Inge when I found out that she sang death metal music over her poetry. Once we finally met and I found out she was auditioning for America's Got Talent- we knew that would be the story arc of the film.
What was the biggest challenge of making this film?
The biggest challenge was time. We felt pressed for time since Inge was leaving the country and also because of her age. At times the production felt rushed but ultimately we needed to capture Inge as much as possible before Inge left.
Who was essential to your team and to making this film?
Sean Weiner, my producer and mentor was there with me through thick and thin especially in moments when I was losing confidence in the story and in myself. Kervin Marseille who was an incredible DP and worked with me closely on my vision for the film. Christine Wexler and Elizabeth Pauker, my producers who were there to support every step of the process. Stephanie Khoury who co-edited this film with me and has been a close friend of mine since we met in college. A few other people who made this project possible were Linhan Zhang, Clifford Miu, Caleb Oaks, Justin Drobinski, The Jacob Burns Film Center Creative Culture class of 2018 and many many more!
Where has your film been screened so far? And where can people watch it?
The film premiered at SXSW film festival and has its international premiere at Hot Docs. We have screened at numerous other festivals including Palm Springs Short Fest, San Fransisco Jewish Film Festival, and even festivals overseas! I'm excited to share that you can now watch the film online through the NY Times Op-Docs section!
What was your first thought/reaction when you found out you received a Glassbreaker Films grant?
I was in complete shock. I actually didn't think it was true so I emailed Aubrey and Elisa a few more times and then it sank in. This was the first project I've made that has been fully supported and I can't thank Glassbreaker enough for believing in me and the project. Supporting female filmmakers especially early on in their career is crucial. Often times people see our work as hobbies or side gigs but we want our work to be taken seriously and Glassbreaker films makes that possible.
What impact has Glassbreaker Films had on your film and/or on you as a filmmaker?
The film would not have been completed without this grant and the project is of such a higher production value. Beyond finishing the film- the grant instilled a confidence in myself and in my work that has inspired me to push full steam ahead with my feature length documentary project about the last abortion clinic on the US Mexico border. As I mentioned before- supporting young female directors is crucial in an industry and time in our lives where finances and glass ceilings often hinder us from doing the work we love. I wish that every aspiring young female creator could have the same opportunities offered by Glassbreaker and we would be winning a lot more Oscars!
Any advice to other filmmakers just starting out?
Keep making films and EVERYONE has a story to tell! Film on the weekends, at night, early in the morning- just keep on creating! Also- even if you dont think you have the skills- YOU DO. Say yes to jobs and opportunities and don't be intimidated into thinking you don't have what it takes. Especially in male dominated spaces! More men say yes to jobs they are less qualified for than women simply because of confidence.
What is your favorite part about being a documentary filmmaker?
Social impact and change! I love that the story shifts and changes and you have to be flexible with what reality gives you. There is a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty that actually inspires me in the edit to reflect a similar emotional experience that I have experienced with a character whether that be a shift or change of perspective.
Wildest Dream-- Where are you in your career (or life, career isn't everything) in 10 years?
I hope to be making feature length documentaries without having to pick up 20 extra side gigs and to focus 100 percent of my time and energy into projects that I love.
Who's a (woman) filmmaker you admire?
Eliza Hittman, Alexandria Bombach, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Kristina Goolsby and my incredible female filmmaker friends.
What's the best documentary film (digital/short/or feature length) that you've seen this year?
Minding The Gap, 306 Hollywood and On Her Shoulders
Favorite camera to shoot on?
canon c series
Favorite part about the filmmaking process?
Getting to know your documentary subjects and widening my perspective. Learning something new!
Least favorite part of the filmmaking process?
Holding the boom pole haha!
Random fact no one would know about you?
I've seen the musical spring awakening 18 times
Any recent honors/awards or proud moments in your filmmaking career? With this film, or in general?
I was awarded the Sundance Ignite fellowship and Jacob Burns Film Center fellowship in 2017 which were instrumental in getting Death Metal Grandma made. At Ithaca College my film team won a Student Emmy for our film The Provider which was a film that has inspired my new feature documentary about abortion.
Anything else about your film or working with GBF that we forgot to ask?
It's been so great to be welcomed into this community of powerful female filmmakers!
Thank you Leah!!! And congratulations.
You can view more about Leah and her work on her website.