Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman
We don’t just get to interview two Oscar winners every day.
Still, on a sunny day during the Provincetown Film Festival, we got to do just that. Even better: the Oscar alums are Rob Epstein & Jeffery Friedman, the directors of queer documentary classics like The Celluloid Closet, The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt and Paragraph 175, as well as the narrative features Howl about Allen Ginsberg and Lovelace about porn star Linda Lovelace.
This year they release a personal if slightly less queer documentary Linda Rondstat: Sound of My Voice. The film pays tribute to the iconic singer of 70s and 80s hits like “You’re No Good,” “It’s So Easy,” and “Don’t Know Much,” telling her life story, that of her varied career and her subsequent retirement due to Parkinson’s Disease.
We found time with Epstein & Friedman on a shaded patio during an epic festival garden party where the three of us spotted John Cameron Mitchell, Judith Light, John Waters, and Christine Vachon all mingling among the crowd.
Linda Ronstadt: Sound of My Voice went on to win the Best Documentary prize at the Provincetown Film Festival, and will air on CNN later this year.
JF: It was a story about empowerment. That was something we take to heart. I was just a fan and never thought about her much. But after reading her book and hearing her speak about her own life, we were impressed with her story. She’s a woman who really made her own choices and directed her own career at a time when few women were able to do that in a male-dominated world.
RE: It’s great.
JF: If there’s a common thread to our LGBTQ themed work—not that I’m looking for it—but that would be a way in.
RE: She’s always been private. I mean she was reluctant, more because she thought it was futile.
JF: Yeah, she was more dismissive. She didn’t anyone would want to see it. Why would anyone want to fund it? Why would you want to do this? And that’s just more to do with her nature. She’s not one to look back. She’s not at all sentimental about her own life or experience. She’s very much in the here and now. So I think it was more coming from that perspective than being protective. It wasn’t about protecting anything.
RE: And maybe in a way, because she’s starting to be forgotten. People under—let’s say 30, maybe under 40—don’t know her.
JF: Did you know anything about her?
RE: And the Muppets?
RE: They’re being forgotten too. People know what happened last week. There’s too much information, and nobody knows any history, which I guess is part of what our mission is. But that’s a big part of the culture. And also, memory is creating culture. There’s no way to create culture without knowing the culture that came right before you.
JF: For me, they haven’t changed. There’s never been really any grand agenda or any grand plan. It’s really what strikes us in the moment. And that moment usually takes years to come to fruition, so we have to do something we can live with for a while. But just from a gay perspective, I think people are always surprised when we’re doing something that’s not so specifically LGBTQ-themed. But nothing has ever been a conscious decision one way or the other.
RE: Is Lovelace a queer movie?
JF: She gives good blow jobs?
RE: I like that.
JF: All our work tends to come out queerish. How could it not? That’s an element of our sensibility.
JF: I stopped counting.
RE: Working together for more than 30 years. But we’ve been working in film for 40-ish.
RE: Oh God, is that a third of a lifetime?
JF: I feel like by other people will that be determined. Certainly, in terms of what I hear, The Times of Harvey Milk, because Harvey Milk lives in that film.
RE: For me, I guess The Celluloid Closet. Or, even though it’s less known, Paragraph 175 because it brought something long overlooked so much public attention, and helped change the law in Germany.
RE: But Celluloid Closet in terms of touching people.
RE: Yeah, that’s why.
RE: Stay tuned.
JF: I have a prediction of what the ticket is going to be.
JF: It’s going to be Biden-Harris.
RE: Or Warren-Buttigieg. That’d be a great change.
Linda Ronstadt: Sound of My Voice continues to play film festivals and airs on CNN later this year.