Interview with Wendy Jo Carlton – Director of Hannah Free

by Melissa Silverstein on June 25, 2009

in Ageism,Festivals

Sharon glessHannah Free, the new film starring Sharon Gless, written by Claudia Allen (adapted from her play) and directed by Wendy Jo Carlton will premiere on Sunday, June 28 as the closing night film for the Frameline LGBT Film Festival in San Francisco.

The film tells the story of a life-long love affair between two women, Hannah and Rachel.  Hannah played by Gless is a free spirit who refuses to abide by the rules and has constant wanderlust even though she is incredibly in love with and happy with Rachel.  It takes Rachel a lot longer to fully be with Hannah even though she does love her.  Their struggle to love each other and be accepted is symbolic of the evolution of the struggle for gay civil rights.

Sharon Gless is a forceful presence as Hannah.  While the story might seem cutting edge because it is about two women it really isn’t, it’s just a plain old love story.  It just happens to be about two women.  I loved that we saw the women age through the film which moves it beyond the “cool” factor.  This is a story that is happening in communities all across the country and I like that it was brought out from behind the shadows into the forefront.

Women & Hollywood posed some question to the film’s director Wendy Jo Carlton:

Women & Hollywood: How did you become involved with this film?

Wendy Jo Carlton: I’ve been an independent filmmaker for about 20 years, and had many successful shorts and a few screenplays under my belt before I moved to Chicago from Seattle. I worked with Tracy Baim, the executive producer, on a couple other projects, the Chicago Gay Games DVD and recently the living library that is the Chicago Gay History Project.  In the course of interviewing hundreds of LGBT folks in the area, I met the playwright Claudia Allen and then the three of us decided to make a lesbian feature film in Chicago, adapting Hannah Free, one of Claudia’s popular plays.

Wendy Jo Carlton

Wendy Jo Carlton

W&H: There are not many films that show lesbians in this way.  do you think this is a breakthrough in how lesbians will be seen on film?

WJC: It was important to me to portray Hannah and Rachel not just as young lovers but as older lovers as well, two women who share a deep emotional connection but also a passionate physical and sexual connection. And not to just imply that, but to show their attraction visually, cinematically. Most mainstream feature films don’t show older couples sharing physical affection and sexual attraction for one another. Whether they are straight or queer, we just don’t see many older characters in bed together or see older people kissing and being sensual together onscreen. I think it’s sexy and fun and life affirming.

Most long-term romantic relationships, regardless of orientation, wax and wane in the lust department. What’s great about Hannah and Rachel is that theirs is the kind of great love affair that has sustained its passion and lust over decades, the kind of fantastic, enduring attraction and love that is celebrated and pined for in straight films all the time.

W&H: How did Sharon Gless get involved?

WJC: Sharon Gless and Claudia Allen are old pals because Sharon years ago came to Chicago to star in one of Claudia’s plays called Cahoots. They maintained a friendship and when Claudia sent Sharon the script she decided to come back to Chicago and take on the complex and demanding role of Hannah. She did an incredible job and brings so much complexity, nuance, humor and gravitas to the role.

W&H: How can this film break out from the gay and lesbian film circuit into the mainstream?

WJC: I think this film is very entertaining, sensual, and provocative as a story of a great love affair. It’s universal and will engage viewers regardless of sexual orientation. Hannah is a dynamic, sexy, flawed, passionate human being and who can’t relate to that? And Sharon Gless is such a pleasure to watch in every scene.

W&H: How long did it take to get the film made?

WJC: The film has taken a little less than a year start to finish—I don’t know how we managed it!

W&H: What advice do you have for women filmmakers?

WJC: Find some mentors because when things aren’t going well, a good mentor, male or female, is someone who believes in you and can help keep you focused and encouraged and help you make the right connections.

Also, I think it’s been said before, but it bears repeating–explore your personal obsessions. It helps make for more original story-telling. And give yourself permission to be funny, idiosyncratic, raunchy.

W&H: Because of all the Prop 8 craziness do you plan on using the attention the gay marriage issue is getting to get the word out on your film?

WJC: I think the film really helps put a human face on the issue. Prop 8 is insane and unjust. It makes me very sad that we still live in a culture where people are allowed to vote on whom should remain second-class citizens. If we allow majority votes on civil and basic human rights, women and blacks still wouldn’t have the right to vote.

W&H: When people walk out of the theater after seeing your film, what do you want them to be thinking about?

WJC: My favorite subject–the power and mystery of love. Although the movie has its sadder moments, it also has quite a bit humor, so I hope people are moved and entertained. And ultimately it’s a triumph of the human spirit. Hannah Free represents all the beautiful, brave queer women and men who’ve insisted on living their truth and loving who they are and whomever they want.

More info: Hannah Free

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lennox June 29, 2009 at 7:39 PM

I think having the older counterparts in the film, esp. Sharon Gless, moves it firmly INto the “cool” department. LOL

Im so looking forward to seeing this – somehow. There’s no GLBT fetival near me, but I’ll find a way.

An “epic” long-tem love affair, between 2 women? Looking forward to seeing this…

Becca October 26, 2009 at 4:33 PM

Greetings One and All,

Thank you so much for the film HANNAH FREE it was entertaining, educational and motivating. I can’t think of a better time to showcase the film for, we are on the eve of an election.

Here in Washington state we have Initiative Prop 71 which not only protects Gays & Lesbian but other couples who are cohabitating. I do hope people will become enlightened after seeing HANNAH FREE and do the right thing for humanity and pass all the Initiatives promoting equal rights.

I was able to speak with Sharon briefly last night before the film started at Seattle’s Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and thank her for iconic role in Cagney & Lacey which gave me permission to be me.

Thank you all, from the playwrites, directors, actors and everyone else, involved in the making of these socially challenging films, for we are changing the moral consciousness of our world.

Peace ~ Light ~ Love ~
~ Becca

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