Alexis Krasilovsky, Writer/Director/Co-Producer of Let Them Eat Cake, is the winner of a lifetime achievement award from the 2011 Gdansk DocFilm Festival and the Tribute Award “for achievements in independent cinema” from the 2008 San Francisco Women’s Film Festival. Her films, videos and holograms includeWomen Behind the Camera (and the TV version, Shooting Women) — winner of five “Best Documentary” awards; End of the Art World, starring Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg; Just Between Me & God, shown nationally on The Learning Channel’s series, “The Independents”; Exile, filmed in Czechoslovakia before the fall of the Iron Curtain and aired nationally on PBS; and Childbirth Dream, a 35mm hologram exhibited in the Georges Pompidou Center (Paris). Krasilovsky studied film history at Yale and received an MFA in Film/Video from CalArts. Krasilovsky, who lives in Los Angeles, is Professor of film studies and screenwriting at California State University, Northridge, and a member of the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Women Directors.
Interview by Stephen Thompson, Ph.D.
What motivated you to do this, and what were you trying to get at with the film?
On a personal level, I remember my mother forcing me to eat tasteless, previously frozen peas, which I swallowed one by one, like bitter medicine, while she told me, “Think of the starving children in India.” That stayed with me, especially in 2001 when I went to Mumbai to film my first global documentary, and found myself surrounded by beggars. I also remember being a fat kid gorging on pink and white Hostess Snowballs. My mother compensated for the poverty and neglect of her childhood by giving her children two or three pieces of candy, cookies, pies and cakes every day. There were special birthday cakes, gingerbread decorating parties at Christmas, and pilgrimages to Brooklyn for crumb cakes from the original Ebinger’s Bakery. I also remember wanting to put my head in the oven, influenced by Sylvia Plath’s poetry. Making a film about baking is a better use of an oven in my life, I think.
What are the ethics of directing a global film?
I try to think of myself as a global citizen, rather than as an auteur. The subjects of the film should come first. My individual experience is important, but only in the context of other individual experiences. I try not to dominate with my point of view; I try to listen from behind the camera to others’ perspectives. For example, Christopher Garumbullo, the son of Rogene Garambullo, a Jicarilla (pronounced “Yih-cah-RIYa”) Apache elder, Unit Directed our interviews shot in New Mexico. It would have been disrespectful for me to dictate exactly what to shoot. The very word “shooting” instead of “gathering” footage is something that I question.
Are films capable of creating social change?
Yes. Just look at what Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” did to popularize the concept of global warming, for example. Tied to this question, however, should be are films capable of creating social change while avoiding propaganda? “Triumph of the Will” was technically and aesthetically a top-notch film, but promoted the Nazis. And the popular view in America, home of the cult of individualism, is to tell an individual’s story above all other considerations. What about the cinemas of hunger and poetry? Not all films of worth are story-driven.
What kind of subject would you choose for your next film?
I prefer to write and produce. As I get older, I feel that I have less ego — it’s no longer necessary for me to direct every shot. And there are more and more directors who are sensitive to women’s issues, so I can feel more confident in not being misunderstood in terms of the story and characters I want on the screen. Right now I’m working on the screenplay adaptation of my recently completed novel, which is about sexual harassment on a college campus. I’d also like to make films that deal with disabilities such as deafness. Both of these are personal subjects that tie into the idea that “the personal is political.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring documentary filmmakers?
If it’s your passion, do it. Otherwise, take a sober look at the larger picture: 10,000+ entries to the Sundance Film Festival each years, with few documentaries ever making their money back. Is this the best use of your credit card? If it’s for a compelling social issue and will keep you from buying overpriced shoes and trendy cars, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead. But then you must commit to really helping the people in your film. If you’re making a film about preserving the Mayan language, are Mayan linguists going to get copies of the film translated into at least one regional Mayan dialect, or is it only going to be for a Western elite? Can I push to get my film screened by Michelle Obama and at the United Nations, or is it simply going to go on a whirlwind festival tour, to preach to the already-converted? Documentary filmmakers need to think about the impact of their film and how to achieve it even while in pre-production, and then be prepared financially, emotionally, and physically to follow through – which can be a challenge as money gets tighter and tighter, as you get more and more out of shape over the years of production, and as you lose a sense of urgency as you deal with the same topic day in and day out over many years. It’s good to weigh these issues in advance and be truthful with yourself, and not just rush ahead to put the truth-of-the-month in front of the camera.
Film synopsis: “Let Them Eat Cake” is not your typical documentary. It is a poetic essay that takes its audience on a journey through twelve countries, exploring the contrast between pastry making and consumption in various parts of the world. While in some parts of the world those who farm the ingredients for pastries can’t even afford them, in Paris, Tokyo and Los Angeles, lavish pastries adorn the shelves of pastry shops along the streets. Written and directed by award-winning director Alexis Krasilovsky, “Let Them Eat Cake” addresses the planetary emergency of too little food, while seducing the viewer with the lavish traditions and beauty of pastry and cake-making that call us back to the roots of our childhood. The film is now available on VOD and DVD. Visit the “Buy Film Now” tab at www.pastriology.com for more information.