The Body Is What You Have:
An Interview with Claire Maske, director of I Gave It To You
Program 1: April 22 at 3pm
BILLY PALUMBO, WOEFF: One thing that I really appreciate about your film is that it's a COVID film, but it's grounded in positive emotions instead of a negative. And so, you know, the film emphasizes relief instead of dread, intimacy instead of isolation care instead of fear. And so I was wondering if you were consciously thinking about this film as sort of a counterpoint to the kind of negative or the negative emotion of a lot of the art and discourse about the pandemic, or did that come about in the process organically or after the fact?
CLAIRE MASKE: That's really gratifying to hear you say that because that's a reframing, I think, in my entire life, what I try to do. So it's nice to hear you say that because that reflects like work that I've tried to do on my attitudes.
So that's awesome. The way that the film came about was a lot of my work in general has to do with illness and the body. And so I had this experience with my best friend and it had been maybe like six months since I gave her COVID and it's also a reflection of our friendship with each other and kind of the beauty that we have built up in our friendship with each other.
Trying to kind of find the silver lining in things are like the way that we're often talking— trying to find the good and trying to find the hope. It's also a reflection of her personality. She works with kids. She's an early childhood educator, and I think that is also kind of her go to is like to find what's working and what's positive. And I think that's what makes it really good at working with kids.
So, yeah, I mean, I love hearing that. I wouldn't say it was intentional, but I think it's kind of a reflection of, yeah, the good things that we have both kind of intentionally tried to work on within ourselves and within our friendship. And when you're making personal documentary work, I guess that kind of comes through.
BP: Actually, my next question is related to that, that sort of personal documentary aspect, because I was curious about how you both prepared for that conversation that we hear in the film and how the act of filming it or recording it impacts what what you say and do in that conversation. In other words, does the film document that exchange or does the act of filming create that exchange?
CM: Yeah, yeah, I'm always thinking about that. I think I do a lot of work where the the film creates the exchange. I have a lot of work where it's conversations I would not be having otherwise unless I was doing the project. But for this one, I think what's interesting about it is that we have, we met in college and since we've known each other we both have this kind of obsession with voice memos. It started in college, we would be partying and like, someone would say something funny or like we would be like, ‘Oh, ha ha, like we're going to make these recordings.’ So then we both started doing it, and we both have this impulse a lot of times to just record conversations.
And then I had a a documentary professor who once told me the best interviews are not actually interviews. They're just conversations. The best way to interview someone is to approach them like they're having a conversation. So I think we had this there's this COVID between us. Then I said, ‘I think I wanna make a film about this. Do you just want to hang out and talk?’ And I think because we have this voice memo like practice, both of us both together, ends up really we're, we're both comfortable with our mode of just like throwing the audio recorder on and, and just talking.
BP: You talked a moment ago about how much of your
work is about the body and illness. There's obviously a
lot of physicality in the film, the not just the discussion
about illness and how bodies affect each other, but
also in the images. There's a lot of emphasis on the
bodies and touch bodies that are sort of mimicking
each other. I was curious to hear you talk a little bit
about the role that the body plays in your work.
CM: Yeah, I mean, I think it's almost like it's like asking a fish about water, right? It’s so ubiquitous in everything that I always make. It's like this obsession that I have is figuring out the body and the physical world and how, how we're interacting with the physical world. I use my art to kind of keep trying to understand.
So we were just like in my apartment hanging out and, the body is often what you have access to as low-budget, no-budget filmmakers. We didn't plan anything. I was trying to find what's universal and connects. We feel so connected as friends, mentally and emotionally. How can we show that?
But then there's also a tension of: we feel really similar, we are often doing activities together where we're like equally physically matched, like on a hike or running around or swimming. But we talk about she has gotten very sick before and she's often getting very sick and she got sicker than I did with COVID.
So I think there's also the tension between, like, we externally look similar and we feel similarly and we feel connected, but also, it's not, it's different. We have different bodies. I think I was trying to pass that out and understand how you can like feel so close to someone, but then also like be having this entirely different physical experience in the world.
BP: I noticed and you know obviously there's a lot of visual layers and textures in the film and some interplay between the surface of the film and the surface of the skin. Could you talk about the technical execution of some of that layering and what inspired that approach?
CM: Yeah, I think that's definitely me. So that's kind of my visual style. I tried to make a fiction film where there was just one thing on-screen at a time and I don't know [shakes head, grimaces]. It just doesn't. I think it's because I come from journaling and scrapbooking, gluing and pasting stuff. It just irks me when there's not a bunch of stuff on the screen.
So what I did for this, so we did the conversation. I usually cut the audio first, so I edited the audio, sent it to her, was like, ‘Do you think it's accurate?’ Then after we're good, we only shot one roll of film. So I had that and I cut it together. Then I guess I love how handwriting looks onscreen. Most of my films have handwriting incorporated in some way or another, but in this one I wanted it to kind of be like how she and I write letters to each other sometimes. I kind of wanted it to be like a letter from me to her talking a little bit more about some of the things.
If you pause it, the handwriting is oftentimes me, being like, ‘Oh, I'm so pathologically guilty like this is really funny to listen to her.’ You know, it's just like kind of little notes that I would write to her normally. I think in the future I want to maybe have her write some back and put those in or I would like to continue the conversation and keep adding more layers, whether it be this one or different one.
Also, I love how paper looks and feels. I wanted it to feel like a journal, so I did the paper stop motion, just with green screen on my phone on a stop motion app. And then I added that digitally.
BP: On the topic of the handwriting, especially the idea of having to pause it to actually be able to read it. There's something that I just found about incompleteness in what's being said, a sort of incoherence, or rather intangible coherence. The text on-screen is handwriting, so it's not easy to read, but it is also flashing and moves really quickly. And even what the two of you are talking about, it seems that you're sharing and understanding without actually having the language. Does that also come up in your work, this sort of incomplete coherence?.
CM: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. I’m hesitant to overexplain a lot of the time. Oftentimes I'm making work because like, I have something to get out of my system. Obviously, I was very guilty about this when I was making it. So I think when you're primarily making something for yourself, then the audience is kind of secondary, I'll just figure that out later.
I remove the pressure from myself to explain things and put them in a context and whatever. And then people end up liking it because, the feedback that I've gotten about this project is ‘it's really nice to hear you just talk like you're talking with a friend and it doesn't feel like a performance.’
So I think it's interesting because as soon as I stop thinking about audience, that's when the audience started to like it more.
And I think there's something sacred about hearing someone explain their own life themselves and not with the intention of everyone understanding. I come from a more traditional documentary background, news-style kind of documentary, and I started to feel like it was so much a construction of a fantasy, like oftentimes making a documentary is like fiction filmmaking. Using people's lives to make a social point or whatever it may be, the filmmaker's vision using this person's story under the veil of authenticity. And so I guess I started kind of moving more towards this approach, where it's personal, but it's also not made to tell a story perfectly. It’s made to feel accurate to whoever the person is in it. And that's like the highest priority.
BP: I think that fits really well also that there's something intangible about the guilt that you express because it's your fault, but it's not your fault. And so then the forgiveness follows that in a way that is not an easy translation of emotion. But even the idea of the sort of personal and communal responsibility, especially during the COVID times— there's a personal responsibility to help people, which means bring them closer, but there's also the responsibility to keep them away, to protect each other. So it makes sense that there's no easy way to describe that, only to live it.
CM: And it's really not satisfied in any way. There are definitely parts of it where it's, like, l not satisfying and then it just cuts. I think that's friendship and that's community. A lot of times there's not a resolution, at least for me in my close friendships and in communities that I've been a part of.
I've been thinking about this a lot, there's not really a lot of interpersonal resolution. Things just happen. And then sometimes you talk about it and sometimes you don't. And then a lot of just moving forward is required. So I like the ending too, because we have this conversation. I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'm guilty.’ She's like, ‘Don't be.’ We're like, okay, obviously, but it's not like it's fully resolved.
But yeah, we're going to keep being friends and there's going to be a whole bunch more stuff that's going to happen in our lives. That feels real to me, more than a happy, perfect resolution.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.