Director Lisa Donato was born into an Italian-American family of storytellers and says she earned her sense of humor early by obsessively reenacting and rewriting SNL skits for school talent shows and strangers on Montana hiking trails.
After a college advisor told her that she would never make money in art, she did what every lost storyteller in Montana did in the late 90’s – she pursued a responsible degree in marketing.
For the next 10 years, she channeled her creativity in corporate advertising and flew all over the country producing commercial video & photography shoots for big brands like Nike, adidas, Este Lauder, Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook and more.
Growing tired of selling” canopies, software and jockstraps for corporate machines in cube farms with bad florescent lighting,” Lisa made the courageous decision to bring her own stories to life.
According to Lisa, the more she expressed her “queer truth and stories,” the more she empowered myself and witnessed the impact it had on others.
Since 2014, Lisa has directed six award-winning short films and have screened at hundreds of festivals worldwide.
The first feature film that Lisa co-wrote, Signature Move, was executive produced by Michael Shannon and world-premiered at SXSW (2017). It’s a romantic comedy about a South Asian, queer, Muslim woman who becomes a luchadora. The film is reviewed at 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and can be found on Amazon Prime.
Lisa has most recently directed her first feature, Gossamer Folds, which tells the story of a 10-yr-old boy with an unhappy home life and his unlikely friendship with his neighbor, a trans woman with dreams to leave their small-town city. Take a look at the trailer below:
ALSO READ: Alexandra Noele Grey talks starring role in Gossamer Folds
Reel 360 had a chance to sit with Lisa and talk about her storytelling and films.
Tell me about this film, and how you connected emotionally? When my rep team sent me the screenplay (by Bridget Flanery), I knew at the halfway mark that I wanted to direct it. I loved the nuanced exploration of each character and how they related to each other as new neighbors and eventually as chosen family.
As a queer woman, I’ve spent my entire life creating and cultivating deep friendships that often result in my own chosen family. This is a common experience for the queer community and I love the authentic portrayal of this experience in Gossamer Folds.
Also, my work as a filmmaker is dedicated to stories for and about the LGBTQ+ community and I choose projects that go beyond the archaic stereotypes of queer characters. I love that this film centers the story of a black trans woman who has big dreams to leave her small city.
The message in this film was very strong, and there were many vulnerable scenes. Was there anything specific you had to do to prepare for this shoot? I had to stay connected to the mission of the film’s message. For example, we had to shoot scenes with multiple angles and takes where the character, Billy, says derogatory remarks about Gossamer over and over (and over).
The film does not use this kind of language haphazardly or as senseless violence at the expense of a trans character. We use transphobic and homophobic slurs to specifically show how hate is a learned experience through the eyes of a child. We also had to take a lot of breaks while we filmed our most vulnerable scenes and I personally indulged in a daily dose of crunchy tacos at a local restaurant.
What was filming like working with such a young actor (in reference to Jackson)? Working with kids can be very challenging because you have limited hours and a short(er) attention span. But Jackson is a pro and he handled the high-intensity shooting like a champ. I was a camp counselor and I’ve been working with kids throughout my entire career in some capacity.
I tried to make it fun for Jackson as much as possible by teaching him martial arts, creating secret hand shakes, and listening to 80’s music in between takes. When all that failed, I learned that I could bribe him with bacon. 🙂
What was the biggest take away for you from this story? The most important message from this film is that hate is a learned experience and each person ultimately has the power to be who, what, and how they want to be in this world. The most surprising message is that unconditional love is not perfect.
It’s messy, confusing, and sometimes hurtful. Gossamer’s father, Edward, loves his daughter but he misgenders her throughout the entire movie. It’s important to show his flawed journey because this is how it plays out in the real world.
We all come to terms with change in our own ways and it requires personal reflection, internal reckoning, the desire to learn, and the courage to ultimately choose love.
What was the easiest/biggest challenge you had working on this film?The biggest challenge (other than working with a child actor) was making winter in Louisiana look like summer in Missouri. It was freezing cold! When we filmed scenes early in the morning, we could see the breath of the actors like they were breathing out thick fog.
We gave them cups of ice to chew on before each take (because this helps minimize the amount of visible condensation) and it only made them more cold. We ended up having to take out their visible breath via VFX in post production.
What film inspired you to create? And how has that affected you in what projects you accept or deny in your career? Amélie was influential because I rarely saw lead female protagonists carry narratives in such an imaginative, whimsical, and heartfelt way. I connected to the main character’s playful mischievousness and how she saw the world through a magical realism lens.
It’s such a good-spirited movie and it’s really influenced my desire to make films that bring out the best of humanity. I also love comedy. There is nothing more connective and cathartic than sitting with people and laughing together.
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Little Miss Sunshine, all the Christopher Guest movies, Booksmart, and Troop Zero are on repeat in my house!
Jessica Velle is writer from Los Angeles, CA. She focuses on shining a light on culturally diverse stories.