REELING FILM FESTIVAL Wendy Jo Carlton explores life, love in ‘Good Kisser’

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Wendy Jo Carlton is an out director, producer and teacher known for indie films like Hannah Free, starring Sharon Gless, and the lesbian romance musical Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together. She’s also the creator of the web series Easy Abby.

Good Kisser is Carlton’s latest movie; in it, two characters, Jenna and Kate, open their relationship to a third person. This takes them on an unexpected journey and stars Kari Alison Hodge, Julia Eringer and Rachel Paulson.

Windy City Times: Are you currently living in LA?

Wendy Jo Carlton: I’m in Seattle. I did live in LA to push my web series Easy Abby. I was shooting it, then releasing it. I came back to Chicago for a year and now I have been in Seattle for a year. This is where I shot Good Kisser. I originally wanted to shoot it in Chicago, but came here and switched it up.

WCT: Are you originally from Chicago?

WJC: No. I grew up in Michigan. I was in Chicago for 12 years almost.

WCT: Were you always interested in filmmaking?

WJC: I always wanted to be in media, such as radio, photography, television and then film.

WCT: I met some of the Good Kisser cast at Outfest in LA. What was the story inspired by?

WJC: Relationship trauma. I am interested in telling stories about visceral romantic experiences that are not often explored in movies. I love John Sayles and Jane Campion movies. I like subtlety and nuance. I love to write about power imbalances.

With Good Kisser, I was interested in showing what it can feel like to be in a relationship that isn’t healthy for you. It can be a passive-aggressive partner or someone that is not valuing you. I wanted to honor that experience that I think a lot of people have in life, regardless of gender or sexual identity. Because I’m queer and lesbian, it’s a specific experience that I don’t see in movies much.

It’s a woman with a woman and it’s not about coming out or falling for a straight woman. It’s an adult movie with themes and experiences for adults. I wanted to give a nod to polyamory and being attracted to more than one person at a time.

WCT: I remember it being hard for the actresses to talk about the movie without giving too much away. Do you have that problem?

WJC: I tell the premise, but don’t say everything that ends up happening. I don’t want to take away the experience of being in it. I try not to be predictable in how a story is told.

WCT: What would you like audiences to take away from this film?

WJC: I would love the audience to recognize themselves in each of the women. I first started writing Good Kisser with the image of a woman eating watermelon on the floor at night. The rest of the movie came after that image. That image felt to me like a break down and a realization moment.

WCT: What was the overall experience for you with Hannah Free?

WJC: It was my first feature film directed there in Chicago. I then did my second feature written and directed in Chicago—Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together—which was a hybrid musical/romantic comedy.

What I really loved about Hannah Free was the story that Claudia Allen wrote about two older women in their 70s are still having sex and are in love. They are both complicated and flawed. I think it’s a profound story and not just about visibility of older people. The story is older and it’s still relevant about LGBT people being denied legal access to their partners because of homophobia.

WCT: How is your series Easy Abby going?

WJC: Great. That was set in Chicago as well. There have been two seasons and it’s currently on Revry.TV. When that license runs out in November, I will have it back on YouTube, where it got 55 million views. I was out in LA pitching it, because other series have been bought with far less organic viewership. I honestly feel that if it wasn’t a lesbian protagonist that it would have been picked up by a studio with a lot of money.

The resources with money are still going to keep throwing the money at people who are already famous or well known. As far as independent LGBT filmmaking, it’s even harder than it ever was. That’s why it’s important that film festivals like Reeling continue to be supportive and give queer filmmakers the platform and promotion to get the stories out. There are thousands of stories that we are not seeing.

Look for Carlton and the cast of Good Kisser at Reeling Film Festival, Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. with Jerry Nunn moderating the Q&A portion the evening directly afterward. Head over to ReelingFilmFestival.org for tickets and information.

Plans are in the works for Good Kisser to be screened at Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 164 N. State St., on Oct. 25-31. Tickets will soon be available at SiskelFilmCenter.org .

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