a cinematic poem about being in the closet
Interview with Director Nisha Gupta
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
While directing this film about being in the closet, I never felt so much joy move through me as by the process of transforming political trauma into hopeful art. It's been one of the most meaningful things I have ever done in my life. I am queer Indian-American woman whose parents migrated to the U.S. from India, which recriminalized homosexuality in 2013. I know the emotional pain of the closet intimately, in a variety of ways. Directing this film, and working with such a diverse cast of queer actors and actors of color, created this beautiful blurring of boundaries between fiction and documentary.
It allowed us to tell stories of our own lives, and pursue catharsis and hope, as we together wade through the collective sociopolitical trauma of being marginalized minority citizens in the era of Trump’s America. Yet this film is not just for us. It's also meant to honor the millions of LGBTQ people from past eras, all around the world, who never got to tell their stories of sociopolitical trauma--their stories of the closet. This film is also for you, in loving memory.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
If you identify as heterosexual, you should watch ‘illuminate’ because you surely love someone who is non-heterosexual and has been wounded by living in a homophobic society—whether you know it or not. This film can deepen your sensitivity to an experience of human suffering that is gravely in need of compassion. If you identify as non-heterosexual, you should watch this film because it may help you feel seen, heard, and understood in your experience of suffering, particularly if you have ever been or are currently closeted. It may help you feel that you are not alone, and realize there is a way out of loneliness and fear and into empowerment and love. And for queer people of color, ‘illuminate’ emphasizes the intersectional aspects of LGBTQ and racial oppression in a way that I hope to be validating.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
‘illuminate’ uses symbolic imagery to illustrate how LGBTQ people’s basic rights to truth, freedom, love, hope, and power are revoked by the oppression of the closet. Through cinematic poetry, this film offers a political argument: that truth, freedom, love, hope and power are universal human rights that we all need to survive. The symbolic cinematography envelops viewers inside the “common humanity” of the closeted experience, so viewers of all sexual orientations get in touch with how it feels to truth, freedom, love, hope and power stripped away. By creating this felt sense of “common humanity,” the film seeks to motivate all viewers to become better advocates in fighting for LGBTQ rights—which are universal rights.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
My filmmaking process was unique in that, I am not only a filmmaker but a clinical psychology PhD candidate. This film evolved as part of a research study for my doctoral dissertation. As a qualitative researcher, I conducted in-depth interviews with research participants about their lived experiences of being closeted about their sexual orientation. Then, as a filmmaker, I collaborated with an amazing team of cinematographers, actors and musicians to produce the short film 'illuminate' which translated the research data into poetic cinematography. All imagery in this film is directly inspired by research participants’ metaphoric descriptions of what being in the closet felt like for them personally. My study’s research findings are presented both in the form of a short film and in a traditional scholarly way, available at www.illuminatethecloset.com.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Viewers across the spectrum of sexual orientation have remarked that this film is extremely emotionally moving—it makes the closeted experience resonate “deep inside their bones” and ignite powerful emotions of sorrow, anger, compassion, love, and ultimately hope. Additionally, some viewers who identify as heterosexual have discussed how the symbolic imagery in ‘illuminate’ invites them to reflect upon their own closets—the parts of themselves they too hide due to fear of rejection by society. I think this is important to promote solidarity.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The feedback has been extremely heartening to me, affirming that art can indeed evoke emotions required for the pursuit of social justice—emotions of empathy, compassion, outrage, hope, and love.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I hope this film reaches as many eyeballs as possible, to spread compassion and hope. I love that your platform highlights films that stand for a cause. wearemovingstories.com creates a space to celebrate, connect, and feel, over art that makes a difference. It’s exciting to be a part of that.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I hope that distributors, film festival directors, journalists, media influences, and activists see the potential for 'illuminate' to create deep emotional resonance among viewers—LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ alike—in a way that can spur sociocultural healing for all of us at this perilous time in history.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
My wish is that ‘illuminate’ is circulated across media outlets that are trying to provide hope and build community for people who are hurting at this time in history. My dream is also to screen this film in various festivals and community events, in order to spark dialogue and community-building.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What closets are you living in due to the pressures of social norms? And what is our collective responsibility as citizens to transform unjust social norms and shape a more open-hearted society for all?
Would you like to add anything else?
I want to highlight the incredible musical score for ‘illuminate’, created by electronic musician and vocalist Lesley Flanigan. Her music is haunting, yearning, and beautiful. It envelops you in a poignant, trance-like state as you enter the closeted world for the duration of the film. You can check out more of Lesley’s work here: http://lesleyflanigan.com/
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
In the fall of 2018, I’ll be moving to the filmmaking haven of Atlanta to begin a tenure-track assistant professor of psychology position at the University of West Georgia. There, I will be pursuing projects on an ongoing basis that continue to transform research data into short films about lived experiences of oppression. You can learn more about my research/filmmaking process at pfcollective.com.
Interview: March 2018
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTIAQ+, scifi, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
a cinematic poem about being in the closet
Length: 23 minutes
Director: Nisha Gupta
Producer: The Phenomenological Film Collective (pfcollective.com)
Cinematographers: Joseph Carreno and Nisha Gupta
Key cast: Orlando Davis (Lead), LH Gonzalez, Monisha Schwartz, Lee Lytle, Isaiah Noreiga, Jacob Wasson, Matt Rich, Mary-Beth Grimaldi, Hakim Fontaine
Music: Lesley Flanigan
Looking for: distributors, film festival directors, journalists, media influencers
Social media handles:
Made in association with: Duquesne University Psychology Department