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Kate Johnston, the Woman Behind ‘Tru Love’

Kate Johnston, the Woman Behind ‘Tru Love’

New Series! The Women behind the Lesbian Films We Love:

We watch their films. We watch their films many times. If we love their current film, we want more. And we want to know these writers, directors and producers who labor to bring poignant, dramatic, comedic or documentary films to us. This is the first in a new series of interviews with women who have turned their creativity and lesbian film passion into a career; a career we are very glad they chose.

Meet Kate Johnston, writer and director of Tru Love (Wolfe Video).

JC: When I look you up on IMDB, you have four credits starting with a short film in 2011. In 2014 your film Tru Love has captured the hearts of lesbians worldwide as well as winning numerous festival awards. The term “You’ve come a long way fast” really applies.

What were youkate headshot light doing in 2010 that was the catalyst to this rapid rise to global fame?

KJ: Not sure about global fame but I am thrilled the film is becoming famous in LGBTQ circles. That makes me happy. Overnight successes are never overnight. I was writing Tru Love  in 2010 but the journey to get there took my whole life. My father ran a movie theatre when I was a kid living on remote military bases in Canada, so I grew up in a projection booth. I loved how the beam of light shot through the dark landing on a 20-foot screen. It was magic. Pixie dust. I fell in love with film – from Capra to Bergman. My mother was a Classical pianist and the piano teacher on the military bases, so I grew up listening to the strains of Bach and Rachmaninoff – image and sound were firmly rooted in my blood. I am famous in my family for storyboarding movies as a kid; I lived in an imaginary world. My sisters and I would write plays and charge the neighborhood kids a nickel to watch us perform them. Film school did not exist, so I went to college and studied to become an actor and was for a very long time as an adult – collaborating on a lot of Feminist/Lesbian/Queer new Canadian work (notably with renowned Trans playwright and activist Alec Butler).

Most of my professional working credits are for the stage so you will not see them IMDB. I studied film writing for a few years and producing and knew if I was going to make films, I would have to do so on my own or with other women or queer filmmakers and not wait for permission in an Industry that unfortunately does not readily support female/queer filmmakers. I produced (along with others) my friend Chris Chew’s short films SLOW BURN and CLICK, then wrote film and directed and produced a few others and here I am. Last but certainly not least, meeting Shauna MacDonald (my co-director) in 2010 was perfect timing for both of us to use our combined talent, skills and connections to bring Tru Love to life and to the screen and I am in her debt for doing so. We were both ready, both at a turning point and Tru Love has changed both of our lives for the better. When I am not writing and making films, I work part-time as a Youth counselor with Inner city youth at risk. Teenage Girls. I love them and the work I do there is important. It is all about reclaiming our own stories in the end, mentoring and passing it forward.

JC: Writers and directors of LGBTQ themed movies are discussing more and more the validity of continuing to make these genre specific films.

What do you see as the future of lesbian films in the next five years?

KJ: I wish I knew the future; I would buy stock in it. I also wish we didn’t need genre/niche categories. The truth is, Tru Love is a very crossover film that has wide appeal and yet it did not get into too many ‘mainstream’ film festivals in spite of 14 International Awards and in spite of having its world premiere in Raindance UK – the largest Indie film festival in Europe where it gained critical attention and was named in HUFFPOST UK top 10 films of 2013 (one below Gravity).  We need LGBTQ/Queer film festivals to show our work as long as they are shut out of mainstream ones. How else will our work be seen? I wish it were not the case. I consider myself a filmmaker first but will always have strong women and LGBTQ characters in my films because they/you are my people. My tribe. Our stories need to be seen.

JC: Historically, filmmakers, writers, songwriters, and artists put a huge piece of the truth in their lives into their work.

When you wrote Tru Love, what personal pieces of your life came out in the film? 

KJ: For me, I think all of my writing comes from a place of quiet interiority. A curiosity. I love questions. I like to dive deep. I love small talk, don’t get me wrong, but get bored quickly with it. When I wrote Tru Love (the original short and first feature draft) the 3 women, although fictionalized, were different aspects of my psyche all falling in love, crashing into each other and battling it out within themselves. The humour, the drama, the sentiment, the darkness, the light. The most personal small pieces for me were Tru as a younger me – the ‘runner’ who was a bit of a serial bed hopper in my 20’s. And the onion scene. Although growing up I felt deeply about things, I couldn’t cry easily and was secretly envious of those who could. Once, I rubbed an onion in my eyes to prove to one lover that I could cry, that I could draw tears, to prove that I cared. I laugh about it now but I put that in the film because it seemed right for Tru. We all have fears and we want to love and be loved. It is primal. Yet, to risk love can be terrifying at any age. Alice is the part of me that is older, a romantic, more in touch with her vulnerability and a risk taker (for better or for worse) and trying to just live fully in the moment knowing that fear kills and that time is fleeting. That is why the line “Lose yourself, find yourself, it’s all the same in the end” is what I believe to be my own statement about love and life. There is a sense of grace in that statement that I am trying to get to. Suzanne is the part of me that needs control, is deeply conflicted and resists everything vulnerable. I think we all have various elements of that in all of us. It is so personal and yet also universal which is why I think the film is being received with open arms around the world. Which is also what makes us flawed, funny, conflicted, complex. I was also raised very Irish Catholic so you will see the nun joke and that dark humour pop up in the film. Shauna came onboard for later drafts and helped to flesh out the supporting characters and story points which made the film what it is in terms of its fullness. She has a very sharp eye and I was grateful for that. I wanted the script and the film to be full of heart but not overly sentimental. I think it is.

JC: Margarita is a wonderful film that I reviewed for Epochalips a number of months ago.

As an associate producer, what did you take away from that experience that gave you the courage to write and direct Tru Love?

KJ: Laurie and Dom (the directors of Margarita) are dear old friends of mine and it was Laurie who suggested years before that we study producing together so we did! We went to night class together to learn the ropes, to demystify the process and it worked! I was and continue to be inspired and impressed with their courage to make their own films and it gave me the courage to make my own rather than wait for permission from someone else because the truth is that will rarely happen.  You have to make your own luck.  Chris Chew did the same thing for me. Inspired me to just make films. And I am thankful for all of them, for Shauna, and for everyone who has come onboard to help. It is one thing to have a delusion, it is quite another to be able to bring others into it. That is a true gift, she said laughing.

JC: What is next, Kate?

I am currently writing a drama with a lot of funny bits. A bit like Little Miss Sunshine in terms of tone.

I am also going to write a traditional lesbian romcom because we need more.

Check out this article from Jan with a short review of  Tru Love.

Jan Miller Corran is the CEO and founder of More Than Friends Film Funding, Inc. and has produced and/or consulted on over twenty films since 1995.

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One comment

  • Wallis Stern says:

    Kate Johnston is a true creative genius with such enormous talent, sensitivity, vivacity, humanity, wit, and joie de vivre that she leaves me breathless. TRU LOVE is such a brilliant film that it is superb poetry in motion, transcends the LGBTQ genre with ease, and deserves to be recognized as one of the greatest films about love ever made. It is with great pride that I can claim Kate Johnston as one of my dearest friends. Go, Katie, go! I love you, Anam Cara! xo Wallis