Remember when we used to go places called movie theaters to watch films? Well, the good old days are back again: Cinemas are reopening, and with them film festivals are coming back to life. Always a neighborhood treat, the Greenpoint Film Festival is also awaking from its COVID slumber and will debut an array of docs, features, shorts, and animation works this coming weekend. Part of the lineup is Suzanne Lenz‘s semi-autobiographical work Christmas Eve Eve Or: the Things I Can’t Remember. The work uses a familiar structure — a daughter returning home to a fraught family around the holidays — as a springboard for an intimate, personal tale.
The 14-minute drama is produced by Greenpoint favorite Gillian Robespierre (who set much of her breakout and subversive romcom Obvious Child in the neighborhood) and produced, written, and directed by husband-and-wife team Suzanne Lenz and Tom Bean. Lenz also stars in the film, and, here, discusses the process of excavating personal history and creating the work during COVID. Check it out this Friday at Stuart Cinema at 8 PM!
Greenpointers: Your short debuts this week at the Greenpoint Film Festival — congrats! Can you tell us a little about the story?
Suzanne Lenz: Thank you so much! We’re really excited and grateful to the Greenpoint Film Festival for including us. The story is based in truth on my own life — the film follows Morgan who travels home for the holidays, where she’s forced to confront her father, a low-functioning alcoholic reeling from the suicide of his younger brother. Through the course of one day, Morgan visits first her mother, and then her father, hoping to take him to the family’s annual Christmas Eve Eve party. But nothing goes according to plan. In the end, Morgan can’t save her dad, or make him sober, but she’s able to share a small, quiet moment with him.
You also wrote, directed, performed in, and produced the piece. What was it like wearing all of those hats? Were some of those roles in any way new to you?
I’ve spent most of my professional life as an actor and dabbled a bit in producing small-scale plays and web series, so to write, direct, produce, and act all at the same time to this extent was a first for me! This was also my very first time writing and directing and I couldn’t have done either without my partner Tom Bean. He encouraged me to tell this story and without him directing, writing, and producing the short alongside me I doubt it would’ve ever been made. I’m endlessly grateful to him for the support!
As a writer, I feel like stories always live in us and then there comes a point where it’s their time to enter the world. What about this moment felt like the right time to tell this story for you, and was its life in any way impacted by COVID as well?
This is a deeply personal story for me that, for a long time, I felt like I could never share, but ultimately it’s been a profoundly cathartic and growing experience for me as an artist and I’m thankful for that. We were lucky that we filmed the movie in February of 2020, just a few weeks before everything was shut down. I’m grateful that we were able to do that because it would’ve been very challenging to shoot during covid. Post-production was completely remote and now we’re so excited that in-person screenings can happen again so we can share the film with other humans in real life!
Some of us may know you from your stint as Fiona on Silicon Valley. You were a robot! What was that experience like?
My time as Fiona in Silicon Valley has definitely been a highlight of my career so far. I got to work on the Sony lot for several weeks in Los Angeles with showrunners Mike Judge and Alec Berg. I loved being directed by the brilliant Gillian Robespierre (who got me the audition, thanks Gil!) and Matt Ross, and playing opposite Zach Woods was a dream. The role involved a lot of green screen, special effects, and long hours in the makeup chair— being under a bald cap for 12 hours a day was a sweaty but fun and unforgettable experience.
You’ve been in the neighborhood for a while — in what ways does Greenpoint continue to grow on you?
I’ve lived in Greenpoint now for eight years and from the moment I moved here I fell in love with the small town feel. Greenpoint has always felt a little off the beaten path to me, particularly in the McGolrick Park area where I live. I also love how so many of the bar and restaurant owners have taken what’s already here and preserved the old charm while giving it a little sprucing. Palace Bar is a great example of this, it’s been around for almost 100 years and instead of knocking it down the new owners kept the appeal of the original and got it back in fighting shape. It’s one of my favorite bars and also the closest to me.
You’ve collaborated a number of times with the genius Gillian Robespierre. I love her work so much. How did that relationship manifest?
When I first moved to Greenpoint, I was lucky enough to become immersed in an amazing group of friends/collaborators/filmmakers, including my co-director (and now husband) Tom Bean, who was close friends with Gillian and had worked on some of her projects too. Gillian is a lovely and extremely talented human being. I’m lucky that it’s worked out for me to be a part of some of her amazing projects. She’s an incredible collaborator and we were so fortunate that she executive produced our short. Her feedback and support throughout the process has been invaluable. Gilliian’s super-talented husband, Chris Bordeaux, collaborated on our score as well. And my brother-in-law Casey Brooks (who edited Gil’s movies) worked with us to edit the short. It’s a really amazing film/friend community in Greenpoint to be a part of!
Anything else you would like to add? Thanks Suzanne!
We hope you can come to our screening at 8 PM on Friday, September 3. Afterwards we’ll head to Black Rabbit for a celebratory toast! And check out the rest of the incredible programming at the Greenpoint Film Festival!