Director Anne Wheeler explains it this way, "The movie ( Better Than Chocolate ) came to me from ( producer ) Sharon McGowan and ( screenwriter/co-producer ) Peggy Thomson. It's kind of inspired by ( Thomson's ) work. We approached it sort of like a documentary. We brought together a group of young women who were very candid about their own lives and that, with Peggy's own experiences, were sort of what formed the characters and the story."
Characters and story are what the lesbian-themed Better Than Chocolate has plenty of to spare. The film opens Friday at Piper's Alley Theatre in Chicago, 1601 N. Wells.
Gregg Shapiro: When I was at the Lilith Fair, I asked Sarah McLachlan if she had seen Better Than Chocolate yet and she said that she hadn't, but that she was looking forward to seeing it. How did you go about approaching her to use the song "Ice Cream," from which the movie�s title is taken, in Better Than Chocolate?
Anne Wheeler: Actually, we were trying to think of a title that had chocolate in it, and of course there are so many movies with chocolate in their titles, that we were a bit stymied. We had something very close to that. Gina, our make-up lady is an old high school friend of Sarah's, and they still hang out together. Gina approached her and said, "I'm working on this great film and I think you�d really like it, and they'd really like to use your song, and what do you think?" Really, I think she did it as a favor to her old friend, for which I'm very grateful.
GS: You also have some other interesting song choices including one by lesbian singer/songwriter Ferron and one that was co-written by Neko Case of Neko Case and Her Boyfriends. Does being a musician yourself come into play when putting together a movie's soundtrack?
AW: Oh yes. I think the whole music of this movie gives it the whole lift and tone and energy. Ferron and I go back many, many years. I used a song of hers in my first feature Loyalties, way back in 1984. We've been aware of each other and we spoke on the phone. She was very generous. She pretty much gave me that song ( "Stand Up" ) to use. She hangs out on an island just off the coast of Vancouver for a good part of her time. That's where she does most of her writing. Again, that was kind of a gift. In fact, most of the music in the movie was a gift, because of course the movie didn't have very much money, so we had to appeal to people to be very generous with their talent. Not only the musicians and the music people, but right across the board, everybody who worked on this movie. Most of the music, except for what is performed in the movie, was selected during the editing process. I played stuff behind scenes until I felt like it was the right piece of music. Some of it I manipulated. I did loop tracks and played things at different speeds and sort of created a score out of music that had already been produced. The amount of music actually scored for this movie comes down to just a few minutes.
GS: Do you have a preference for making movies or making music?
AW: I guess that my profession is making movies, but a lot of my time at home is spent at my piano. I've done a bit of songwriting. I usually do a bit of songwriting for the movies I make. I�ve written a number of songs that have done quite well up here ( in Canada ) . I guess that filmmaking is my profession and music is my joy.
GS: Like last summer's gay�themed movies such as High Art, Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, and The Opposite Of Sex, this summer also has a fair share of queer�themed movies including Trick and your film Better Than Chocolate. How does it feel to be a part of the new wave of queer cinema?
AW: It�s wonderful because the first audience, which is usually a completely gay audience, is always so supportive and appreciative and they get the jokes. You know who you are telling the story to, so it's much easier as a filmmaker to know who you are talking to. We were always really clear that that was the audience we were going for. If it crosses over, that's great, but to know that there is a community out there that�s probably going to support you and give your movie a chance, that�s a terrific feeling. And if that movie can be used to broaden people's attitudes outside of the community, that�s a great thing too.
GS: When you made the comment about the audience getting the jokes, it reminded me of the scene where Kim helps Maggie prepare for Maggie�s mother�s visit by, in Kate Clinton�s words, "de-dyking the apartment." That scene will probably hit home for any gay or lesbian person who is not yet out to their family.
AW: Yeah, we found that a lot of straight reviewers just don't get the movie. They think that ( Maggie's mother ) Lila is too stupid for words and that there can't be a mother out there would be as naive as her. Gosh, I've talked to so many young women that are just coming out now in their late teens or early 20s who think that Lila is right on ( laughs ) .
GS: It doesn�t matter when they come out. Most mothers of queer children are the same at all times.
AW: Yeah. I really enjoyed making this movie, because all seven characters are pretty fully developed and arced in the movie, which is a lot of people to keep happening in a story. It didn't just treat the mother as the problem, it treated her as a whole person with her own set of problems and neuroses. I think people really appreciate that.
GS: Do you identify yourself as a lesbian?
AW: No, I don't. I'm straight ( laughs ) . Sorry. I've lived in a lot of situations where I'm the only straight person. Of course, being in the film business, I have lots of close connections in the gay world.
GS: Do you know what the response to the movie has been from the lesbian community?
AW: It's been just terrific. We took it to Berlin, first of all, and the screenings were packed. We were turning hundreds of people away, once the word got out that it was a feel-good lesbian movie, of which there are not many. The audience seemed to change too. The first audience was definitely all lesbian. In the second audience, you began to see the gay guys coming in. And by the third and fourth, you started getting a broader spectrum, so it was obvious that they felt comfortable bringing their straight friends and relatives to the screenings too. We've gotten a People's Choice Award at the Lesbian and Gay Festival in London, and in Toronto and in San Francisco. The response has been extremely positive.
GS: Have you begun work on your next project?
AW: Yes. I'm doing one called Marine Life, which is about a dysfunctional family. ( It's about ) a matriarch who has had children from many different marriages, and it's got a lot of comedy in it, but it's more straight drama. Most of my work is about relationships between women of different generations or races. Loyalties is about a Native woman and an English woman that form a friendship. The War Between Us is about a Japanese woman in internment who connects with a mining family as a nanny and the friendship that develops between her and the mother. So, this film ( Better Than Chocolate ) , though I'm not gay, seems to have evolved out of my work.