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Joanna Arnow does not seem like the sort of woman to make a film that will rock your world when it comes to sex, identity, and the endless confusion that is family. In person, she is quiet and unassuming. Both behind and and in front of the camera, she is ferociously, even ruthlessly, honest about deconstructing her romance with James Kepple in her film I HATE MYSELF : ).
Making a documentary about yourself may be a prime definition of narcissism, but Arnow has neatly side-stepped that as the central issue of her film. She is the protagonist, but it’s not to validate any of her, or our, preconceived notions. There is a keen sense that Arnow is using the best creative outlet she has in her arsenal to work out her attraction to Kepple as he spouts deliberately provocative hate speech as part of his performance art and persona. Arnow makes this an integral part of also working out her relationship with her parents, who provide a Greek chorus of reality checks and balances. At the heart of this film is a woman who wants to throw off the shackles of being the “good girl” her parents expect, and the understanding girlfriend that her boyfriend demands. At one point, she insists that her parents watch a cut of her documentary, one that features her having actual sex with Kepple. It is at once every parent’s nightmare, every child’s nightmare, and yet it’s also a demand for openness and honesty that might not be traditional, but in a therapeutic sense, will definitely move the filial relationship into unknown, possibly positive territory, but with no guarantees.
Arnow, in short, is taking a chance. That is what good filmmaking does. And it’s also what SFIndie Fest does best. As far as I’m concerned, it has paid off for both of them. What we have here is an edgy comedy, a visceral drama, and a bold use of unexpected nudity as a metaphor.
Appropriately, or ironically, its first screening at SFIndieFest was on Valentine’s Day, its second, and last, is 2/18, and you can buy tickets here. You can also follow Arnow and her film’s future screenings on Facebook.