An Interview with Mitch McCabe

Our artist in residence, Mitch Mccabe is an educator and an award winning-filmmaker. Her short films Playing the Part, September 5:10pm, Highway 403, Mile 39, and To Who It May Concern have screened at Sundance, New Directors/New Film and New York Film Festival. She found some time to sit down with our intern Cassie to chat about her work, old and new, feminism, and family.


My favorite part of your films is how relatable you are in them and that makes it really easy to connect to the subject you're addressing. Was it ever difficult for you to be so personal about your private life in your films?


There are two that are really personal, Playing the Part and the last feature, Highway 403, Mile 39. Whenever I screen Playing the Part, I always preface that by saying “imagine living in a moment when there wasn't the internet. So, pre-Facebook, pre-Google, pre-Youtube.” It was shot in film. The whole nature of personal filmmaking and personal storytelling was very different. You know, I was 22. I was in the bubble of college and the film program there, so I didn't really know how personal I was getting. But, also it is storytelling, so essentially I am sculpting that story about those themes and those ideas. But I love having that now because a lot of those people are no longer with me. In that last film [Youth Knows No Pain], it's personal and it’s not. I'm not talking about who I’m dating, I’m not talking about how I feel about anybody outside of that film, or my dad, or aging. You know, with that film [Youth Knows No Pain] I would have done some things differently. I wish I would have lost funding and it would have taken another year because then I would have been following people into the recession. When I screen that film I tell them this is a very pre-recession film. There’s a lot of almost predictive elements. I wish I would have disclosed that all these procedures were free and they were never preplanned in that film. So things like that are a little…[scrunches face], watching them now, because I don’t go around getting shot up, but I wasn’t performing either. It was definitely like, “Yeah sure! Why not?! I’m not paying for it, right?!” [laughs] It’s also somewhat cathartic because it was almost somewhat the last moment in my life… My problems really shifted during the recession. But it’s not always easy, but ironically, in some degree for whatever reason, that’s what’s gotten funded. I had a lot of other projects on the table but with the last one, with Youth, that’s what HBO wanted and they wanted it to be personal. My original intention with that film was not to be very personal.


I really resonated with Youth Knows No Pain because I’m 25 and I'm already worried about wrinkles. I even bought this anti-aging regimen and after seeing that was I was like, “Oh, I’m not so crazy.”


It’s so tricky sometimes with documentary, and this is something I really struggle with the work I do now, is how obvious do you have to be to make your point? I was like, well, we’re a very ageist culture and we have to work into our 70’s now. It makes sense that people are worried about these things in their 40’s and 50’s so that they aren't placed out of the job market or they don't have to move onto their second marriage or whatever. Life’s not built to meant to be single, I should know. Otherwise, I don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s a part of how I see things, that filmmaking is a part of the process.



You get pretty personal about your relationships with your parents, specifically you’re very honest about your mother in Playing the Part.  Was it hard to be so honest about your relationship in a public platform or to share your films with her?


Yeah, this was the thing that got me into trouble. You know, getting into that kind of trouble at 22 is weird, and I guess you don't know what you don't know until you figure it out. There are theses kind of rules in documentary that if your going to ask a really difficult question that’s going to make you lose access, you do that the last time you film. It was weird for my first film to be shutting the door and never being able to film in that community again. There are projects I would love to do on certain things in the area but I can’t. I can’t film my mother ever again. The last film was originally called ‘My Mother’s Beauty Cream’ and I had to talk to HBO and tell them I can’t. Yeah, that was difficult for my dad at the time and twenty-something years later it’s still brought up! I think one of my favorite scenes from that film is the moment she comes into the room. That was a really tough edit because you want to keep on this balance of showing me for who I am and how I was at that time, and the relationship, without making you hate me but still being honest. And maybe some people are still going to hate me. But it’s also mirroring for the audience the many situations they've been in themselves with their family. Just the act of filming and how that inherently has its issues.