Short Film Corner 2022
Cheri Gaulke & Cheryl Bookout
INSIDE THE BEAUTY BUBBLE
May 15, 2022
A pastel dreamland of 3,000 vintage beauty artifacts in the desert community of Joshua Tree, California. "America's hairstorian", Jeff Hafler, struggles to keep his roadside attraction afloat during a remarkable year that changes his life and the lives of his husband and son.
Hello Cheri & Cheryl, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening?
The pandemic has been a strange time of isolation but also finding community in new ways. Initially it stopped all productivity but eventually we found ways to continue filming Inside the Beauty Bubble. I also made another documentary during lockdown by working remotely (Miss Alma Thomas: A Life in Colour). How amazing to realize I could conduct interviews through Zoom with a live crew in Washington DC, then edit everything in Los Angeles. I never met a single person in my team in person until the film was winning awards in film festivals!
Inside the Beauty Bubble winning an Award of Merit at Impact Docs Awards, did you imagine you would get this type of reaction for your film?
The Award of Merit from Impact Docs was our first meaningful award when we launched our film festival journey. It was a validation for us that we do have an important story to tell that resonates with an international audience. Rick Prickett, who chairs Impact DOCS, had this to say about the 2022 winners, “Impact DOCS is not an easy award to win. Entries are received from around the world from powerhouse companies to remarkable new talent.”
We’re very excited to share with you that we were recently presented with the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival Audience Award for the Best Short Documentary. This award means the world to us, the films selected for this festival are extraordinary and we are so honoured to win this special award.
What does it mean for you to be in the Cannes Short Film Corner with Inside the Beauty Bubble and what do you hope to take away from this experience?
Inside the Beauty Bubble participating in the Cannes Short Film Corner opens the door to opportunities we might not otherwise have. It gives our film an exciting international visibility from a platform that is held in high regard world-wide. It provides us with a broad reach to share our story beyond the stereotype of the “American West.” Our film was shot in Joshua Tree, California, USA, which is a world class tourist destination for lovers of the great outdoors looking for an adventure in the magical Mojave Desert. What most people never get to see, is the community that calls the tourist destination home and in their own way, holds the land together.
How vital are platforms like Cannes SFC in championing and supporting the short film format?
Platforms like the Cannes SFC that champion and support the short film format are difficult to find and having advocacy means everything for filmmakers who believe in the art of storytelling in 40 minutes or less. Oftentimes, short films can feel there is no market or excitement for programming. Platforms like Cannes SFC are vital for filmmakers so our creative endeavours can be seen and shared with the world.
Can you tell me how Inside the Beauty Bubble came about, what was it about The Beauty Bubble Salon & Museum that interested you so much as a filmmaker?
Cheri: Cheryl and I were about to get in the car for a 5-hour drive to the Nevada City Film Festival with our previous film Gloria’s Call (where I’m proud to say we won the Audience Award). We spent that round trip making a plan for how we would make Inside the Beauty Bubble, and that’s pretty much what we did, with the big exception of Covid entering our story and shutting down Jeff’s business. Obstacles often present themselves in the process of making a documentary. This one became part of Jeff’s story and helped to shape the film.
Cheryl Living in Joshua Tree, had you known much about Jeff Hafler and his unique museum before you started making this documentary?
Cheryl: I like to share that I had a “life changing haircut” the first time I sat in Jeff Hafler’s chair at the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum. I’d known about the salon for a long time and had been seeing ads for it when it was located in Wonder Valley, a Mojave Desert community even more remote than Joshua Tree. One day in early 2019, I ventured from my Joshua Tree home for a walk and discovered the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum had moved into the property directly behind mine. I was in need of a haircut so I went in and made an appointment for the next day and was blown away by the collection of vintage beauty artefacts and how artfully they were displayed in the modest-sized, pink and turquoise, roadside attraction. My life hasn’t been the same since. One hour with Jeff getting that haircut, learning about his collection, his family and his upcoming exhibition at the SFO Museum at the San Francisco International Airport, and I knew I had the subject for my next film project. While walking home from my haircut appointment I was calling Cheri telling her about Jeff and my excitement to share his story and would she consider co-directing a project with me. I am thankful everyday that she said “YES!”
What was the experience like making a film that explores Jeff’s incredible passion?
Our affection for Jeff grew as we made our film following him through the seasons and witnessed first-hand his family interactions and his impact on the community. Capturing the devotion of Jeff’s beauty salon clientele and the conversations shared was an intimate peek into the relationships formed between a hairstylist and their long-time clients.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making Inside the Beauty Bubble and what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this experience?
Filming had already begun before Covid hit and we had to make the tough decision to go forward as Covid protocols would allow, or put the project on a shelf. Thank goodness we made the decision to go forward and adapt our story to what would be Jeff’s journey and his resilience in the face of challenges through the seasons of April 2019-April 2021.
Inside the Beauty Bubble features some really wonderfully playful animation from C. Lily Ericsson, when you were making this film did you always know you would feature animation in some way?
Yes, we used animation in our 2019 short documentary, Gloria’s Call, and previous projects. Animation helps to tell a story, and brings humour and pathos at the same time. We both love animation and it is a perfect fit with Jeff’s whimsical sensibility. He adds his personal style in everything he does. The 3,000 objects in his salon look like they want to leap off the shelves and dance. Using animation gave us a playful way to include the unique high-desert creatures, jackrabbit, coyotes, snakes and insects, without being wildlife photographers/cinematographers. Cheryl lent her drawing abilities and drew the jackrabbit that became animated and appeared in a few sequences and Cheri drew upon her skills in animation production that she developed working with The Righteous Conversations Project, which brings teens and Holocaust survivors together to make animated films.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Cheri: I knew I was an artist from an early age but felt limited by the 2-dimensional constraints of a canvas. My earliest ventures into filmmaking were with the Sony Portapak in the 1970s and even then I was making interactive video installations not “movies” or documentaries. In 1974, I discovered a new medium, performance art, and it liberated me because my body was my art medium. I continued to make the occasional video art piece throughout my 40+ year art career. In the last ten years I have shifted almost exclusively into film as my medium. It has the time-based storytelling aspects of performance art that I love but it is more easily shared.
Cheryl: I have been an artist as long as I can remember and it was only natural I would pursue a career in the arts. Until 2014 my primary career was as a fine arts studio artist, curator and gallery director. However, my focus in school was fine art and filmmaking. My big dream was always to share stories using film as my creative vehicle. It was in 2014 that I finally began to realize my dream when I began to work with two women who were already well-situated in the filmmaking industry, Shana Betz and America Young. Together we created The Chimaera Project, a nonprofit ornanization that champions women and non-binary filmmakers. I brought my knowledge of nonprofit organizational structure and arts administrative experience and from Shana and America I gained valuable hands-on experience with filmmaking. I have not looked back since.
How different was your approach to Inside the Beauty Bubble compared to your earlier films?
Cheri: My background is in the visual arts so I approach filmmaking in a non-traditional way. My video artwork has included multi-monitor video installations, video sculptures, interactive works and deeply personal experimental narratives. I love making documentaries about art and artists that use artistic storytelling techniques like animation. Inside the Beauty Bubble uses a verité style which was new for me and fun to explore.
Cheryl: I have never worked on a cinema verité film before. It was a brand new experience and one that I must say I thoroughly enjoyed. Inside the Beauty Bubble is my directorial debut and now I am hooked! On previous films I have been a writer, producer or a production assistant. Now I have two new film projects on my director’s plate. It’s so exciting!
You co-created the award-winning documentary short Gloria’s Call and co-directed Inside the Beauty Bubble. How important is this collaborative nature of filmmaking?
Filmmaking is a collaborative medium. Our first collaboration was when Cheryl produced two films that Cheri directed: Gloria’s Call and I Am Be. We feel extraordinarily fortunate to have crossed paths and to find a partner with the same filmmaking/storytelling passion and work ethic. It’s pretty amazing how many times we finish each other’s sentences and have the same thoughts about the creative process. Deciding to co-direct Inside the Beauty Bubble felt natural and throughout the process we complemented each other’s strengths. We think the result is a better film than either one of us might have made on our own. Even the occasional disagreement led to better decisions.
Cheri: how much has your background being a pioneer within the feminist art movement helped inform your approach to your films and the stories you tell?
As a feminist, it is important to me to make visible that which isn’t seen so my work tends to champion underrepresented communities. That might include women, children, elder Holocaust survivors, artists, and even giving voice to nature itself. I have also worked as a film educator for 31 years empowering youth voices. The American Pavilion will be screening seven student films that I executive produced and one of them is also in the Short Film Corner. A Prayer for My Mother: The Eva Brettler Story is a film created by teens working with a Holocaust survivor. Through animation the film shares Eva’s profoundly moving story as a child who survived a death march, two concentration camps, and the loss of her family.
"Women artists were innovating this brand new art medium, performance art, as a way to move beyond the elitist art world to reach broader audiences."
Cheryl: how different is your approach to your documentary subjects compared to your narrative fiction projects?
My approach to narrative fiction projects is to embrace something or someone that inspires me, much the same way I think about making a documentary film. Of course the obvious big difference is that documentaries are based on truths and perceived realities and with narratives, there are unlimited possibilities for alternative realities and the story arc.
Is there any advice or tips you can offer anyone thinking about making their debut film?
We have learned so much on our collective creative journeys and agree on a few essential tips: attach a really good team to your project, make sure you are in love with your subject, go into it with a good business plan, raise enough money so you can make your film and meet your vision (colour correction, excellent sound design), and budget funds for at least a year in the festival circuit with marketing materials (poster, postcards, give-aways, etc.). There’s more we could share, but these tips are on the top of our list.
Are there any other themes or film genres you are looking forward to exploring with future films?
Cheryl: I LOVE science fiction! My current project, Women of Steel, is a sci-fi screenplay I wrote as an episodic adventure and it is winning prizes in screenplay competitions. The inspiration for this project are the women I met and developed a friendship with while visiting family in the state of Indiana. These women work in very dangerous positions in the steel industry in order to support their families. I’m also working on developing a short animated science fiction film based on a short story I read years ago – if I can get the rights to do so. An animated film is a new process for me that I have wanted to tackle for the past 15 years, so the time is now.
Cheri: I love short films – they are perfect little storytelling capsules and I hope to make many more films about artists, particularly women artists using creative approaches like animation. Currently I am working on my first feature documentary because the story I’m telling is too big for a short. Wrestling a longer, more complex narrative into shape presents new challenges. It’s both overwhelming and exhilarating!
Can you tell me a little more about your debut feature film?
I’d love to! Acting Like Women is about feminist performance art in 1970s-80s Los Angeles. This was an explosive period for women artists who were tackling big issues in their work like violence against women, lesbian identity, inequities in the workplace, and environmental concerns. Women artists were innovating this brand new art medium, performance art, as a way to move beyond the elitist art world to reach broader audiences. This work had a profound impact on today’s art and social movements. I am so fortunate to have been part of this historical moment and I’m excited to tell this deeply personal and collective story.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from Inside the Beauty Bubble?
We were initially attracted to the subject of our film, Jeff Hafler, because of his passion for living an artful life and his resilience to adversity and change. He has spent years collecting detritus from beauty history and filling his hair salon and museum from floor to ceiling with objects that are at once familiar and nostalgic. The best part of experiencing Jeff’s collection is he just explodes with enthusiasm telling stories about each object. He’s such a creative person and we wanted to show his art in the manifestation of hair-related sculptures and his original music compositions – the film features eight of his original songs. As we got to know Jeff, we realized that we really wanted to bring viewers into his personal life to get a glimpse into his family which is same-sex, adoptive and biracial. We are committed to making films that humanize diverse members of society. We think that’s key to understanding. And what better way to get to know someone different than you but through a film!