SxSW 2020 Interview – TOMBOY director Lindsay Lindenbaum

“TOMBOY is a film about four incredible drummers who happen to be women. Told in cinematic, parallel narratives, this character-driven film explores how women make their way through a male-dominated industry and the pivotal crossroads they face across generations. Combining a treasure trove of unseen archival footage, intimate portraiture, moving interviews, and some serious drumming skills, TOMBOY takes us on a bold, multi-layered journey of four women drummers, bringing them into the public consciousness where they belong.” Filmmaker Lindsay Lindenbaum on TOMBOY which screens at the 2020 edition of SxSW Film. 

Welcome to SxSW! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Yes, this is my first year at SXSW and I couldn’t be more excited to be premiering the film here! 

So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past?

I went to grad school for Documentary Filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. While I was there, I directed a number of short films, one of which was a finalist for the Student Academy Awards. Since then, I’ve been doing freelance work, shooting and editing on other films – which has been a great opportunity to refine those skills in tandem with making my own film TOMBOY, which has been the focus of my work life for the past five years. 

How did TOMBOY come together?

The initial idea was sparked the first time I saw a woman playing the drums. It was at a Tune-Yards show, and I remember just being blown away when I saw Merrill Garbus drumming wildly and unapologetically on-stage. She was fierce, loud, and unafraid to take up space. It was at that moment, I realized what a powerful image it is to see a woman behind the drums. 

This began a five-year journey, which took me across the United States meeting and filming dozens of women drummers, who shared their stories and struggles with me; from having to prove oneself in a male-dominated field, to the challenges of balancing a career and family. Gradually I began to focus on four women: Ms. Bobbye Hall, Samantha Maloney, Chase Noelle and Bo-Pah Sledge. And it is thanks to the trust and collaboration with these extraordinary women, that TOMBOY became the character-driven film it is today. 

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Learning about other people’s stories is what drives me. It’s something that’s always evolving – and constantly surprises me day after day. 

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Our biggest challenge in the filmmaking process came about in the edit, when we had to figure out how to best interweave our four main characters’ stories into one cohesive narrative. This ended up being an incredibly arduous process – with a lot of trial and error. So when all the pieces began to fall into place, and we could finally see the narrative structure that we had long been envisioning, take shape and it was an incredibly rewarding feeling.  

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed. 

The visual design has definitely evolved over the past five years as the direction of the film became more defined and focused. In the early stages, we had a more stylized approach but as the stories of our main characters unfolded, it became clear that the visual style needed to feel more organic and alive. Whether I was shooting someone drumming on-stage under neon lights, or making breakfast at home, l wanted to make sure that the spaces these women inhabited looked and felt like they were living and breathing. Shooting on the C300 helped me achieve this, since it gave the film a cinematic look that wasn’t too stylized while still feeling authentic and raw. 

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

Once the global situation settles down we hope to relaunch our festival run, after which we would love to show the film in theaters and have exciting ideas for potential event screenings. 

We would also love to eventually stream the film through an SVOD platform, so that it reaches an even wider audience. 

If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

We would love to have the chance to screen the film at a theater in California. All of our main characters are currently based there and it would be wonderful, and I’m sure very surreal, to have all of them in the same room, watching the film together. 

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

You have to choose subjects and stories that you feel deeply passionate about. Films can take years, sometimes more than a decade to make, so you should be sure whatever you’re making a film about is something that you truly care about and will continue to be excited by for the next several years.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I saw BOMBAY BEACH by Alma Har’el at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and have been a huge fan of her work since!

For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!

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