A GIRL AND A GUN: the Movie, the Backstory - by Lyn Bates
October 7, 2005 email to AWARE said:
“I am a graduate student at the School of Visual Arts in New York and am working on a video documentary on women and shooting/guns for my thesis. Self-defense with firearms is a very important topic for women and a topic that I would like to explore more in my film. Could you give me some more information about your program? Do most of the women come because they have been attacked or have been in fearful circumstances and wanted to protect themselves with a firearm? Do you know any woman who has actually used a firearm in self-defense?” Cathryne Czubek
My first thought: a New York film student was more likely to want to follow the Michael Moore school of film about guns (remember Bowling for Columbine?) than anything reasonable. However, some students are still openminded, and I always try to provide them with accurate information.
I sent email back, introducing myself, and AWARE, and saying, “The women who take our classes are a diverse lot. Some are simply curious about guns, some live in households with gun owners and want to get over their fear of guns, some want to learn to protect themselves and their families, some have been victims of crime, some have had close calls or know someone who has been a victim. There is no single group or motivation that predominates. Perhaps I can suggest some other resources.”
I was thinking east coast, low budget, probably no money for travel, so I suggested Peggy Tartaro, told her about Women&Guns, the NRA’s website for finding instructors, the firearm instruction resource list on martialartsresource.com , the Pink Pistols, the Second Amendment Sisters, the Liberty Belles, the section of the AWARE website where my “Lessons in Reality” articles from Women&Guns have been reproduced, and gave her brief synopses of a couple of women who have used guns to defend themselves, emphasizing that, like most situations, their guns were never fired. I didn’t want her to think it was going to be easy to women who killed in self-defense, if that was the kind of story she was after.
I thought that might be the last I would hear of Cathryne Czubek.
She quickly wrote back, thanking me for the information and saying that she was , “very interested in many of the different avenues you suggested for my video thesis.” She asked to be put in touch with any of the women from my Lessons in Reality series who might be interested in speaking with her, which showed me that she was interested in real stories, not just bloody ones. I had already started to like Cathryne, and now I was starting to trust her.
We started email chatting about our backgrounds and how we each got interested in what we were doing, and what we liked about it.
“I became involved with women and gun as a thesis topic even prior to beginning my masters degree. I was studying at a photography workshop in Maine five years ago, when I had the opportunity to photograph and work with a group of young girls in a youth shooting club. I do not have a background in which guns play a major role, so my relationship with these young women was very special in that it allowed me to access the subject of guns in a different, softer, more feminine way. That experience spurred a long study of women (and men and children) who shoot throughout the country. This has been a tremendous journey and one that has taught me a great deal! ...
The project itself has also been great to develop in school because I am dealing with a lot of anti-gun people so when they're thoughts or views are swayed even just a bit, I know that I am moving forward! (and it's extra rewarding). “
Way to go, Cathryne! Any interest that lasts for 5 years is a true one. (Little did I know then how long it would take for her little film project to see completion.)
I said, “Your own story is fascinating! I'm glad that you were receptive to seeing the good aspects of guns and gun users. So many people would have said, ‘How awful that someone is teaching those girls to shoot,’ and never got beyond that attitude. You are in a position to start changing a lot of minds. It does take time. ... You will have a lot of people who respect you and your work, so you can be very influential with them.”
She replied, “I feel so similarly to you regarding the presence of political rhetoric in conversation on controversial issues. The very second that political propaganda of any sort makes its way into conversation (at least many of the people I know) could care less about what other's think because they don't believe they are thinking, rather just reiterating popular propaganda. I intend to let the stories of the women speak for themselves in my film.”
One of the people I immediately thought Cathryne should talk to was Evelyn Logan, a New Hampshire woman who describes herself as "a rape victim, and a rape attempt survivor; the difference was that the second time, I had a gun."(Evelyn’s full story is on the AWARE website). Evelyn has become a teacher and a strong advocate for armed women, so I asked her if she would be willing to talk to Cathryne. She said yes, and as I do with all such media inquiries, after making sure that the interviewee is willing, I got out of the middle and let them talk.
By October 2007, Cathryne was saying, “I have graduated, but I am still working on my project and plan to finish this year (hopefully). It will be a longer video documentary than I originally thought, due to the really amazing stories and the diversity of the women I have met. I also wanted to see about the possibility of coming to the AWARE class on responsible use of lethal force and possibly videotaping.” That class, alas, did not take place.
By that time Cathryne was able to describe herself as follows, “I am an independent documentary filmmaker and have been working for several years on a video documentary on women and guns which explores why women get involved with guns for sport, hunting, and self-defense. I would like to interview a woman who has used a gun in self-defense and who is willing to tell her story on camera.
Thus far I have interviewed a wide variety of women, including Smith & Wesson shooter and world champion shooter Julie Goloski, former NRA president Sandy Froman, Babes With Bullets and Ladies Camp organizer Deb Ferns and Kay Miculek, Olympian Emily Blount, Second Amendment Sister Marilyn Lapidus, amongst many other mothers, single women, professionals, grandmothers, and teenagers. The film will focus on why and how women become involved with firearms. “
Cathryne attended a multi-day course at Mas Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute. That excellent program goes way beyond the NRA Basic Pistol class that many people, even a few media folk, take. It made me realize, again, that this was going to be one of the best-informed documentaries about firearms, ever.
Aug 2008: “My project is coming along, but alas finances and my job have slowed me down significantly. I hope hope to finish within the year, but you never know with documentaries. ... I still think that what I'm missing from the project is a woman who is motivated by fear to learn self-defense, or take a handgun class, or purchase a gun, or just become more knowledgeable. That fear could be from a partner, a work situation, a social situation, or any other situation.”
Thinking Evelyn was that woman, Cathryne filmed several interviews with Evelyn to get her story, but felt that she really needed to get some film of Evelyn teaching a class of women to shoot. Evelyn’s local gun club was not willing to allow filming there, so Cathryne asked if I could help find a place. My club has no such restrictions, so we arranged for a class of people willing to be filmed, and invited Evelyn down from NH to teach it, and Cathryne up from NYC to film it.
Aug 21, 2010: Cathryne brought 5 women interested in taking the class, and I had 3, among whom was Robin Natanel. At the last minute, and I mean the very last minute, Evelyn had a personal emergency, and could not be there to teach the class. Barbara Clorite and Jim Roberts, AWARE’s usual instructors, stepped in. I was there to help with the range portion of the class.
Cathryne wanted to film not just the class, but also some individual interviews with the women, why they were taking this class, and so on. I’m sure Cathryne was bitterly disappointed at missing the opportunity to film Evelyn as a teacher, but she was more than delighted to make the acquaintance of Robin Nanatel.
Robin is a divorced woman and a Tai Chi Master who loves nothing more than teaching Tai Chi. My husband and I were students in one of her classes. Though based on Chinese martial arts; its modern form is slow and meditative, wonderful for general health, balance, and mindfulness. We enjoyed the class, and especially Robin’s patience and enthusiasm. Then, one day she took my husband aside and confided to him that an ex-boyfriend was doing things that badly frightened her. She felt she might be in real danger. What could she do? My husband said, “Talk to Lyn.”
Robin did, and I agreed that what her ex was doing went way beyond normal breakup behavior, and included actions that could be interpreted as a threat. Robin was quite serious about protecting herself. I said, “I can help you with that,” and Robin became an AWARE student. Basic Pistol (the class that Massachusetts requires), a concealed carry license, and a gun purchase quickly followed. Robin also took the Responsible Use of Lethal Force course that AWARE offers, and I started going to the range with her to hone her defensive skills. Never shy about her situation, Robin was becoming a vocal advocate for armed women, and she jumped at the chance to come to the class Cathryne was taping.
Cathryne said after her filming here, “I am really happy with the footage - and am also extremely pleased I met Robin. I've always wanted to try to find someone going through a tough situation/transition - and it's very hard to find because it's very touchy subject. She's fantastic and we've had a lot of fun filming together. “
She continues, “We recently won a prestigious grant (for finishing services - such as color, music composition, sound design, etc.) and the press release will go out in conjunction with our fundraising Kickstarter campaign so this is a great time ... as we will be releasing to a very wide audience. I really hope to be able to keep editing and working away on this to really try to finish in 2011! “
AWARE was happy to donate gift certificates to our Basic Pistol class as gifts to Kickstarter doners. We also publicized the Kickstarter campaign to many folks in the gun industry, among our training colleagues, and I even asked Peggy Tartaro, Women&Guns editor, to help.
Peggy said, “We helped her get credentials for SHOT and hosted her at a couple of Gun Rights Policy Conferences, where I know she did a bunch of interviews (including with me, but I'm hoping I was boring enough to make the cutting room floor). I'll pass it along to some folks and see if we can't generate some donations for her.” The Kickstarter campaign was successful, and exceeded its fundraising goal to help complete the film.
Peggy was NOT boring enough to make the cutting room floor! She is in the film explaining the “Sabrina position.”
Cathryne made several trips to Massachusetts, to film Robin taking a non-gun self-defense class for women, to interview her some more, and to film a session of me coaching Robin on the range..
Afterwards, Cathryne, “Thank you so much for your time and effort and all your help and ideas on last week's shoot! I am just now getting through the footage and it really all looks so great. The lovely bond between you and Robin and how raw and real her whole experience has been with this I think has made for an unbelievably relatable and intimate portrait.”
‘I've been editing 16hr days for awhile now and it's really been worth it as the doc begins to take shape. Very exciting to see a decade of work come to life!”
A good friend of mine does a lot of video editing, mostly music videos for her own amusement, and I know the hours and hours and hours it takes for her to get a 3-5 minute result, so I do have at least an inkling of the work Cathryne was putting in to edit her film. Nothing great is ever achieved without great effort, and her effort certainly deserved a great result.
Novemver 2011, Another progress report: “Things are still coming along full steam ahead. Film editing is definitely coming along and we're working now with a solid structure that I'm really happy with. Now it's all the other pieces of the puzzle coming along - music, archival rights, color, etc. Very exciting to see the film really bloom!”
Finally, it wasn't just Cathryne alone. She was joined by another editor, Amanda Hughes, a composer, Andrew Hollander, and a singer-songwriter, Julia Halitgan, who wrote and sang for the score. She also got support from groups as varied as the NY State Council for the Arts, the Toronto Documentary Forum, and Women Make Movies.
Oct 2012: “It's very exciting to see 8 years of hard work come together and be able to show it to an audience. I am very proud that the film is a sensitive, women's issues film that explores a provocative and iconic symbol and subject. Even our rough cut screenings (for small groups when we were working hard to edit down the film to 75 minutes) provoked fascinating, vigorous discussions for hours after.
I can't thank you enough for your time and generosity in participating in the film. I interviewed many different women (and men) for the film and every story added such an interesting layer to this very complex subject. It was very difficult to edit over 500 hours of footage down to 75 minutes!
I would love to invite you to our screenings on Nov 11 and 14 in New York”
Film Released Nov 11, 2012:
I could not go to the documentary film festival that accepted A Girl And A Gun for its premiere, but Robin was able to attend. Afterward, she said, “WOW!! It was a great experience! and a great movie ;) You were wonderful in it! The theater was sold out! Lot's of chatter about guns from both men and women afterward. The day after I got back we did a live interview via webcam with the Huffington Post. Cathryne made a wonderful documentary! I hope it takes off for her!”
Cathryne mentioned 8 years that the documentary was in development, but it was actually 12 years since, as a student herself, she was so positively impressed with girls shooting in Maine. For all that time, she has been true to her vision, an apolitical look at an important subject, told through the stories of women who speak for themselves.
So, how has her documentary been received? As of this writing, it has been accepted in 5 film festivals, and picked up by a distributor. The reviews are universally extraordinarily positive.
Lisa Rainwater, writing a lengthy (3000 word) essay/review in GALO (Global Art Laid Out) Magazine, has only one negative comment, that at 75 minutes, the film is too short. Here are a few excerpts:
“The documentary follows the lives of 10 women: a Massachusetts tai chi instructor, a 19-year-old Arizona champion skeet shooter, a San Francisco TED columnist, a New Jersey activist mother, a New York City nurse, an Alabama mother who sees “guns as no different than a food processor,” an Oklahoma survivor of a home invasion, an army war vet, an incarcerated woman in the Louisiana Correctional Facility, and a Tennessee woman with a long family history of game hunting. If you’re beginning to think this film is more about women than about guns, you’re on the right track.”
“Be forewarned. If you seek a gun film to support your political views or negate them, this isn’t the movie for you. Czubek respects her subject and her viewer far too much to spoon-feed anyone her personal beliefs on the merits or demerits of gun ownership in America. What makes A Girl & A Gun stand out from other “gun movies” — be it Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine (2002), an unabashed attempt to shame the National Rifle Association into hanging up its fatigues, or Arek Avelino’s American Gun (2005), a fictionalized portrait of families impacted by guns — is the absence of politics, sentimentality and anger. It is a film that, remarkably, has no political agenda.
And oh, how refreshing!
A Girl & A Gun is a slow and deliberate, quick and witty, insightful and confounding work of art that is sure to send some women to the shooting range and others to cringe in their seats.“
Rainwater concludes, “Timely and prescient, Czubek’s documentary may just be what the doctor ordered: a new approach to discussing gun culture in America — a stereoscopic examination of who owns guns, how they live with them and why they have them.”
Another reviewer, Steve Kopian, had this to say on unseenfilms.blogspot.com.
“A Girl and A Gun is a look at women and guns in American society. Using the stories of several women, some who have guns for protection, others who like to shoot and adding in commentary by academics the film paints a broad, yet very complex portrait of guns and women. Its a film that strives to present all sides of the issue, something is best seen in the victims advocate working to end gun violence who's daughter was crippled by a drive by shooting and who now carries a gun herself. There are no easy answers, nor easy questions.
I really like this film a great deal. It has got my mind going six ways to Sunday. I had paused writing this film up to write an email to Cathryne Czubek to not only tell her how much I liked the film but to also ask her some quick questions. I never sent the email because I'm finding that while the film has no easy answers, its raising many not so easy questions. I'm serious, I was taking notes for the review and scribbling questions for a possible interview, when I simply stopped writing and just started watching. I had no way to simply express what wanted to know or say, I just had to take it all in and hope for a second viewing down the road. If you want to know why I'm not going into details on the film it's because I simply have to process it...and because the little stories that make up the film are hard to explain simply.
If you want a film that will do more than wash over you see this film. If you want to be forced to think about things see this film. If you just want to see a damn good film see A Girl And A Gun”
Hubert Vigilla, writing for the website flixist.com, was another man to review this film. He said, “What do guns mean to individual women and what do they say about society at large? It's a massive topic to tackle in under 80 minutes, but by looking at the issue from different angles, Czubek covers a lot of interesting ground in a short amount of time.”
“There's an interesting implicit idea in how some of these women relate to guns, and it's linked to the larger social ideas in the film. A lot of women get guns in order to defend themselves against men. It's a symbol of masculine power wielded by a woman in order to suppress acts of male violence and male dominance. There's a complication of guns as a gender signifier.”
His conclusion: “This is definitely one of the better films about guns I've seen in a while. Czubek's even hand and wide scope has led to a fascinating conversation starter rather than something to argue over.”
Maggie Carr, reviewing in Bust Magazine, gave the film the highest possible rating (OMG Amazing), called it “fascinating” and enthused, “Documentaries on hot-button political issues can often be plodding and preachy, but A Girl and a Gun is a fast-paced, nuanced, and anything-but-soapbox-y exploration of why women lock and load. ...Czubek captures some shockingly incongruous images... Their reasons for owning and using guns are complicated, and often, female gun owners are ambivalent about their decision to get (and stay) armed.”
So, how can you see Cathryne’s wonderful film?
Check the film’s website, www.agirlandagunfilm.com, for screenings and any breaking news. Ask any local theaters that shows documentary films if they intend to show this one. Check your Video on Demand. Buy the consumer DVD, which will be ready October 8, 2013.
If I were all thumbs, I would give 10 thumbs-up for A Girl And A Gun, and its producer!
Bravo, Cathryne ... Encore!
This article appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Women&Guns magazine. Copyright © 2013, Lyn Bates.
Women&Guns cover photograph, credit Lanny Photographic.
Other photographs, credit Cathryne Czubek.