Last week I had the privilege of speaking with Lacey Schwartz, who will be at Thursday’s Cucalorus screening of her film “Little White Lie” at City Stage. Schwartz’s film chronicles her journey to develop an identity that bridges her multiple heritages. The film speaks a bit about the problem of simplification, about the dangers of living in a black-and-white world. Truth, honesty and reality are complex concepts, and ultimately more entertaining and engaging than the “little white lies” we tell ourselves.
To give you an idea of the appeal and the reach of the film, it was screened at the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia, the Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod, the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Come Academy Award time, it’s possible we’ll see the film on the short list of nominees; it recently made the cut to be officially qualified in its category. encore sat down with Schwartz to pick her brain.
encore (e): There is a bit of family footage in the film. When did you decide to do this film?
Lacey Schwartz (LS): I decided to make the film when I was living in a racial closet, after college—after school. Part of the reason there is a fair amount of family footage is another accident of birth. I was born in the home-video era. We filmed important and not-so-important events. I had been filming out of curiosity, but I knew it was going to be a project of some kind when I got a camera specifically for it. The project took three years to film, eight years all together to get it to this point.
e: Why did you choose the documentary platform rather than write a traditional memoir or dramatize your experiences in fiction?
LS: The documentary form allowed me to be able to demonstrate the power of process, model process. I felt I had to walk the walk and demonstrate the struggle to develop identity with honest dialogue. That’s not to rule out other possible directions later on.
e: As a psychologist, I was very interested in your exploration of the blurred lines between unconscious denial and willful deception. What has this exploration meant for you?
LS: It’s helped me to approach the issues of denial and deception with great empathy. So much denial and deception seems to be about perception. I guess I started tracking timelines of denial. Sometimes it’s not so much that people are lying to other people, it’s that they are deceiving themselves. They just are. When they realize they are lying to themselves, it’s not easy at all. Looking at things more honestly is not a happy ending for everybody.
e: How is this film currently relevant to this community?
LS: For personal reasons, I’ve been really interested in dual identity: what being Jewish means and what being black means. Beyond that there is a family piece. Families are the building blocks of our society, right? They are the safe havens where we are supposed to develop our values, have healthy dialogue, and tell the truth about most everything in safety. But there are so many secrets in families; that’s where so many secrets start.
How can we ask society to have an honest conversation about race and identity when we can’t talk about it in our families? I’d like to think that this film speaks to the power of truth-telling.
e: What one take-away question do you want the audience to leave with after seeing “Little White Lie”?
LS: Rather than look at this story as unique and an interesting outlier, I’d like to have people really look at their own experiences of family, secrets and identity—including racial identity. It may be that the experiences I’ve chronicled in “Little White Lie” are not as different from the experiences of many of us as we’d like to believe.
Little White Lie
Directed by Lacey Schwartz
Thursday, November 13, 4:15 p.m.
Thalian Black, 310 Chestnut St.
Tickets: $10 for non-passholders