“I would never ask an actress to do what I just did,” says performance artist and filmmaker Josephine Decker. “What is portrayed in that film, I would never ask an actress. They would feel way too exposed.”
She’s sitting in a West Village coffee shop shortly after premiering the documentary “Flames” during the Tribeca Film Festival, a film which she helped conceive of and direct with artist Zefrey Throwell. The movie chronicles her romantic relationship with Throwell in real time over a span of five years, from extremely intimate moments stemming from infatuated love to post-breakup and moving on. The documentary emerges as an exploration of negotiating needs — first in the context of a romantic relationship, and ultimately in the context of two artists fighting for their creative needs.
“When we broke up, I was like, ‘There is no movie,’” says Decker; they ended things less than a year into filming. “And Zefrey was like, ‘Oh, we just, we really gotta finish that film.’ And I was like, ‘There is no film. There’s not enough there to make a film.’ And he was like, ‘We just need to shoot one more time, and then we’ll be done.’”
Despite their breakup early into the process, Throwell convinced Decker to meet up every six months to continue filming in the aftermath.
“I realized when we were editing, he needed to figure out why [the relationship] ended,” Decker says. “I think part of it was to understand why we broke up, but I think another part of it was trying to figure out why he forced it to fail, why we both forced it to fail.”
During a festival Q&A, an audience member posed the question: What would have happened if the two artists had stayed together? What would the film have looked like? “We didn’t know what to say, so our producer took the question,” says Decker, recalling the answer: “‘There’s no way that these two people were not gonna not break up.’ In a way, that was heartening.”
Decker relinquished final creative control over the film to begin work on another one. Although Throwel sent her his final edit in December, she didn’t watch it until its official premiere during Tribeca. “I was actually pleasantly surprised,” she remarks of her reaction upon seeing the movie in its final iteration.
“This whole week has been it’s own emotional experience. It’s been a journey,” she continues. “And, you know, I’m proud of him. He worked really hard and made a beautiful film. We were talking last night, Zefrey and I, and I was like, ‘Zefrey, I want you to know, I really think you made an amazing film.'”
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