KOURTNEY JACKSON, 1 VERS[US] 1 (2019)
Nara: Hi, my name is Nara.
Kourtney: Hi Nara. I’m Kourtney. I have a film called 1 Ver[us] 1 which I shot last April. It's about my growing disillusionment with my Christian upbringing.
Adam: As we were programming the festival, one of the things that we talked about was how young people don't really make films about religion very often. And those who do seem to have a very jaded relationship with it. But yours has a very interesting conversation that doesn't necessarily denounce religion or extremely support it.
Kourtney: When I was younger...I was basically raised in a church. My mom was pregnant with me going to church - came out, was going to church. The really great thing about me and my brother going to church was that it was never forced, we didn't have to go if we didn't want to. My mom also didn't say "Don't drink, don't smoke, don't do any of those things," so I don't think I've ever had resentment towards religion until I started going to high-school and realized things about society and capitalism and race relations. So, then when you go to church, you think: "That doesn't really sound right anymore."
I remember when the new curriculum under Kathleen Wynne's government passed and I went to a church service, and the priest was like, "They're telling kids it's okay to be gay! It's not okay!" [Laughter] And I was like sixteen. It just felt like...I wasn't a part of it anymore. There were a lot of things that were contradictory to me and it didn't make sense for the way that I lived and the way that I approached social relationships and my relationship with myself. But, it's also never been a tool that has been weaponized against me to oppress who I am...or I got out of it before it could be. I have really close friends though that have had awful situations with church. One of my friends went to a Christian high-school and it was fucking terrible. Sorry, I'm cursing...
Adam: No, you can curse as much as you want. [Laughing] We don't have censors.
Kourtney: Cool! Fuck! …One of my friends went to a Christian high-school in her home country and teachers would send her anonymous letters telling her that she was going to hell and she's a demon who's possessed. The worst thing that I went through was going to a 'youth meeting' on Fridays and they would tell all the kids to close their eyes and they'd play a soundtrack of someone detailing their experience going to hell. I was probably ten years old when this was happening! That's fucking scary for a ten-year-old. That's terrifying.
There was another time when one of our youth leaders kicked us all out of the room and then called us one by one and asked us if we were virgins and about our sexual experiences. When you're thirteen you don't think that's a problem, you know? When you look back on that stuff, you're like, that's fucked up.
Nara: In 1 Vers[us] 1 you melt together the subtitles, the images, and the voiceover but none of them are exactly the same. What brought you to that decision to use all those different methods of storytelling at once?
Kourtney: I guess because I do have a messy relationship with religion, you know? I don't necessarily subscribe to any of it anymore. But, I still think there's magic in communion. I think there's magic in sharing your beliefs with other people. I think it's really special that people can think of something so much bigger than themselves that is out of this world, that they've never seen, heard, felt. Some people say they do hear things and they feel things and they see things, and I think that's special, and it's a really unique part of life and humanity. I felt like there were all these different journeys going on in the film because a lot of people have those journeys. There are different people who have different perspectives on it, and sometimes people hold multiple perspectives on it. I felt like a lot of the journeys weren't conclusive, because during the making of the film I didn't have a conclusive perspective.
Adam: You’re talking about how you find that special feeling in communion and in this idea that there is a presence that is always existent. But still you end off the film with your character saying that they feel surveilled, which seems like it has a negative connotation.
Kourtney: One of the things that was drilled into me and the other children in church was, "We won't always be there to see you, but God is always watching! When you sleep he's watching! When you're in the bathroom he's watching!" This constant “be on your best behaviour”, “self-regulate”, “self-regulate”, “be a good Christian because God is watching”. That has always been a sentiment that has been drilled into children. And I feel that sentiment is held everywhere, but it's also coupled with fear...you have to fear God, which is something I've never truly understood. It's in the Bible a lot. And my mom says it a lot: "I don't fear anybody! Except God." But you're also supposed to love God. Fear and love - I feel like those two things are incongruous.
Adam: Fear feels like the opposite of love. Because with hate, you still have very strong feelings...
Kourtney: Hate is like, "Catch me on the block!" I'm waiting for you. I'm going to scrap with you. But fear is like, "I'm not coming out of my house because you told me to meet you on the block." Language and religion is so interesting just because ‘fear’ holds all these different meanings. And I remember hearing, "You're not supposed to be scared. You're supposed to love!" It was just too messy for me. Fear is the only thing that I understood.
Hannah: That's interesting. I feel like part of the appeal of religion for some people is that in some ways it answers the things you might be most afraid of. It gives you answers and it's supposed to eliminate fear, but then at the same time it works off the basis of that.
Kourtney: There's also another component of being fearless because somebody's always got your back. A lot of people find security in that, which is valid. But, I don't.
Nara: 1 Vers[us] 1 has already been played at a couple of festivals; for example it played at Regent Park Film Festival, and I was wondering if there has been any positive stories that have come out of screening it and if you've made any connections to people who've perhaps felt similarly?
Kourtney: A lot of people have come up to me and complimented the film, which is super awesome. But nobody has really talked about the content of it with me, which is interesting. Going to church on Sunday was something that my family did, and it was something that was so singular to my life and experiences, so I guess the absence of those conversations wasn't really a surprise to me. Even though I know, objectively, that other people grew up religiously.
My roommates helped me make this film, both of whom grew up in religious households, and we’d discuss and joke about all the terrible shit we'd gone through and heard. So, I definitely made connections during the making of the film, but not during the screenings of it.
Adam: The first sentence in the film is "When my brother told me..." but in the text it says "When my atheist brother told me..." There's this absence of “atheist”. What lead you to that decision?
Kourtney: I shot this film in April, and that was at the end of me coming home from second year. I came home and I was done with the film, I forgot about it for a couple of months. And then in August, the actress was like, "Hey, I want it for my reel," and I was like "Fuck!" [Laughter] I had a full time job at the same time, so I was editing between my shifts. So, I was supposed to say "atheist"...I really was supposed to record it. But I recorded the audio at three in the morning, I was exhausted.
Adam: [Laughing] I spent weeks thinking about it. I was like, "I wonder why that decision was made?"
Kourtney: But you know what? I watch it too and I'm like "Hmmmm..." There is a little obscurity in that, too, but yeah it was unconscious. But, you know, I felt like the atheist word in that transcription was important for context. I have two brothers. My eldest brother is the one I was talking to about Biology, and the other was the one who went to church with me.
Nara: So, obviously you weren't in the film because you were filming it all. But you chose to do the narration, which adds another element in making it so personal. Was it ever an option for you to not do the voice over?
Kourtney: I originally wanted Sophie, the actress, to narrate it. But I don't know how to direct people to record audio. That's something my brain is not developed for yet. So I was like, "I'll just fucking do it," you know? I think it's a bit hard to hear my voice amplified to ten times its regular volume in a theatre, but interestingly, people who have seen it, who know me, didn't know it was me speaking...which is relieving. I did it because I knew how I wanted the intonations to sound, and where the pauses were. Is that a cop out?
Hannah: No, I feel like you get it better than anyone else, so you're gonna know how to say it better than anyone else.
Adam: Are you thinking of a career in voice over after this? It's a good performance.
Kourtney: No... I don't want to hear my voice out loud every again.
Adam: You're gonna hear it in two weeks at the festival!
Kourtney: I know...I know...I'm gonna come with earplugs and just read the text.
Adam: The last time we were here at the same time, we were walking over there talking about music. What are you listening to right now?
Kourtney: I've had Igor on repeat for a very, very long time. Steve Lacy's album is pretty good, but Anthony Fantano...he tore it apart.
Adam: He tears a lot of things apart though.
Kourtney: He does! But there have been some albums that I haven't liked, but he talked about them and I'm like, "Okay, I see where you're coming from."
Adam: He always explains well. He tore apart Dark Twisted Fantasy...which is my favourite album. He gave it a six. Which I guess isn't tearing it apart, but...considering what everyone else gave it. He explained it well, even though I didn't agree.
Nara: So, I think Toronto prides itself in being a film friendly city. From sharing your films in Toronto, what's something you like about the Toronto film community?
Adam: Or hate!
Nara: Yeah, what's something that could be improved?
Kourtney: I don't know...it's only my third day out here.
Adam: It's only your third day out here?
Kourtney: You don't know that video? Where somebody's recording Lil Uzi, and he's like "I don't know, it's only my third day out here!" That's how I feel about everything in film. I'm so new to everything. I used to write a lot before I started making things. I really just wanted to be a screenwriter. But I was also very young and self-absorbed. Yeah, I guess I'm new. I don't understand a lot of things. But that's life.
Hannah: I feel like it's nice to go into things while not fully understanding them. Did you go to Concordia for film?
Kourtney: I went to Concordia for Communication Studies. What I don’t like about the industry or being on set is the sometimes extreme sense of professionalism that comes with it. I remember I told a gaffer that I was going to the bathroom and then when I came back they were like, "Oh, by the way we say 10-1..." [Everyone laughs] I was like, what the fuck?
Adam: There's stuff like...a paper clip is a C-41 or something. And all that stuff is just to keep people out, it's just gatekeeping. If you don't know, you're not in.
Kourtney: Like, 10-1? I can understand if it was like, "I'm going to the B," or something like that, something that was easier than the bathroom.
Hannah: So many numbers to memorize. What if you accidentally say the wrong number?
Adam: Like, what!? You're F-41'ing!?
Hannah: Every time I've been on a set, cause I don't know technical stuff, I feel like it's so intimidating.
Adam: On that note, you had a pretty small crew for the production of 1 Vers[us] 1. Was that an intentional decision?
Kourtney: My roommates were there. I shot this during exam season, which was the worst, but not the worst cause it worked out. A lot of people were busy. I was busy. There were times when Sophie would message me and ask, "Hey, where are we meeting?" And I'd respond with, "I gotta finish this paper! But when I do, I'll hit you up!" There were a lot of last minute things that almost made this film nothing. I'm glad that that wasn't the case.
Adam: You wouldn't be able to tell. It all feels very deliberate and well thought out.
Kourtney: It was mostly just asking people to use their space. Most of it was shot in my apartment, and the church was really imperative to the film. I feel like if I didn't get the church, I wouldn't have made the film. That church...I called...I just wanted everything to be as efficient as possible, so I got one of my Francophone friends to call and ask them. And my friend was like, "So...they speak Polish." And I was like, "Oh!" [Laughter].
Adam: So, then you got one of your Polish friends...
Kourtney: I don't have any Polish friends! So, I learned Polish, then called the church.
Adam: [Laughing] So you're fluent now?
Kourtney: Yeah. I'm from Poland...originally...based in Toronto. It was just going in circles. One person told me to call another person, and so on. Eventually I just emailed them and I was directed to an organization that manages all the churches in Montreal, and then they asked me what I was doing. So I explained, "Somebody's just gonna walk to the altar and then we're outta there!" And they said, "Okay."
I thought the struggle would end after that. When we got there, I called and was like, "Okay, we're here to start shooting." They said, "What? No you're not..." But, after deliberation and conversation with the Francophone woman who didn't speak English, and me who didn’t speak French, I found out that I was at the wrong door.
Adam: Do you want to tell us about your new project? Hopefully our audience will see it next year.
Kourtney: My second project is a meditation on body positivity and self-love through the lens of black women.
Adam: You got that one down to one sentence, wow.
Kourtney: I honestly don't know what it's going to look like, or what it's going to be. I'm kind of excited but also a little nervous.
Hannah: Can you hint about what the footage is?
Kourtney: Yeah. I shot it on Super 8 and it’s at the lab being developed. It basically follows my subjects in their bedrooms, their homes, doing things to get ready for the day...just because I feel like when you're a racialized individual, public and private spaces are so polar, and there's a level of presentation that intersectional minorities have to constantly worry about. Kind of talking about public and private spaces. Being around other people. Being aware of how other people are reacting or responding to your appearance, your race, gender, expression, identities, and that's that.
Adam: Sounds great. I hope we get to see it at Insomniac 2020.
Kourtney: I hope it's properly exposed...
Adam: [Laughing] Yeah, I hope anyone can see it.
Kourtney: I hope you can see it, period.
Adam: Insomniac's in a couple of weeks...what are you looking forward to?
Kourtney: Using the bathroom.
Hannah: You mean, 1-10'ing?
Kourtney: I'm looking forward to doing a 10-1 at the Royal Cinema on July 19th at 8:00pm. 8:05pm.
Adam: I hope you bring your friends. You can all 10-1. Everyone in the theatre should do a 10-1 at the same time.
Nara: Stay hydrated. Do a 10-1.
Kourtney: I guess I won't say any more. Use your imagination, kids!
Kourtney is a writer and filmmaker who spends 95% of her waking life on public transit.
When she’s not gasping for air in a packed bus or train car, she’s usually at home cackling at memes on Twitter.
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