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Q & A with the director: Rachel Lears

Rachel Lears, director of 'Knock Down the House'

Q: What was your casting process for the film?

A: So we didn’t fully cast this film until around the end of 2017/beginning of 2018, and we did start the project in the fall of 2016. And, you know, we met Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez towards the beginning of the project and we were very interested in both of them, but Alexandria was based in New York and we had no funding at the time, so we spent a lot more time with her in the early stages of the project and went through all these different iterations of who the additional characters might be, and gradually through the course of 2017, the story of women running in 2018 started to become a national story, so towards the middle of that year it kind of became clear that that would be a great way to focus it within. And we eventually brought on the other three [Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin and Amy Vilela] . . . they really stood out because they had these personal experiences of injustice and loss that were motivating them to run. And so that personal, like, very personal, specific story was really kind of the cinematic kernel of the concept of this project. And of course we also wanted to find people that would be compelling to watch, win or lose, because we knew that there was a very real chance that all of them might lose. And then, of course, after we decided to focus on women, we also wanted to make sure there was geographic diversity, and diversity of backgrounds and ethnicities, and issue areas and all of those different factors, so those were a lot of the different concerns that went into it, but I will say, you know . . . spend extra time on casting, it’s worth it.

Q: After following these women around for a while, what is the best advice you have for young women with political aspirations?

A: I think that, you know, what these women would say is that you really have to look deep inside yourself and draw on the most difficult things that you’ve dealt with in your life. And it has almost a spiritual quality to it for them. Running for office as a first time candidate, as an outsider of any kind, you have to be very courageous, so you have to draw upon other moments in your life where you’ve had to be courageous. And so, what we’ve tried to sketch in the film is what those moments were and where that comes from for these four women, and I think it’s just a really intense personal process . . . that motivational speech that Alexandria [Ocasio-Cortez] gives herself debate, I mean, I feel like they have do that for themselves every single day, just to get up and go out and do the campaigning and face everything that they have to face. That was incredibly inspiring, just working with all four of them.

Q: This [film] was really funny and I was not expecting something like this to be funny. I knew it would be inspiring, but how did you find that balance between the funny moments, the poignant moments, the sadder ones?

A: Yeah, I mean, I think that, I mean it’s very intuitive, you sort of have to try what works and a lot of times a funny moment can kind of loosen up the viewer a little bit and, like, get you ready to absorb something more heavy or poignant in a different way, so we looked for moments where we could do that, and then sometimes the opposite is true. Like, at the end of the film, it’s just been this really emotional moment of [Ocasio-Cortez] telling the story of her dead, and we debated whether to put [Ocasio-Cortez riding and her partner riding] the scooters in there and eventually we were like, you know what, it’s kind of nice to, like, give a little bit of release. It’s been so heavy and it’s so emotionally draining to have that moment and you’ve just been through this roller coaster journey that, like, it’s nice.

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