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Interview with "Edith+Eddie" Director Laura Checkoway

Documentary filmmaker and writer Laura Checkoway's already exciting life is about to get a whole lot more crazy, in a good way. After her documentary short Edith+Eddie premiered at last year's True/False Film Fest, it went on to a year of positive reception and exhibition that culminated with an Academy Award nomination in January 2018 for Best Documentary (Short Subject). The documentary short, a Kartemquin Films production that's executive produced by Cher (yes, THAT Cher), follows the country's oldest interracial newlywed couple (Edith and Eddie) as they are faced with a family dilemma that'll forever change their lives.

Checkoway caught up with Free Cinema Now while she was in Chicago, not too long after the Oscar nominations were announced.

Free Cinema Now: How did the project of Edith+Eddie come together?

Laura Checkoway: A friend texted me a photo of the couple [Edith and Eddie] that was circulating online when they got married at age 95 and 96. They were being called "America's oldest interracial newlyweds." I was just so taken with them in this photo. I wanted to know more about them so I connected the dots to the family and they invited me down to meet them. Within a couple of days I was on a bus from New York City to Virginia. Actually, the opening scene in the film, where we see them dancing, is the first time we [all] met.

FCN: What's interesting is that it was an actual image that provoked you. 

LC: Yes! I was zooming in [on the picture] on my phone and staring into their eyes and was scrolling to see -- how can I find more pictures of them? Then I went to meet them...

FCN: And here you are! You've expanded the narrative [behind that image]. I like that. So, you knew you had the story of them being the oldest interracial newlywed couple, but how far in advance did you know about this [other] conflict [of being forcibly removed from one's home] that was happening to Edith?

LC: When I went to meet them, I thought it would be a short portrait of tender love, you know, of finding love at that [later] time in your life. Then, right away, I found out about the disagreement within the family and that it had wound up in the court, because Edith's daughters disagreed on what was best for their mom. I saw that this was a bigger story than just a couple falling in love. I wasn't planning [on it]. I had vowed to myself after a long journey with my first film, which I self-financed, that I would not make another documentary in the same way. [With Edith+Eddie] I thought, "I'll just go down and capture this one weekend..." but then I knew there was no turning back. I was like, "Oh, wow, here we go."

FCN: Towards the end of Edith+Eddie there's a stretch of time that's only a black screen with subtitles, because I guess you weren't [allowed] in the room or the house, while [Edith and Eddie are] having that conversation with guardian. I think it's very powerful. Now, when you look at the finished piece, if given the opportunity to shoot that section, would you have used the footage?

LC: If we had the visuals, then we likely would have used them. You know...in the editing of that, it was a bold decision to keep that with just the black screen. And I'm really glad that we did.

FCN: There are some very urgent and intimate shots filmed inside of a hospital -- I don't want to give too much away -- how did you film that? Was the hospital really that cooperative or, what I'm hoping is, you snuck in those shots?

LC: (Nods) Yeah. We shot that with a 5D. The rest of the film was shot with a much bigger camera. [In regards to the hospital scene] at first I was like, "Oh no...we're going to shoot this on a 5D because we have to." But it wound up working really well in that scene.

FCN: "Guerilla" filmmaking in that section...

LC: Super "guerilla."

FCN: I know you've done a lot of profile pieces on celebrities and public figures. How does this experience, on the micro-level, with Edith and Eddie, compare? Is your approach different?

LC: People are people. For me, in my documentary work, the woman [named] Lucky, that my first film was about, you know she's a young homeless woman who lives in the streets and she's an absolute star -- to the extent that I spent many years following her and making a film about her. I felt the same way with Edith and Eddie. I just was so excited to meet them and to get to know them. For me, we're all the same.

FCN: And finally, how does it feel to know that you'll be known as "Academy Award Nominee Laura Checkoway"?

LC: Awesome! (Laughs)

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Watch the official trailer for Edith+Eddie below and be sure to watch the Oscars this Sunday March 4th!

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