Don’t Text Back is an example of exactly why we need more lesbian filmmaking. It’s a short film that runs for just over 13 minutes, covers the compulsory heterosexuality that queer women face, and has innate inter-communal humor about spirituality, veganism, and the obligation to metrosexual men that many queer people can recognize.
The film opens with Kelly (Danielle LaPointe) visiting Jaren (Nancy Webb), an energy healing expert, in hopes of finding a solution to the supernatural locket that’s affecting her everyday life. The set where this takes place looks incredible and similar to queer living spaces today — reminiscent of Urban Outfitters showrooms and full of tidbits and trinkets from Etsy. Kelly reveals that after going on a date with a less than favorable man, he sent her a locket that forces her to text him back, or else it’ll strangle her.
While humor drives this short, the locket and the dialogue harbor a message to queer women across the board: it’s okay to explore sexuality and spirituality without succumbing to heterosexual norms and settling for less.
I had the pleasure of corresponding with Mariel Sharpe, co-director of Don’t Text Back and head of True Sweetheart Films — a Montreal-based production company that only produces films by LGBTQ+ creators, women, or gender minorities — to get insight on her experience in the industry and the making of this film.
Nia Tucker: True Sweetheart Films is a rarity in the industry and brings marginalized voices to the forefront. What inspired you to create the company and what’s the best part about working with marginalized filmmakers?
Mariel Sharpe: During film school and upon entering the film industry, I was shocked by an insidious culture of toxic masculinity. Quite honestly, I could not see myself thriving in the environment. However, I was fortunate enough to form strong bonds with some incredible women and queer creatives, and I began to see that by working together and supporting one another, we could contribute to changing the landscape.
I created True Sweetheart Films with the goal of creating great projects by underrepresented filmmakers, as well as to re-imagine the process of filmmaking by creating safe, collaborative environments.
This is how we worked on Don’t Text Back, and it was absolutely amazing. The best part was the spirit of collaboration, as well as massively increased efficiency. Turns out you can get a lot done when there aren’t a bunch of dudes mansplaining what a mafer clamp is.
N: You worked with Kaye Adelaide, your partner and also your co-director. What do you each bring to the set when making a film and what led you to the idea for Don’t Text Back? And what is it like working with one another?
M: Kaye and I came up with the idea for Don’t Text Back by listening to our friends’ dating horror stories. As a very content queer couple, we were often confounded (but always sympathetic) by how friends found themselves still texting back men that had treated them terribly. We decided that it must be an evil curse (cough, cough, the patriarchy), and decided to explore that in the form of a cursed locket.
Kaye and I love to work together, and we feel that we have a really complementary skill set. As a producer, I’m great at logistics and managing a project. Kaye is also a special effects artist, so she was the lead on all the effects, as well as the post-production. Creatively, we are very aligned, so we really trusted each other.
N: This film covers a lot, from spirituality to compulsory heterosexuality. While the film is a dark comedy, it still covers these serious topics in an amazing way. What was your ultimate goal with making this short film and can we look forward to other films in a similar vein?
M: Our ultimate goal with Don’t Text Back was to challenge heteronormativity and toxic masculinity through a genre lens. Tackling issues that face women and queer people is absolutely something that will come up again in our work. Our next project is TransVengence, a feature film that Kaye has written and will direct, which I will produce. It’s a gory and darkly funny revenge film about a transgender woman who is brought to the brink of death because of transphobia, who resurrects herself in order to exact bloody revenge on everyone who has harmed her.
N: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
M: Both mine and Kaye’s favorite scene to shoot was when Jarin straddles Kelly on the table and makes her confront the photos of Will on the cellphone (“imagine what your life would be like with this man”). We’ve dreamt of saying this to many a friend over the years, so it was totally cathartic.
N: You recently wrapped up production on Bleed with Me, your first feature film, how was that filming and production experience different from this short film’s?
M: The shoots were very different. Bleed With Me was about a month of shooting in the frigid Canadian winter. It was a big project and we had a lot of gear, tough logistics (including transporting all our equipment and supplies up a snow mountain on sleds), and a lot of responsibility since it was our first feature.
Don’t Text Back was quite the opposite. We shot on a shoe-string budget, with minimal equipment, in our apartment over just two days.
One thing the shoots had in common was the crossover of some of our crew members: Vjosana Shkurti, Fiona Cully, Katrina Westin, Naomi Silver Vézina, and Ash Maxine. These phenomenal creatives contributed their talent and passion to make both films possible.
N: What are your favorite queer or lesbian films?
M: We love Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, also Bound by Lana and Lilly Wachowski. I think the best part of both these films is how explicitly they celebrate lesbian love. This is something Kaye and I both want to do more of in our future projects — but with more genre!
N: What advice can you give to upcoming queer and/or female filmmakers?
M: Don’t waste time trying to break into the mainstream. Seek out like-minded individuals and create your own community. Collaborate on projects, create your own rules, and empower each other.