Alek Keshishian is no stranger to the musician bio-doc format, having practically pioneered the genre with Madonna’s Truth or Darea look at the singer’s personal and professional life during her 1990s blond ambition round. Three decades later, he’s back with Selena Gomez: my mind and mewhich chronicles Gomez’s mental health journey while examining the state of stardom in the age of social media and sound bites.
my mind and me, which debuted on Apple TV+ on November 4, chronicles Gomez’s mental health journey, from receiving a bipolar diagnosis to going public with that diagnosis and promoting mental health education. “Unlike other music documentaries (a popular format lately for recalibrating celebrity footage), Gomez’s project operates on a grittier, grittier register,” reads Lovia Gyarkye’s review of the doc. for THR.
Keshishian spoke with the The Hollywood Reporter about my mind and me and his journey to the screen.
I read that you had 250 hours of footage before editing. How did you decide not to include?
Now you’re reading other people’s views and one person says, “Well, he’s not even talking about Only murders in the building. “I’m like: but that doesn’t take place until after my movie is over. Do I include Selena + Chef? I tell this specific story about him. I think we got used to docu-series and we got used to very long documentaries. I asked for an extra year to edit to go from two hours and 30 minutes to something so concise. We live in a world with short attention spans, and yet movies seem to be getting longer and longer. Less is sometimes more. I knew I could release a 2:30 clip and please her fans who would never get tired of her. But I wanted us to mean something to people who aren’t his fans. One of the things I kept telling my editors is this: I’m not looking to do a Selena Gomez room spray. I want the most distilled and focused version of this story so that you go through 93 minutes and come away with a different feeling about your own life as well as Selina’s.
The concert documentary and celebrity documentary has become massively popular since Truth or Dare. Was this ubiquity something you were aware of heading into? my mind and me?
None of this affected my storytelling. I have my own aesthetic and my own storytelling style. I realized: I don’t want to make a documentary on social media. I don’t want to work with someone, however brilliant, who ultimately really wants to direct the documentary themselves. I was very lucky and took care to make sure I was working with people who, on some level, respected the artistry that I hope to bring to a project. And that, as connected as I am with my subject, it is my vision that is on this screen and the subject is seen through my eyes. And that’s the beauty of real documentary, it’s the duality of the subject and the filmmaker through whom that subject is seen creates a truth that neither of them could achieve alone.
The documentary started out as maybe a concert documentary and then turned into something very different. When did you know what the story would be?
It was similar to something that happened in Truth or Dare. My very first day in 2019 when I said to Selina ‘Okay we’re going to shoot in Kenya’ that’s what she wanted me to shoot as a charity film that had just been put online on its website. And that first day I shot, I was like, there’s a documentary here, and I knew what it was. We were flying to [Kenya] and she had this dilemma on that plane about whether or not she should disclose that she was bipolar. I was like, wow, the tension here is that she just got out of a mental health facility, she’s literally in the early stages of her own recovery, and yet she also wants to share the story to help others .
Selena’s label, Interscope, is involved in the documentary and her management company, Lighthouse Media + Management, also produced the project and is managed by your sister, Alene. From an outsider’s perspective, that seems like a tenuous relationship for a filmmaker.
In that they have a vested interest in having Selena’s image be a certain way and that you make a documentary that is true to something that may not be that image.
What’s interesting is when I did the 2 hour and 30 minute version, Interscope and Lighthouse were like, “This is awesome, this is ready to go out.” And I was like, “No, no, no, it’s not. This version was in some ways plunged into a swamp of darkness. I think Selena is really lucky. She has a label that wants nothing more than to support her humanitarian mission. And Lighthouse, who was always the one who tried to bring her hopes and wishes in the field of mental health and philanthropy to life. Alene is the one who first alerted Selena to some of these charities and charitable situations and they are so aligned on that aspect. So, no, I felt incredible support. I don’t think I could have done it necessarily without Interscope and Lighthouse. Yeah, I’ve heard stories of documentaries that were great and that direction came in and pretty much took over the editing. I have none of that.
How did you build this relationship as filmmaker and subject with Selena?
It helped that she saw Truth or Dare and she knew exactly the level of access Madonna had given me. She could see him. When she told me about it, it was in 2015, I told her that I was the first person she would call in the morning and the last person she would talk to at night. We became best best friends. And in 2016, when I started, I said to him, “I don’t think you’re going to enjoy the process of cinema verité. It’s very present all the time. And she was like, “No, no, no, I will. But even then, I was very careful. In 2016, there’s this scene where she collapses after her dress rehearsal, and I was in the dressing room before anyone else. She came in, and I knelt down while she was setting, and I held her hand and talked to her and said, “It’s natural. People feel that. Its good. It was only after comforting her for a while that I said, ‘We don’t need to film this. Unless you agree with us to film it. And she was like, “No, I’m cool with this. Because she made me that promise and she knew what it took to get something at the level of The truth to dare. I think she also felt that ultimately I was more interested in being a decent human being for her than just getting a movie or a salary to do a documentary about Selena. And that’s what builds trust. And I think that’s kind of my mentality about it all.
Does this closeness to the subject have any impact on your filmmaking in terms of knowing what to include and what not?
I think all filmmakers fall in love with their story or in the kind of documentaries I do, they fall in love with their subject. And it’s not to the point where I’m not able to say, we need to show that part of you having the body image issue because we need to understand the underlying pressure that you were in. I’m able to make these decisions because they serve the story and they serve the understanding of what she’s going through. I’m not trying to make an objective documentary. There is nothing like that. And those who claim to be objective, the second a camera shoots something and the second someone edits it, that’s subjective. So my subjectivity comes from a place where I like the people I decide to work with and photograph. I know it’s different if you’re Andrew Jarecki, you’re doing something very different. But for what I do, if I don’t fall in love with them, because it takes so long to make these documentaries, it’s like a marriage. I don’t want to be with someone I don’t like or respect. I’ve heard stories, because some of the people I’ve worked with have worked on others, where the subject and the director hate each other at the end, and they don’t talk to each other. I can’t imagine that because it’s hard to open up.
Which scene is the most enlightening to understand who Selena is, as you understood her?
I love this scene with Joyce, her neighbor. This scene gives me goosebumps. [Shooting in] Texas showed me this idea a lot that she’s not someone who goes, “Thank God, I’m out of here.” She doesn’t despise anyone. In fact, she admires people. He’s not someone who runs away from his past. If anything, sometimes she thinks too much about the past, as she says in one of those scenes that “the past throws me into depression because I have all these regrets.” But there is a bravery and such a kind of humility of humility.
As well as showing Selena’s mental health recovery and journey, the documentary is also a look at stardom in the age of social media.
There’s a big underlying theme about fame and the isolation of fame and the dark side of fame. Sometimes people ask me what is the difference between Truth or Dare and now. I was 24 when I did Truth or Dare, I’m a much whiter haired person now. Myself, I saw a celebrity as always somewhat surreal as a construction that could harm people, [and it] has become ubiquitous as everyone’s goal. And I have seen the effects of this construction not only with really talented people, but with all the young people who are desperately trying to create images and maintain their fame. And I don’t know how happy they are deep down in it all, because fame in its own way can be isolating and you’re constantly working on the surface. You are constantly working on the presentation. I’m talking about people who really do social media. So, I wanted to blame the celebrity to some extent. I wanted people to realize that it’s not all fun and games. She’s not in Paris having fun. Granted, those are first-world issues, you might say, but if you want to know what it does to someone’s sanity, that level of isolation — it doesn’t make people happy.
After Truth or Dare you said you didn’t want to do another documentary. Do you feel that after this one?
I don’t rule it out. I would love nothing more for another interesting person to approach me and say, I would love to do something that stands the test of time.
What makes a good subject to get this kind of documentary that you made?
Self-curiosity is really important. Someone who wants to learn something about themselves; someone who loves art and realizes that documentary art is better when working with a documentarian. But really, as a subject, someone who is willing to deal with the discomfort of being filmed in order to discover themselves.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Source : WORLD NEWS