Love, Identity and Family Secrets in 'Between Sisters'

Mar 2, 2016

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year's True/False Film Fest. Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes. 

The documentary "Between Sisters" is an intimate glimpse into the life of two aging sisters as they confront a family secret that has remained hidden for more than 60 years. A secret that could rock the sister’s relationship to its very core.

Through the film the viewers watch the younger sister’s progression from peer to “caretaker” of her older sister, and watch both grapple with this long-held family secret - one struggling to find out the truth about her identity and the other struggling to protect her beloved younger sister and those long dead.  

KBIA’s Rebecca Smith spoke with Manu Gerosa, the director of the film and the son and nephew of the film’s protagonists. 

Smith: How did you come up for the idea for "Between Sisters"?

Manu Gerosa: So it was [a] long time that I wanted to film something about my mother and my aunt because I have lived with them most of my life and I've always been very - I've always been very curious about their relationship. [The relationship is] made up by this strong love and this strong, let's say, hate sometime… Then at the beginning of 2011 I realized that my aunt was getting older and older and my mother started to mention for the first time the word "caretaker."…  At that time, I understood that if I [didn’t begin] to film immediately I would have lost the chance to do it forever.

Smith: So when you started the film you had no idea what the conclusion was going to be? You had no idea what this big family secret was? 

Gerosa: No no, no, absolutely. When I started I [didn’t have] any idea - not only about the revelation of this big family secret - but I never heard before that my mother had any doubt… Suddenly at one point my mother tells me in the middle of the street that she wasn’t sure that her father was really her father and that was the first time in my life that I hear[d] that. And then, at that point, [this] changed a lot not only in me and in the film as well because I think that then in the film focuses more, of course, on the aging of my aunt and the need she has to be cared [for]. But at the same time, the urge that my mother starts to have to, let's say, get to know this information in order to complete her identity. 

Smith: Were there any particular advantages or disadvantages of working with family? I can imagine maybe that could make it more difficult as a documentarian to tell a story when you are personally involved? 

Gerosa: I think that filming with the family of the filmmaker, let's say, in this case, my family, has the big advantage of the total accessibility. You can access whenever you want, almost whenever you want, the people you are filming and you can be pretty sure that they are not going to reject you.

Making this film with my own family, it has been very hard because my feelings were at stake as well. And every time I was witnessing - every time I was witnessing something it wasn’t just something that could have been nice or bad or strong or weak for the film, it was something that influenced me very - influence my feelings a lot.

Smith: I'm really curious. Have your mother and your aunt seen the film since it finished? Since you finished producing it? 

Gerosa: So, do you hear the telephone. That is still my aunt because my mother is not at home, so she is calling me all the time.

Here I go with the answer. So my mother has watched the film and I have to say she has liked it a lot… Her first reaction is to ask how people could be interested in watching this documentary. Because she finds it, you know, she finds it like, let's say, a bit boring. She finds that it is everyday life of two old sisters and that's it. So she doesn’t understand how this could be interesting or funny or compelling for an audience.

Smith: Anything else you'd like to add about the film? 

Gerosa: I really hope that - I'm really curious about how it will be for - this film - for an American audience, but I’m pretty sure that the values that you see in the film are really - I don’t want to be pretentious - but I think they are universal. I mean - American and Italian - we are not so different, but I think the value of the film could be understood in every kind of culture because the family bond is something that is whenever you go are there and are very strong usually.

Smith: Thank you so much for your time today.

Gerosa: Thanks a lot.