Kopple takes webcam tale to silver screen with ‘This is Everything’

Barbara Kopple’s newest documentary, This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, will likely be seen on the video sharing platform YouTube Red by far more people than ever purchase a ticket to see the movie in theaters. But she’s still excited to have brought the film to the Sarasota Film Festival this weekend as a Centerpiece Film. “Being on a screen in beautiful,” says Kopple, who still loves the idea of movies as a communal experience.

At the end of the day, though, she wants as many people as possible to see her film, which recounts the life of YouTube star Gigi Gorgeous. Viewers first meet Gorgeous by a different name: Gregory Lazzarato. The middle child of three boys, Gregory becomes a state competition level diver but confesses in voiceovers that he “wasn’t happy” for much of his early childhood. It’s not until he starts making beauty tutorials on YouTube under the name Gregory Gorgeous that he finds a true outlet.

From there, a series of revelations about Gorgeous unfolds over time, each a more significant milestone than the last. Gregory comes out as gay, then as transgender. “This is Everything” stands out as a catchphrase for her videos but also a contradictory but strangely telling tease to the always unknown next phase of life.

Other moments play out in Kopple’s documentary as well. Gorgeous’ mother dies of cancer before the vlogger would come out as trans, and Gorgeous pines for her mother as she goes through the transition process in a family of men, all struggling to various degrees with the consequences of the change. At one point, Gorgeous prepares for a stressful call with her father and asks family to prep him to avoid using the name Gregory on the phone. Greg, of course, will be the first word that her father says when the call begins.

Kopple, one of the most revered documentarians alive today, changed the filmmaking world with filks like Harlan County, USA, where she followed the lives of coal miners in Appalachia to expose unbelievable work conditions. Of course, for this film, Kopple works primarily with old home video and footage shot on a digital camera connected to Gorgeous’ computer. Confessionals recorded for a YouTube channel now get blown up on the silver screen. This wasn’t about exposing the hidden parts of the subjects life but constructing a narrative of a life lived perpetual in front of a camera.

“She is really open and honest,” Kopple says of Gorgeous. “She wants people to know who she is, and I think it’s important for all audiences to see this.”

This is the third time Kopple has traveled to Sarasota with a film. She came to previous festival’s with biographical pictures Running from Crazy, about Mariel Hemingway’s family history of suicides, and Miss Sharon Jones, about the namesake soul singer’s since-lost battle with cancer (“I miss her terribly,” Kopple says of Jones. “How she lived her life moved so many of us.”) While all three films are character studies, Kopple manages to use each life story to tackle serious social issues, in this one trans acceptance.

That’s achieved in This is Everything less in the direct attacks, like spotlighting when Gorgeous was denied entry into Dubai because of her gender identity, than it is in the slice-of-life moments Kopple discovers in archives or captures on film herself. The brightest moment comes in a visit to Gorgeous’ high school, meeting with teachers who still recognize her and welcome her affectionately, and where the 24-year-old web star even dons a swim suit and takes a jump from the diving board again for the first time in years. Like everything, no matter the depth of what she jumps into, Gorgeous emerges with a bright smile.

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