If you’re convinced you already know everything about Gigi Gorgeous, think again. With her latest documentary, This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A., Miss Sharon Jones!) comprehensively chronicles the life of Gigi, who began life as Gregory Lazzarato and was a nationally ranked diving champ, through her transition to the outspoken and exquisite model/beauty guru with more than two million YouTube subscribers. Kopple’s film offers an illuminating, unflinching look at the iconic young woman, but also an empowering message of self-acceptance.
Gigi is very open about all aspects of her life on YouTube, but was anything off limits for your cameras?
Barbara Kopple: No, she was open to whatever we wanted to do. This documentary is about helping other people. The whole spine of the film is her material; I used her GoPro and YouTube footage. She has so much out there. She’s so open and innocent and you can watch how she changes as a person.
In terms of media coverage, there’s been a real moment for transgender people during the past couple of years with unprecedented representation in films and television. What makes Gigi’s story stand out?
I think what makes it special, for me anyway, is how open and honest she is about everything. She really allows someone to get into her world. She shows how supportive and caring the whole community is that she built on YouTube. She has over two million subscribers. Her family is just wonderful. Her father, David, really understands what it means to be a father and to be there for his child, even though he never thought in his wildest dreams that something like this would ever happen. There are so many other films about transgender people who commit suicide or get kicked out of their homes. We need stories about love and caring and understanding right now.
Absolutely. I really appreciated the incredibly loving relationship between Gigi and her father and brothers. Were you surprised at how supportive her family is?
I don’t know that I was surprised; I was just really interested in getting to know them. The boys were a little shy at first, but then they got into it and talked about it. They love their sister and they know how much it means to her to have her story told. I don’t think I was surprised. I’ve just never felt more comfortable with people and respecting them so much as I did with her family. After meeting her father and interviewing and talking to him, everyone should have a father like David Lazzarato. He’s just a beauty and so nice. When he heard that we got into Sundance he said, “I can’t tell you how much this means to all of us.”
The future for LGBTQ rights under the new presidential administration seems unclear. What sort of impact do you hope your film will have on hetero audiences?
You have to look at life when I finished this film, which was before Trump, and now I don’t know what life is going to be like for any of us. It’s going to be a tough time, but we just have to keep telling stories and talking and being out there and struggling as hard as we can to continue.
How has the YouTube generation, who live so much of their lives on camera, changed the way a documentarian like you works?
It hasn’t changed it all. It’s still about telling a story. The videos are stuff she does personally and privately and then she puts it out on YouTube. We just watch her go through and do the stuff she wants to do. It’s just like telling any other story.
What’s your take on the way young people obtain celebrity through social media? How much of their stories are manipulated for effect?
I don’t know. I think it depends on who’s telling it. I think if it’s a good story, who cares? If they entertain people and let you into a world you wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t seen this, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a different way of telling a story. I think they’re all important.
How has your Sundance experience changed over the years? Is it still exciting to screen your films here?
I love Sundance. I feel like a 12-year-old when Sundance says, “Yes, we want to show your film.” I think I was on the jury for the first Sundance when the Harvey Milk film [The Times of Harvey Milk] won. It was amazing. We didn’t even know people were there. I think it was D.A. Pennebaker and Frederick Wiseman and myself and they’d pick us up and take us to a theater and we’d look at all these films. When we looked at everything and announced the winners there were suddenly all these people. That was my first one. Now it’s filled with people talking about getting distribution or YouTube … it’s just wonderful. You feel like you’re part of this community that continues to grow. And there are wonderful films. I was there at the beginning and I loved it.