Karen Maine wrote and directed the 2017 short “Yes, God, Yes,” which premiered as a Vimeo Staff Pick and received 2.9 million views. It won Best Short at the St. Louis International Film Festival. She co-wrote 2014 Jenny Slate-starrer “Obvious Child.”
The feature version of “Yes, God, Yes” premiered at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. The film hits virtual cinemas and drive-ins July 24 and Digital and VOD July 28.
This interview was conducted in 2019.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
KM: “Yes, God, Yes” is a love story between one woman and her vagina. It’s an honest portrayal of a teenage girl discovering masturbation and becoming obsessed with it, but then feeling guilty and ashamed for indulging in it. My protagonist lives in a conservative town in the Midwest and has been raised Catholic for 16 years, so she’s been taught masturbation is a sin and something she should repent and regret.
This film is also about that moment when you’re growing up and you realize the adults in your life aren’t infallible. That’s a powerful turning point for a young person when you learn that adults aren’t perfect and make mistakes. It gives you freedom and an understanding that you can choose your own path in life.
The film also explores the many paradoxes of Catholicism and the unnatural rules they place on sexuality and sexual pleasure.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
KM: I wanted to make a coming-of-age film focused on female self-pleasure. Many films that explore young women coming of age feature partnered sex, which is often depicted as painful and not very much fun. While that is a legitimate narrative, young women are also exploring their own bodies for the first time at this age, but because there’s a lingering stigma around female sexuality it’s rarely portrayed on screen, even though the same narrative about young men has been shown in film and TV for a very long time. So I wanted to make a film about the female experience in the hopes that female sexual pleasure will become a bigger part of the conversation.
I also always wanted to tie this story to Catholicism, and what it’s like for a horny teenage girl to grow up in an institution that places so much guilt and shame on sexuality — especially for women.
I grew up Catholic in the Midwest, and I remember feeling terrible about just having sexual thoughts. It was such a release — psychologically and literally — when I was able to get past that guilt.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
KM: I’d love for them to be asking themselves questions. Why have we, collectively as a worldwide society, religious and not, placed such a stigma around female sexual pleasure? Why isn’t female sexual pleasure discussed when teaching young men and women about sex? Why are Catholics so intent that sex is only for reproduction and not for pleasure? Why is masturbation a sin?
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
KM: Our small budget! It was a fun challenge, and I think our entire crew were exquisitely talented in making the most out of what we had. It doesn’t look like a small budget film — and that’s in thanks to the crew and most especially my producers, Katie Cordeal and Colleen Hammond, who were exceptional partners.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
KM: It took about a year for us to find financing, which seemed like a long time at the time, but now I realize it was worth it to find the right partners for this project, who turned out to be Maiden Voyage and RT Features. It was such an unbelievable asset to have access to their collective, invaluable expertise along the way; they’re amazing.
We also received a grant from Panavision and Light Iron which allowed us to work with some of the best equipment and post production people in the business.
Basically, the way to get your film funded is to hustle 24/7 and not stop until it’s funded.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
KM: I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I considered being more of a writer at first and studied that in school, but I much prefer the collaborative and evolving process of filmmaking. Every film is an adaptation of its screenplay because it changes so much once you shoot and then again when you edit, and I love that transformative process. It’s something that doesn’t happen with straight-up prose.
With film, I also love that so much can be said without any dialogue or words and that it’s more open to interpretation from its audience than a book is.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
KM: The best advice: “You should direct this film yourself!” When I started writing the script, I didn’t have any directing experience and always figured we’d find someone else to direct it. But eventually my producer Katie and my friend Desiree were like, “Why don’t you direct it?” And I’m so glad I did, given how personal the film is. No one but me could have directed this.
The worst advice: “You can’t direct it.” Ha. I’m glad I didn’t listen to that one.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
KM: Always trust your gut. Do things in your unique voice and style and have confidence in that vision.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
KM: It is impossible to pick one, but a recent favorite is “Mustang” by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. It was beautifully shot and its female protagonists, both children and teens, were so real and fully-formed. It’s rare to see young female characters treated with such empathy and compassion. It was very relatable and moving, and was definitely an inspiration for my film.
W&H: It’s been a little over a year since the reckoning in Hollywood and the global film industry began. What differences have you noticed since the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements launched?
KM: I got into the industry as these movements launched, and I think they’re both great, but there’s still a very long way to go. So many women should have been nominated for the Oscars’ directing category this year but weren’t: Marielle Heller, Karyn Kusama, Lynne Ramsay. It’s really disappointing. At the same time, we saw a lot of women and women of color winning in the other categories, which was wonderful. Hopefully it will continue to change.