Despite the title feeling “polarizing,” the ‘Safe Spaces’ director explained that the film takes a nuanced approach to the contentious subject.
Daniel Schechter’s latest film, Safe Spaces, premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on Monday, continuing the debate over the value of the so-called areas, whether physical or metaphorical, in which people can be fully self-expressed without facing judgement or harassment.
Safe spaces are most often discussed within the context of college campuses, and Schechter’s film follows suit. In the film, Justin Long plays an adjunct creative writing professor who’s forced to grapple with the backlash to a class discussion that he saw as innocent, but others felt crossed the line.
“I think it is a fascinating debate. Anyone who’s like, it should be all this way or all the other way, I think they’re being just too certain about their behavior,” Schechter told The Hollywood Reporter. “This movie doesn’t offer any particularly easy, quick answers on it.”
Schechter revealed that Long’s character is actually partially inspired by himself and his experience as a teacher.
“I went into that job probably being on one side of the argument. I didn’t really see the value of [safe spaces]. I hadn’t done a lot of research about it,” he said. “But I think being there, and seeing circumstances with my own eyes, I started to change my opinion a little bit. I think the #MeToo movement started happening, and I kind of started thinking any opportunity to maybe make an environment feel a little safer probably isn’t a preposterous thing to consider at all. And I think the movie tries to offer the benefits of that and the potential dangers of that going too far. [It’s] trying to walk a fine line of nuance.”
Though Schechter said he definitely doesn’t want Safe Spaces to seem controversial, he did admit the title is a bit polarizing. But it “stuck,” and he thought if moviegoers ignored the stigmatization of the term, “it actually feels like a very warm, nice title for the movie.”
Long explained that, at its core, Safe Spaces is about compassion. “I think the big thing that I hope people take away from the movie is, just have more empathy for people and their struggles and where they’re coming from,” he told THR.
Fran Drescher, who plays Long’s mother, preached a similar message when describing her feelings toward safe spaces. “I think it’s a very interesting time we’re moving through because there’s a heightened sensitivity to other people’s, particularly women’s, feelings. And that’s a good thing,” she said, adding that she “doesn’t know a woman that has not, at one point in her life, been compromised to one degree or another.”
Like Long’s character, Drescher’s role in the film is based on a real-life person: Schechter’s mother, who even suggested that Drescher play her.
“It’s about a Jewish New York family so it was kind of a no-brainer,” Drescher said.
Beyond the college controversy, Safe Spaces follows this family — Kate Berlant as Long’s sister, Michael Godere as his brother and Richard Schiff as their estranged father — all of whom are brought together by the siblings’ ailing grandmother (Lynn Cohen).
“What’s unique about this family is they’re extremely honest with each other, to this beautiful degree of willing to get painfully truthful with each other,” Godere told THR. “And the result is kind of this dynamic comedy.”
Adds Schiff, “It’s very complicated and complex but kind of beautiful. It’s really about how love is fluid underneath all this confusion and complexity that we live with. It’s a beautifully written script.”less