Gail Freedman Documents the Joyful & Tragic in Real Life

Today FF2 will be highlighting the work of director Gail Freedman, best known for her documentary Too Hot to Trot. Released on this day in 2018, Too Hot to Trot follows two sets of dance partners through the joyful, fast-paced world of queer ballroom dance.

Gail Freedman’s career defies any one particular interest. Beginning her life as an aspiring concert pianist, Gail has also worked in government, the healthcare industry, and even taught at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Gail’s directorial debut came in 1996 with the release of People in Motion: Breaking the Silence Barrier, a television movie which deals with the subject of cognitive disability. 

When starting out in filmmaking, Gail brought with her journalistic principles picked up from jobs with 60 Minutes and ABC 20/20. In an interview with FF2 contributor Lesley Coffin, Gail revealed, “I learned from Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes that you do a story, not an issue, and you need characters to tell a story. Hot to Trot is certainly more fleshed out in that way, but I’m taking the same approach I’d taken when I worked the news and even my earlier documentaries…Documentary filmmaking has been a natural evolution, and my journalism background really helps because of the research skills I developed and the journalistic ethics I have.”

Over the course of Gail’s career, she has both directed and written dozens of documentary films all through her own former company, Parrot Productions. One such memorable film is her 2011 special for The History Channel, Making the 9/11 Memorial. The documentary follows the memorial’s architect, Michael Arad, and contractor, Chris Powers, exactly ten years after the September 11th attacks. Though the film is bleak in subject matter, Gail compassionately documents hope and regrowth at Ground Zero.

When approaching Too Hot to Trot, Gail wanted a certain level of intimacy in the film. In order to portray such a personal act as dance, she needed the audience to feel a real connection to her subjects. When speaking to FF2, Gail explained, “I always felt [the documentary] should be a very personal film that focused on the lives of these dancers, not the subject of same-sex dance.”

Gail’s film does not only offer an intimate look into its subjects, but its audience as well.

The close bond formed between subject and audience was perhaps inevitable, as Gail followed the dancers over a period of four years from rehearsal to stage. Beyond the competitions, Gail gives viewers a front row seat to these peoples’ struggles, growth, and self-acceptance. In her glowing review of Too Hot to Trot, FF2 contributor Farah Elattar writes, “Gail Freedman touches your soul, and captures the wonders that can happen when one chooses to let go and dance.” Gail’s film does not only offer an intimate look into its subjects, but its audience as well.

Though uplifting in Too Hot to Trot, Gail’s commitment to intimacy will surely force readers into some discomfort in her upcoming project. Gail’s newest documentary, No One Cares About Crazy People, will delve into the mental illness crisis in America. In the teaser trailer for the film, Gail interviews mentally ill individuals along with family members, policy makers, and activists. The trailer alone is sobering, but also shows a cause for hope in this community that has pulled together to fight for systematic change. Though No One Cares About Crazy People is almost complete, they are still seeking donations to finish the film. A link will be included below the article if you are interested to learn more.

All of Gail’s films are incredibly diverse in subject matter, with topics varying from cancer to education to the opioid epidemic. Yet the uniting force which drives the entirety of Gail’s work is her dedication to telling personal stories. Stories so challengingly real and human that, without Gail, they perhaps otherwise would go untold.

© Reese Alexander (8/24/23) Special for FF2 Media


Read Lesley Coffin’s interview with Gail Freedman here.

Read Farah Elattar’s review of Too Hot to Trot here.

Learn more about No One Cares About Crazy People here.


Featured Photo: Ernesto Palma and Nikolai Shpakov featured in the documentary HOT TO TROT (2017). Photo by Curt Worden.

Bottom Photo: Director Gail Freedman at Frameline Festival, San Francisco. Photo by Andrea Salles.

Photos courtesy of the Hot to Trot EPK. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: 60 Minutes, ABC 20/20, Chris Powers, Documentaries, documentary, documentary filmmaker, female documentary filmmaker, Gail Freedman, Making the 9/11 Memorial, Michael Arad, No One Cares About Crazy People, People in Motion: Breaking the Silence Barrier, The History Channel, Too Hot to Trot

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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