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Festivals Interviews Raindance Film Festival 2024

Interview with Lisa D’Apolito. Director, producer, writer, and amazing force of nature

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This week, I’m thrilled to present an exclusive interview with the remarkable Lisa D’Apolito, director and producer of the captivating documentary Shari & Lamb Chop (2023). Have you ever wondered who was the pioneer TV entertainer for children, even before Mr. Rogers? In her documentary, D’Apolito delves into the life of the woman that popularised this type of television: Shari Lewis. This work had its international premiere at Raindance Film Festival, spreading the word to European audiences about this incredible woman who has been virtually erased from history.

Shari & Lamb Chop follows the ups and downs of an enormously inspiring woman who fought hard to get to where she was, becoming a legend not once, but twice, in the 60s and the 90s. It is not only a great piece of entertainment, but the credit a figure of that statue deserves after all her work.

As you might have imagined, Shari & Lamb Chop resonates greatly with the work I like to do. Not as an entertainer (I wouldn’t be caught dead on a stage), but as a promoter of female work and talent. So I was more than happy to find this feature in the Raindance programme and to make a review of it on Cut to the Take.

I liked the documentary so much that, when the opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to interview the brains behind this project: Lisa D’Apolito. Join us on this fascinating conversation about women in the industry and discover what makes Shari the perfect documentary subject.

Let’s get into it!

Talking to Lisa D’Apolito

My interview with Lisa D’Apolito started earlier than expected. With both of us at the cafeteria before the set time, we decided to get an early start. Talk about efficiency, amirite?

Lucy Muñoz: Before getting into the film, I wanted to talk about your career. How did you get into directing? What made you choose that path?

Lisa D’Apolito: I was originally an actress, my ex-husband was an actor too, and when my son was born, one of us needed a real job. So I got a job as a producer, and then I started directing a lot of non-fiction content, mostly branded content. And then somehow I fell into documentaries.

LM: About documentaries, I’ve seen that you directed Love, Gilda (2018), about Gilda Radner, before your current film. You are clearly interested on showing the lives of women in the industry. So, from all there are, why Shari?

LD: Well, I did a film about Gilda Radner who was an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, which is very big in the states, and I felt like she was a little of an unsung hero. So I was looking for another unsung hero, and I didn’t think about Shari Lewis since I was a kid.

Then somebody asked me, what about Shari Lewis? And I started researching her, and seeing how amazingly talented she was. And I didn’t know that. I just saw her as the puppeteer of Lamb Chop. So that’s kind of it around the Shari adventure. I thought she had such an amazing upbringing with her father being the official magician of New York City, so I just really liked her.

LM: So you knew Shari before the documentary, was she a big thing during your childhood?

LD: Not really. In America, she had a show in the 60s and a show in the 90s, so I was in between them. I’d seen her on variety shows and talk shows, but I always knew Lamb Chop, the puppet. I’ve always loved Lamb Chop, so I think that’s kinda what it was.

LM: What was your vision for the documentary? What would you like the takeaway to be?

LD: I think Shari never gave up. And, no matter what life or the industry threw at her, she hung in there and she kept working and reinventing herself until she was in her sixties and she has this big comeback. I think Shari’s message was always to believe in yourself and be the best that you can be. So I hope that that message carries over, and I just want people to have fun when they watch the film. I want them to have a good time.

LM: I was wondering about that too because in the documentary, her daughter mentions some negative things like not getting along with Shari because they both needed a lot of attention. So I was wondering, why are the negative parts of her character not featured in the documentary?

LD: I don’t think there was much negative parts. In some ways, Shari and her daughter’s relationship, like when her daughter says to me “if my mother was a man, a male actor, would you still ask the same questions?”. So, I think that it was hard. Shari’s career would come first. That was a really important part of her life. So I don’t know if there was any negative, you know? That was really the only negative situation, and I thought it had a good outcome. When Mallory (Shari’s daughter) started working with her mom, it built their relationship. She comes into Shari’s world and then she’s accepted. So that’s kinda how I positioned it.

LM: I see, I was curious about whether there was something more to Shari maybe.

LD: She was just very self-absorbed, but there was no evidence of anything else. Her daughter is an only daughter, you know? Her mother is working all the time, and (her mother) is desperately trying to get back on television, so I think that they always… You know, there is always a period in a lot of girl’s lives when there is a relationship with their mother where they are clashing, and that seems pretty common to me.

LM: Yeah, it always happens, especially when you are too alike.

LD: Yeah, and Mallory says that, you know, “there is only one sun in the universe”. Mallory wants what she wants, too, so we have two very powerful people together.

LM: And what was your favourite part of the documentary?

LD: I think when I found Shari on Playboy After Dark. I saw that on her IMDb page, that she did that. And it took a long time to finally find it, and when I found it, I think it was my favourite cause it just showed me that there is another Shari. Also, I don’t know, I think seeing her dance and sing, too.

LM: Next question was going to be “were you surprised by Shari?”. I’m assuming the Playboy thing was pretty surprising, but were there other moments?

LD: I’m thinking one of the interviews. We use it a lot in the film, where she’s on the black background. I think it wasn’t easy to get to know Shari because she was a performer through and through. So in that one interview, the interviewer was really good and I think he got some things that were really interesting, like when she said that she doesn’t seek, she just does. And that’s how (she was), from what everybody said, she never got caught in the drama of things, in the negativity. She just would go on. So I found that really interesting, that somebody could just keep going.

An then my editor found, when we were going through all the footage, how Shari used her puppets many times to talk about things that she couldn’t talk about (at that time as a woman). So that was really, really interesting.

LM: You’ve done documentaries before, did you find any new challenge while doing this one?

LD: I think it was challenging to get to know the real Shari. I was very lucky in my Love, Gilda documentary because I had Gilda’s diaries, I had audiotapes, I had some very, very intimate material. When you interview people, they tell you only their point of view on the person, but with Gilda, once I had the diaries, I knew more.

With Shari, it was a little difficult finding out who she was. And I love personal archival (material). So, there’s a scene where Shari sings without song, for her goodbye. And it’s the last time she’s on camera. Everyone told me that story, and then we found her assistant had several tapes, from which we got a transcript. When we found out, it was pretty shocking cause we had evidence of that moment.

LM: I feel like that moment also reflects a lot about what you were saying about how Shari does, she doesn’t get caught up, she just keeps going.

LD: Yeah. Even her last song is “Hello, Goodbye”. She’s saying goodbye to everybody.

LM: I thought that was really beautiful when she tells Mallory “Oh no, you’re gonna need this”. It’s very much her “I’m just gonna keep doing” spirit. It represents her and her courage. And following up on Shari, if you could ask her anything now, what would it be?

LD: After Vegas, there is a couple years that I don’t really know what happened because I have no record of her. So I would be curious to see what she was doing in those years. I don’t know if it’s anything. I don’t know if she really disappeared or if she as just doing things that weren’t on television.

What would I ask her?… I don’t know, I guess I would ask her if she liked the film. If I represented her in a way. I don’t know if there’s any secrets I found that I wanted to know… I guess with her husband’s affair, I would ask her more about it. Like, why she stayed with him? Women did at that time, but she could’ve divorced him, so I think she really loved him. I would ask her that.

LM: Yeah, it did come across in the documentary as love ‘cause the other husband, the minute he screwed up, he was gone!

LD: Thank God, yeah.

LM: Coming back to the theme of women in the industry. Have you encountered many issues because of being a woman?

LD: Oh yeah! As an actress I had those kind of issues, you know, people expected things… I think still… It depends on the ages of people that you are with. Young men are really open-minded, I think. Sometimes I could say something, or a woman could say something and it’s not heard. And then a man can say the same thing in the room and all of a sudden is like “Great idea!”. So those kind of things.

I think sometimes you just come across people who just don’t want to hear an opinion from a woman. I mean, I still get that, and I’m always shocked by that. It’s not younger guys though, it’s usually a different generation. Hopefully things are better know. I mean, I do chose to work with a lot of women. My editor is a woman, my DP was a woman, my composer was a woman, my main producer was a woman. So I had mostly women around me. But there’s great cool guys too.

LM: What about funding? Have you had any issues in this regard?

LD: With my first film, it was difficult, cause it was my first major film. So it was difficult raising money. This one was pretty easy, we put together a sizzle and the funding came pretty quickly, so that was good. That was a couple of years ago, now I think things are tighter, so I was lucky in that sense.

I think though, not in terms of funding, but in terms of distribution. In the States, there was a Mr. Rogers doc, and now there’s a Jim Henson doc, they had a ton of press, a ton of stuff, and we’re about to get distribution, but it’s been harder. Shari was a forefront before all these guys. They built their own industry, but Shari is a really major talent, and I think it’s a struggle that people don’t know the value of Shari. And maybe that is because she is a woman.

LM: What do you think could be done to improve the situation for women entertainers, and other women professionals, in the industry?

LD: Well, I think women have to support women. I was just at the Bentonville Film Festival, and it’s all about women supporting women, and people supporting underrepresented people. So I think that that is one step: to support women. I like to see films that show women, a woman’s story.

LM: After Raindance is over, what are your expectations for the future? Any new projects?

LD: Well, I just finished a film about a director called Albert Pyun. He’s like an Ed Wood-type director. He has one of the worst Rotten Tomatoes’ ratings of all time. He’s done like fifty-five films. He just passed away, but I filmed him while he was still alive. So I just finished a film about him: Albert Pyun King of Cult Movies. And then I’m working on a couple different things.

LM: Also documentaries?

LD: Yeah, and I’m trying to develop one of Gilda Radner’s short stories into a short film, but it’s hard because her writing is so good, that when you try to make it into a screenplay it’s not working so far.

LM: I’m sure after disconnecting a bit on this trip to London it will come. Thank you so much for the interview and for such an inspiring film!

LD: Thank you for doing a story on her, cause it’s great to spread the word.


And spread the word we have! What’s your take? Are you a female filmmaker? Whether you are just starting or already have a few projects on your belt, I’d love to hear all about it and learn about your experiences! So please don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat or an interview.

Despite the latest improvements the cinema sphere is still very much a man’s world. Stories like yours and Lisa’s are incredibly important to share and learn from each other.

Additionally, if you’re just here to read and have some fun, don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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