Tell US about Love to Love You, the documentary you made about your mother, Donna Summer?  BROOKLYN SUDANO:  This has been a journey, I’ll say that. I think that it’s been a number of years in process, and I think that one of the things that’s been most spectacular about being able to do something like this, not just on a grand level of music and just the amazing artist that she was, but just on a personal level to understand your mother, your parents, and understand a little bit more about yourself and your family. I had a daughter a few years after my mom passed away, and so I think there are a lot of themes there that I was able to really delve into and understand the complexity of being a working mom and what that must have felt like when you’re a global superstar. Being able to talk to my sister, talk to my aunts, and talk to the people that knew her the best, Roger and I (co-director) were really able to peel back a lot of the layers and the complexities of all of these different dynamics of her life. It’s been a journey and it’s been one of the biggest gifts.

How DID this journey begIn FOR YOU?  SUDANO:  This journey began probably really about seven years ago. I’ve always loved documentaries as a form of storytelling, and I’ve been an actor for 20 years. As I started to process my own life with the birth of my daughter, I began to look at my mother and her life and her artistry, and I just felt like there was so much that the world didn’t get to know about her. When people find out that your mom’s Donna Summer, they come and they share their stories and their own personal connections and memories and I realized that while there was so much that she was able to give to people through her music, but that people still didn’t really know her. I just felt like as a way to honor her, almost like my last gift that I could give her, was to be able to tell her story from as much of her perspective and the people that knew her the best. I got this really great advice from Kevin McDonald who directed the Bob Marley documentary who told me, “Listen, the best thing you can do is just start.” So I just started calling people and asking if they would share their experiences from the early days.

How did co-director Roger Ross Williams come into the fold?  SUDANO:  I’d obviously never directed anything before. I thought to myself, “You know what? I really would like to direct this, but I would love to team up with somebody” and Roger was a name that came up a few times in the process. As soon as we sat down, we realized that we had the same exact vision and were completely in alignment with how we wanted to tell the story, which to be honest, did not change throughout the entire process of making this film. I feel so, so blessed to have been able to do this project with Roger and the team that came together around it.

What were some of those initial hallmarks of how you wanted to tell the story?  SUDANO:  The biggest thing was to tell the truth. A lot of times with these bigger musical icons and with stories coming from the daughter and the family, there’s a tendency to broad brush and not really get into some of the harder topics. But for me, it was really important to tell the truth because I think there is power in the truth and there’s healing in the truth. There were areas in my mom’s life where maybe she didn’t feel strong enough or willing to give up that part of her privacy that I could now share. That’s what storytelling does. It connects us. In that honesty and in that vulnerability is where you find connection. 

What did it feel like to step into the director’s chair for the first time?  SUDANO:  It’s been fantastic. I’ve loved it. As an actor and a storyteller, you have to be curious. You have to want to ask questions. You have to want to know what makes people tick. This was really just another avenue for me to exercise that curiosity and to ask people just what their perspectives were. You have your ideas, but sometimes things are a little bit different than you thought that they were. One of the things that I did realize pretty early on was that people felt like they could trust me with their stories. Establishing that trust and having everybody understand that really the fundamental idea is to be as honest and truthful as possible in the storytelling, was paramount to our success. My mom used to always call me the reporter growing up because I would come home and I would report everything that happened at school. I thought it was funny that my first big report was on her. 

Do you have to separate her from being your mom to being a musical icon that people are talking about?  SUDANO:  I think most of my life has been that, right? When you grow up in an environment where the personal and the private and the public and all of these things are crisscrossing all the time, there’s a comfortability with that that’s different than probably what’s normal for most people. This is just how it is. We did a Broadway musical about my mom’s life, and people ask, “Is that so weird?” and I’m like, “No, my whole life has been about production.” So in some ways, it feels very second nature. 

Can you tell me about summers spent touring and singing backup for your mom?  SUDANO:  Yeah, it’s the family business. We would go on tour in the summertime, and we would, my sister, Amanda and I particularly, worked backstage. We were like the PAs, steaming the dresses and setting up the makeup table and getting the band clothes ready and all of the quick change booths and all of these things. I think it was my mom’s way of including us in her life, but also teaching us that it takes a village to do this. She also let us perform a song and dance on stage from time to time as well.

So you had to pay your dues?  SUDANO:  For sure. To my parents’ credit, my sisters and I, for all of the amazing things that we got to do growing up as kids, we had a very kind of traditional upbringing in some ways: set the table for dinner, make your bed in the morning, do your chores, all of those kind of tent poles of a stable family life. 

Is that something you’ve taken now into your new family life? SUDANO:  I have in some ways a lot of insight because of my mother and my aunts who traveled with her because I grew up seeing working mothers and thinking, “Oh, well, I can do this.” It was never a thought like, “Oh, should I stay at home or should I work?” I’m always like, “Oh, no, I can do this.” It’s important for my children to see me have a dream and to use my talents and my creativity. I want my daughter to know that.