HBI's Michelle Cove rewrites the Cinderella story (Jewish Advocate)

Michelle Cove is the editor of "614," the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute's ezine. Click here to read the latest issue.

The following article originally appeared in The Jewish Advocate.

Rewriting the Cinderella story

Filmmaker explores how women define happily ever after

By Susan Hope Forrest
Special to the Advocate 

Michelle Cove
              Michelle Cove
Once upon a time, before Manolo Blahnik heels were the rage, young girls everywhere were enchanted by Cinderella’s slippers.

Among those smitten by Cindy and her “cool glass shoes” was 8- year-old Michelle Cove. Who wouldn’t fall for a story about a fair maiden rescued by a hot young prince from a dismal life and a pair of vicious stepsisters? And, like all classic fairy tales, the ending to Cinderella was a given: The couple exchange a passionate kiss and live happily ever after.

Cove, now a 41-year-old journalist and filmmaker, is still fascinated with Cinderella, but she has moved on from storybooks to real life. She is just completing a feature length documentary, “Seeking Happily Ever After: A Generation’s Struggle to Redefine the Fairytale.”

“I absolutely believed in happily ever after and thought I’d be married in my 20s with two babies and the house with the white picket fence,” said Cove.

Things didn’t work out as planned. Cove found herself embarking on her 30s, still single, biological clock loudly ticking and her prince nowhere in sight. But while she didn’t have a fairy godmother, she did have the Internet. “I ended up meeting my husband on JDate at age 31, living in a condo and giving birth to my daughter Risa at age 35.”

Cove has always been interested in how girls and women make personal choices. She served several years as senior editor of Girls’ Life, inspiring young girls with women role models; and co-authored a national best seller, “I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You! A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict” (Viking, 1999). Now, she is editor of 614, an online magazine for young Jewish women, published by The Hadassah Brandeis Institute (www.brandeis. edu/hbi/614). Each issue of the bi-monthly magazine focuses on a particular hot topic – “Is Judaism a Girl Thing?,” “Jewish Egg Donation,” “What Makes a Family Jewish?”) – and offers a half-dozen or so perspectives.

The idea for “Seeking Happily Ever After” struck Cove three years ago when she noticed a rash of news reports about the growth in the number of single women. She read in The New York Times that “51 percent of women are now living without a spouse,” more than ever before. The US Census reported that 6 million women were single and in their 30s, nearly two thirds of them having never married. Meanwhile, many American women were fixated on the gals of “Sex and the City” (and remain so with “Sex and the City 2” being released in theaters).

“All over the media were these headlines about single women,” said Cove, “but what I kept thinking about was the fact that no one was really asking the women themselves what they thought of the phenomenon.”

Bothering her, too, was how the media spun the story. “Most of the single women on TV we saw – on both reality TV and sitcoms – were either desperate to marry or so career-driven they had no time for love,” Cove said.

So she purchased a point-andshoot video camera and started interviewing women about their most intimate feelings on being single – the thoughts they were keeping to themselves or only confiding to their closest friends. As Cove saw it, she was giving women an opportunity to reclaim their own story and tell it in their own words.

New to moviemaking, Cove realized early on that she would need guidance. She emailed LAbased producer Kerry David and asked her to team up on the project. Cove had been impressed by David’s documentary about Drew Barrymore, “My Date with Drew.”

It “was a charming film that went on to win major awards in festivals and land a distribution deal,” Cove said. “Kerry seemed warm and resourceful in her interviews in the DVD bonus features, and I knew instinctively we’d get along well.”

David agreed, in part for personal reasons. Like other women featured in the documentary, she is an accomplished single woman who has no desire to marry. “This film is really about choices,” David said. “If I wanted women to get one thing from this film, it would be not to define yourself through a partner but through yourself.”

The all-female production team traveled the country, turning the cameras on scores of women and experts. As the filmmakers interviewed friends and friends of friends, the circle kept expanding. Cove and David did on-the-street interviews, going up to women who weren’t wearing a wedding band and appeared to be in their 30s. “What’s amazing,” said Cove, “is that only one, maybe two, women said they didn’t have the time for an interview. The rest made the time and then totally dropped their guards to be part of this conversation. They definitely wanted to tell their story.”

The film is not a “Jewish film,” per say. It transcends all ethnic, racial and religious categories. However, Cove was personally interested in the Jewish angle. While doing research for an issue of 614 called “Is JDate Changing the Culture of Judaism?,” she came across a Lilith magazine article from 2008 in which editorat large Susan Schnur reported that Jewish women “of all Caucasian groups in America, are the ones least likely to marry.”

Cove said, “I’ve been trying to figure out why that is, and I’m still not sure. It may be that Jewish women, in particular, are encouraged to put their attention on getting advanced degrees and succeeding in jobs over finding their b’shert. But, then, even the most educated Jewish singles I know are searching for love.”

“Seeking Happily Ever After” tackles topics overlooked by the media: Do today’s single women feel that they are single by choice, or is it something that happened to them? Has the notion of “happily ever after” changed today given the emphasis on girl power and self-esteem? Is egg freezing the back-up insurance women assume it is if they can’t get pregnant naturally? How do single men feel about dating women in their 30s preoccupied with their biological clocks? How has women’s spending power changed their views on the need for marriage?

Jacquie, a 33-year-old Brookline resident, allows the cameras to accompany her as she spends a year looking for love: meeting guys through the Internet, speed dating, volunteering, even enduring the dreaded fix-up. She agrees to give up her privacy to challenge friends and family who keep telling her that all she needs to be truly happy is to find the right guy and settle down. In one of the most moving moments in the documentary, Jacquie tearfully recalls her mother’s reassuring words: “I can’t tell you how happy I am that you are not married because you did everything right up until this point. I want you to get married when you are the best version of yourself and not because other people want you to get married.”

That attitude is echoed by Garland Waller, a professor of television at Boston University: “From a moment a girl is born she is taught to want that dream of riding off into the sunset with Prince Charming. And that’s sort of a crime because I don’t think we are helping our young women find the center that will make them strong and happy.”

While for Cove making the movie has been like a fairy tale come true, she has yet to find a fairy godmother of fund-raising. She and her team must raise $15,000 by June 15 through kickstarter.com to finance postproduction. They still have $5,000 left to raise.

The filmmakers are pitching “Seeking Happily Ever After” to distributers and film festivals. Cove is writing a companion book, “Seeking Happily Ever After: How to Navigate the Ups and Downs of Being Single Without Losing Your Mind,” which is due to be released by Penguin Books in September.

How has making the film changed the filmmakers’ views of happily ever after?

Said Cove: “In some ways, I made the traditional choice by getting married and having a child. On the other hand, at age 38, I started making a movie with absolutely no experience in filmmaking. Three years later, I’m submitting my doc to festivals and truly had the time of my life making it, stresses and all. Who knew that’d be my happily ever after?”

As to her hopes for her daughter: “I want her to give herself permission to come up with her own version of the ending – whether it’s traditional or not. I want there to be intention behind her choice, and I want her to feel like she can change the plan if her current version isn’t working out.”

Back in Los Angeles, producer Kerry David recently ended a long-term relationship, choosing instead to write her own fairy tale ending. “I realized it wasn’t about finding a prince to make me happy after all,” she said in an email. “It was about being happy with myself, so that I could share that with everyone I know.”

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