She saw herself as an aspiring sports reporter. She’d go on to get her bachelor’s degree in journalism in just two and a half years, learn that journalism was not for her, find her way into TV reality show production getting coffee and doing other grunt work for others, and then she’d settle down as a stay-at-home mom before the global pandemic would push her to try something she’d only thought about doing one day before she dies.
Santa Clarita native Lindsay Zibach, 33, set out in May 2020 to write and direct her first short film, which is now working its way through the festival circuit. “Seeing Diane Arbus” is scheduled to screen on Oct. 30 at the upcoming Horror Haus Film Festival at The Main Theater in Newhall, and it’s already been nominated for awards in cinematography, costume design, music, acting and overall best featurette.
The idea to make a film, Zibach told The Signal during a telephone interview earlier this week, was really a defining moment in her life.
“In a moment of great desperation,” she said, “about two months into the pandemic — when I was sure everyone was going to die — I was like, ‘This is the time for the bucket list. We’re all going down.’ My kids were newly 3 and 6 months old, and I just felt like my career had kind of tanked since staying home, after having kids. And then — maybe it was the apocalypse, maybe it was optimism — but I was like, ‘This is a good time to teach myself how to direct movies. Because time’s running out.’”
Zibach’s directorial debut, which is just under 20 minutes long, has been garnering much attention. It’s been accepted into film festivals around the country, including the Screamfest Horror Film Festival in Hollywood, the Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio, and the Superfest Disability Film Festival in San Francisco. The story involves a movie theater projectionist with dwarfism, and her relationship with voyeur photographer Diane Arbus.
“This film,” the director wrote in a statement to promote the project, “is a tribute to grand, classic cinema as seen through modern lensing. Rich, weird and retro, ‘Seeing Diane Arbus’ is about empathy, voyeurism and the ever-turning wheel between artist, subject and audience.”
“Seeing Diane Arbus” is a fictitious tale about real-life American photographer Diane Arbus, who took pictures of strippers, carnival performers and people with dwarfism, among others, in their natural settings, during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. According to Zibach, Arbus’ photographs were frequently referenced at The Hollywood Reporter, where Zibach had once worked as a producer.
“When the magazine did a story about the history of dwarfism in Hollywood,” Zibach wrote in her PR statement, “I learned that the actors who played munchkins in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ were paid less than Toto (the dog) and collectively credited with a word now considered a slur. Some of Arbus’ most famous photographs are of people with dwarfism. Where did her voyeurism end and their sense of agency begin?”
Zibach said her film is not a horror yarn, even though it does have frightening elements and has been playing at horror festivals, yet it does, she added, offer a macabre discomfort, which serves as a Trojan horse that sneaks in some disturbing questions.
“Why — and how,” she asked, “do we comfortably observe otherness if it’s presented as fine art? Is there an implied complicity in being an audience? When Arbus or Oz or (The Hollywood Reporter) made pictures of people deemed ‘other,’ what about themselves were they really trying to see?”
Zibach was born in Northridge, but she went to school in the Santa Clarita Valley at Pinecrest, Old Orchard Elementary, Placerita Junior High and Hart High. During her senior year at Hart, she’d already decided she wanted to be a sports journalist and had talked her way into an internship with The Signal.
A few years later, in 2010, she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and then she worked in production on reality shows for the National Geographic channel and MTV, among others. She also worked as an assistant to filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and as an associate producer on “The Ellen Show.”
“It was always in a making-other-people’s-crazy-ideas-happen capacity,” she said, “and I just got so good at that, I was like, ‘Dang, I can actually put this energy into my own stuff.’”
But just because she worked in the entertainment business, didn’t mean she could easily get her own projects going.
“Being an assistant doesn’t mean you get the ticket to a career,” she continued. “You’re babysitting and bringing lunch … But it was a door that opened up to so many things in terms of what’s possible, and how to behave, and how to be so generous to everyone, and how you can pursue the geeky things that really speak to you and not feel pressured to pursue the things that just feel popular.”
Around that time, Zibach got married. In 2017, she became a stay-at-home mom with her two daughters who are now 5 and 3 years old. But Zibach never stopped thinking creatively. Before she made her film and just before becoming a mother, she had written a short story and entered it into filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s annual “Zoetrope: All-Story” short fiction competition. Zibach’s piece was the prize-winning story for 2016. And that’s the story she adapted into what would become “Seeing Diane Arbus.”
Zibach funded her movie by way of a fiscal sponsorship through FilmIndependent.org. She finished the film in July 2021.
No need to ask if the experience was a good one. Zibach has already shot her second short film and has plans to make a third one before setting her sights on a feature-length project.
“I’m going to pull out my hat trick and do three shorts in three years,” she said. “So, next year, I’ll shoot a third short, and then I’m itching to get on somebody’s set to shadow a real director.”
Still, she’s savoring the moment. She’s particularly thrilled that her movie, which is sort of seen as a horror film, is getting play this month.
“All of this happening in October is significant because it’s obviously Halloween,” she said, “but it’s Dwarfism Awareness Month, too, and the ableism conversation around this movie has been so important and enlightening, and I continue to learn even though this film is out now — it exists and I can’t change it. But the conversation around it and what I’m learning about what it means to people with disabilities has been really impactful. And I’m so proud of that.”
It’s in looking at herself now that Zibach can see herself as a filmmaker. Perhaps it’s what she’s always meant to become. And perhaps it’s this film that’ll serve as her own Trojan horse to gain entry back into Hollywood, this time as a creative force.
“Seeing Diane Arbus” will screen during the Horror Haus Film Festival at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30, at The Main Theater in Newhall. For details, go to FilmFreeway.com/HorrorHausFilmFestival or learn more about the film and other festival screenings from the film’s Instagram, @SeeingDianeArbusFilm.