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Drew Dickler ’08 Visits GFS to Make a Memoir-Documentary ‘Big Bass’

Drew Dickler ’08 is an accomplished filmmaker—she’s the founder of Brooklyn-based production studio, Deep Dive Films, which has created commercial work for clients like Google and Brooklyn Brewery. She’s also a documentarian; most recently, she co-directed “Fireboys,” about incarcerated young men who fight wildfires in California (Ed. note: “Fireboys” is currently streaming on HBO MAX). 

She’d set her sights on 2024 as the year to make a more personal project, and felt certain that a particular memory from her time as a GFS Lower School student should be its subject matter.

While on a roadtrip in the summer of 2023, Dickler uncovered a forgotten memory of herself as a second grader in conversation with longtime GFS Phys. Ed. teacher and athletics coach, Cheryl Bruttomesso. Dickler had a vision of the two of them sitting on the steps in front of the Cary Building, discussing her troubles fitting in with the girls in her class. Curiously, she vividly recalled them passing a large plastic fish back and forth as they spoke.

The memory of this interaction, and her relationship with Bruttomesso, began to take on a deeper emotional resonance as Dickler reflected on being a queer kid in the late 90s. 

“Cheryl was an out lesbian and role model, basically a miracle to me,” Dickler said. “To have someone who was an out lesbian person in school was a very positive thing for me—even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I wanted to use this film to explore memory, identity, and the power of showing up as your authentic self.” 

After learning that Bruttomesso is still at GFS, Dickler sent her an email, pitching the idea of a 10-minute documentary titled “Big Bass” that centers around this second grade memory and Bruttomesso’s work as an out teacher over the past 35 years. 

Bruttomesso, who said she instantly remembered Dickler when she read the email, had no hesitation getting on board.

“I told Drew I’d be honored to be in the film, even though the idea of actually being in it was a little nerve-wracking,” she said. “But I put 100% trust in her that she would take care of me and do what she thought was right.”

Bruttomesso connected Dickler with André Robert Lee ’89, a film teacher at GFS, who helped Dickler secure space on campus for the shoot, and joined the film as a producer. In April, Dickler and her production team visited GFS to scout locations and spend time with Bruttomesso.

In May, Dickler and a small crew came to campus for the shoot, which included a one-on-one conversation between Dickler and Bruttomesso, as well as reenacted scenes from Dickler’s time as a second grader at GFS, including the steps conversation. “Young Drew” was played by Eva Malkasian, daughter of GFS Middle School teacher, Andrew Malkasian. In one scene, which recreated a P.E. class from 1997, a current GFS first grade class met in the Little Gym to play with the parachute. Bruttomesso was prepared with a period-correct GFS shirt from the late 90s (“I have all my shirts from the last 35 years!” Bruttomesso said.)

As for being on camera, Bruttomesso noted that it wasn’t actually so bad. Lee gave her advice on being her authentic self, and Bruttomesso used her experiences as a field hockey umpire and a GFS teacher to stay focused and present.

“I’m able to be in the zone and block out all the other stuff,” she said. “Something special about GFS is that when we talk, we sit in the moment and look in each others’ eyes and everything else can fall away.”

Dickler, who said it was a “powerful” return to the GFS campus, plans to complete the film by the fall of 2024 and then submit it to independent and queer film festivals. Her dream for “Big Bass” is to create an honest portrayal of her and Bruttomesso’s experiences, and express a bit of truth from her childhood that perhaps other people can relate to. 

“I want it to be a film that’s honest and real and has a beating heart,” she said. “I really hope it allows people to honor a person in their life that supported them the way Cheryl supported me.”