Gaby Dunn speaks with TenEighty about her new film, 40: A Documentary About My Family Secret.
The first half of the film details the story of how her dad came back into contact with his father, after having been taken by his mother when he was a toddler. Her Aunt Norma had videotaped the encounter, leaving Gaby with a lot of footage to use. As she explains to TenEighty, this helped in her decision to make the film:
“As someone who makes stuff, I just have to figure out what the medium is going to be for it. For a long time I was like, ‘Is this going to be an article? Is this going to be something where I make a fictional thing about it?’ Because it was going on – it’s ongoing – I was like, ‘What do I do with this?’ I had the footage from the eighties – I have this footage, so I feel like it’s a video then.”
Through the use of the old footage, Gaby was able to give viewers a firsthand look at the meeting between her dad and his father, as well as allow them insight into how the encounter effected both men. The film then moves to the present day, where Gaby informs those watching that she has a half-brother she’s only recently found out about.
The revelation comes through both his and her father’s use of the genetic testing site, 23andMe. When one submits their DNA to the site, they have the option to opt into a service that tests their DNA against others in the system. Once the connection had been made, her half-brother, Jason, reached out to her father via Facebook and the two began talking.
When asked about her father’s reaction to the news, Gaby says he wasn’t at all surprised, citing both his past and his spiritual beliefs, “He’s [a] spiritual guy. When he starts in on, ‘Of course, this happened because of the universe,’ I’m just like, ‘Uh huh, uh huh.’ He just kind of is unfazed or he takes things very positively because he’s very into his spirituality.”
However, when asked about her own reaction, Gaby admits to being skeptical at first. “I was curious about him, but then we talked and it seemed fine,” she explains. “When I first saw a photo of him, I knew the test wasn’t wrong – he really is [my dad’s son]. […] The reason I kept him a secret for a year was because I didn’t want to immediately send a bunch of teenage girls his way.”
The documentary saw Gaby delving into content not regularly seen on her channel. The main difference, besides its length, was the editing process, which she outsourced:
“I hired a female editor. She works for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. My ex-boyfriend’s a writer on that show and I went to him and was like, ‘Do you know anyone?’ […] We had never met – like, we had talk on the phone, but she [had] all this family footage of me and [I’d] never met this person.
“It was good because she didn’t know the story, so it was really good to have her and go, ‘Does this make sense to you?’ There was a lot of concern of did I explain enough and does it make sense, [as] we didn’t go into a lot of stuff. […] I had to give it to someone else and step away and go, ‘Okay, let’s see what this person makes of it.'”
As the film is different from the content viewers are used to seeing on her channel, Gaby admits she was a bit nervous about not only what her audience would think, but about how her friends and family would react:
“I was nervous about what the family would think about it – they seem to like it – and then what the fans will say, especially because there’s this thing where, how much are you exposing online to people. Like, I don’t want people to leave him mean comments. Although, the only thing people have said, friends of mine, is, ‘[Your] new brother is hot.'”
40: A Documentary About My Family Secret is currently available for viewing via Gaby’s YouTube channel.