When Your Mom Is a Documentary Filmmaker and Your Dad Is the Producer of Icarus

Featuring Amelia Garbus Cogan, age 13, grade 8.

Amelia Garbus Cogan. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo courtesy Liz Garbus.
Amelia Garbus Cogan
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo courtesy Liz Garbus.

In this series, kids (and not-exactly-kids-anymore) review how well their parents balance life and work. To nominate a potential subject ideally between the ages of 5 and 17, email

Amelia Garbus Cogan, 13, is the daughter of director Liz Garbus, whose films include Whatever Happened Miss Simone? and Bobby Fischer Against the World, and Dan Cogan, who is a producer of movies including, most recently, Icarus.

Can you explain what your parents do for work?

My dad is a film producer and my mom is a film director. I think it’s really, really cool what both of them do. One of my dad’s movies, Icarus, it literally got doping to stop in Russia, so much that Russia had to get out of the Olympics because of the movie, I think.

And my mom does a lot of political films and I am a really, really political person because of that.

Does your mom talk to you about politics?

My parents are both really political people. My dad actually was an assistant to politicians and stuff. When Obama was running, my parents would always take me to campaign for him. Ever since I was little, my parents would always be like, OK you’re going to be the first woman president.

What kinds of political conversations do you guys have now?

We’ll talk about whatever dumb thing Trump just said, or we’ll talk about sexual assault and how we feel as the next generation of young women during the Trump presidency, how we’re scared and how we need to make a change because if no one tries to do anything, nothing’s going to happen and things are going to keep on getting worse and worse.

A lot of the films your parents have made cover really heavy topics. Are you allowed to watch them all?

So my parents do make really dark films, and I’m not allowed to see some of them just because they will be very upsetting. My parents do put a censor on what I can see because I’m a very, very sensitive person and I consider myself to be very empathetic and I get a lot of anxiety about these things. It also can be hard because my parents will censor things too much to the point where it’s like, well I should’ve known that.

Can you give me an example?

Last year I think there was a terrorist attack and my parents didn’t tell me and so I went to school and everyone was talking about it and I’m like, what the heck is going on? And I think that was also a turning point for my parents’ relationship with me. I think they found out, OK we have to tell her more.

What do you think is the most interesting part of your parents’ jobs?

They get to meet so many different kinds of people, and they get to travel all around the world. I think it’s important, what my parents do, because they really can change people’s outlooks on life.

What do you think stresses your parents out the most about their jobs?

I think dealing with people who are difficult. And another thing that stresses them out is editing. I know both of my parents hate editing and being in the editing room.

What does a typical workday look like for your parents?

I actually go to their office quite a bit. I love everyone in their office, there’s always a chorus of “Hi, Amelia” when I come into the office. I love the office pet, Bob, who’s a fish. So whenever I’ll go to the office, my dad is normally on phone calls because he has like, investors, and he helps raise money for films so my dad’s normally on the phone, on his computer. My mom is talking to people or in the editing room.

Where do you think they get their ideas?

I think a lot of the ideas are pitched to them, and I think if something is interesting they’ll do it. But what’s really fun is that sometimes she’ll show me and my brother a rough cut for a film, she’ll be like, “Is this too long? Is this too short? What should we change?”

Do you get to travel with your parents for their films?

When we were littler we used to go to Sundance Film Festival every year because my parents normally have films there. For a lot of the What Happened, Miss Simone? press, my mom was actually in Paris because she has a lot of friends in Paris so, actually, it was a mother-daughter trip—we both went to Paris.

So you get to go to a lot of the award shows and film festivals?

Yeah it’s really fun. So we went to Martha’s Vineyard for one of my mom’s ones. And we got to meet everyone, everyone was talking to my brother and I, which was fun. It’s really interesting when my brother Theo and I attend a lot of the Q&As after my parents’ films, and it’s really cool because Theo and I are like, oh my goodness we know the answer to that question. 

Do you know what you want to do for work one day?

Ever since I learned about sexual assault and rape, I always wanted to do something to help. I’m also really into neuroscience and psychology, so I would love to be like a social worker and help people who have been traumatized through rape or sexual assault.

How well do your parents balance work and life at home?

They’re very good at it. I think one of the really special things about my parents is that I see them as much or almost as much as I’d see my parents if they were stay-at-home. Even when they’re on trips and my brother and I stay at my grandparents’, they’re really hands on and we’ll get texts from them like, Are you OK? Are you OK? They’re very overprotective.

Do your parents ever look at their phones while you’re talking to them?

Absolutely. The most recent thing I can think of is like two days ago, I was on Instagram and I was Snapchatting my friends and my mom was like “Get off your phone, Amelia!” as she’s literally tweeting and retweeting and commenting on people’s tweets while saying that. And I was like “Mom, that’s so, that’s so hypocritical” and she’s like “Honey this is for work,” and while I understand my parents are in the entertainment business, it’s a little bit annoying when they will be on their phones and telling my brother and I to get off.

Do they have rules about screen time?

When I was younger I was very, very addicted to it so my parent set really straight rules around screen time, like what I was allowed to do, what I wasn’t allowed to do. It was like an hour a day. And now that I’ve gotten older, I have looser limits because my parents trust me more. They have limits like don’t watch Netflix for four hours straight or don’t be on Snapchat for hour.

How old were you when you got your first cellphone?

I got a flip phone for Hanukkah when I was in fifth grade. Then I got my first iPhone the summer before sixth grade. I hate being the older sibling because my brother got his first iPhone this year, toward the beginning of fifth grade for him.

Right, I have a little brother with an iPhone and I remember being like, um excuse me?

Exactly, I feel like I’m his guinea pig or something!

Do you think your parents generally get along well?

They don’t fight that much. When they do fight, it’s like really stupid things and I’m like “why are you fighting about it, I could think of a compromise, I could think of a solution.”

Like they’ll fight over the trash and the compost, and I’m like, are you guys kidding me right now, that’s the most stupid thing. They’re like “you cannot put that in the compost you have to put that in the trash” or “don’t put that in the trash, put that in the compost” and I’m like guys, just decide, it’s not a big deal.

Who cooks dinner?

It really depends, no offense Mom, but Dad is I think the better cook. Or at least he knows how to prepare more dishes. But they’ll both cook, especially when we have friends over, they’ll like cook up a feast and I’m like, whoa how did that happen in such a short amount of time?

What’s your favorite part of your parents’ work?

My favorite part of my parents’ work is that they’re very, very creative people and that has an effect on my brother and I—we’re very, very creative. I, myself, would never want to be a filmmaker because I feel like my parents would always be on me about it. They’d be like, critiquing me. We have a filmmaking class at my school and my parents were like, oh you should take it, and I’m like, I could not take it because you guys would nitpick me all the time. They want me to be a filmmaker though. My dad even got me a shirt that says “Future Filmmaker.”

Read more from the Slate series My Parents’ Work-Life Balance.

When Your Dad Is BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith

When Your Mom Is “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua

When Your Mom Is the Longtime Manager of Wu-Tang Members and Your Dad Is a Shaolin Monk

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Rachelle Hampton is a Slate editorial assistant.