Sunday 10 October 2010

Lisa Cholodenko's new film (from The Guardian Film Review)

Interview with filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko - director of "High Art" - about her new film "The Kids are Alright", starring Juliet Moore and Annette Bening.

(For the full article and for more interviews with filmmakers Debra Granik, Nannette Burstein and Sanaa Hamri, please follow the link that is this post's title.)

Lisa Cholodenko: 'I wanted to make a film that was not sanctimonious or sentimental'

Photograph: c.Focus/Everett / Rex Features

For all that she was once a keen student of gender studies, film director Lisa Cholodenko isn't much of a one for hand-wringing. Ask her about Hollywood and she looks you hard in the face and tells it like it is. Yes, it's plastic. Yes, it's sexist. But what is a girl to do? Moaning will you get nowhere. Besides, the simple truth is that she just does not have any particular desire to make, say, a film about an alien invasion, featuring laser guns, copious gloop and plastic body suits.

"You know, I get asked why there aren't more female directors all the time," she says. "I'm kind of reluctant to talk about it. That's not because I think the question is irrelevant or stupid. It's just that there are so many mitigating factors. Here, the dollar is the final frontier and it's men who are typically attracted to the kind of material that brings in the masses: comic books, thrillers, special effects. Women tend to be more interested in character, in psychology. Are there women out there who are rabid to make those [more macho] kind of movies? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe they just can't get into the system. But that's not at all my sense of what's happening."

When, last March, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to pick up a best director Oscar – she won for her tense Iraq drama, The Hurt Locker – Cholodenko felt only mildly pleased. "It was cool," she recalls. "I mean, I'm glad it went to her and not to James Cameron [for Avatar]; if that had happened, it would have been too weird. But, on the other hand, it felt so long overdue, the announcement itself was almost… dusty. I liked Kathryn's film. I liked that it was quite macho. But I still think that it's lopsided, the value we give to things. Why should a film have to have all that stuff in it: the guns, the special effects? Why does a film like, say, Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola get called 'petite'?

"Of course, this whole Oscar thing is so political. It's about how much a film grosses, and who's in it, and how well it has been promoted. But still, the more salient point is: do we value highly enough the aesthetic to which women are attracted? We valued it in the 70s, when films like The Graduate, Five Easy Pieces and Coming Home got made. But now? I don't think that we do."

Cholodenko's new movie, The Kids Are All Right, was made for just $4.5m. Extremely funny and replete with deft and touching performances, it has so far made about $21m at the box office. The American critics loved it and there is already talk that Annette Bening will receive an Oscar nomination for her role. Cholodenko says she would be disappointed, now, if the film was not to be nominated in some category or another. But is she hoping it will be her ticket to working for a big studio? Not even remotely.

The Kids Are All Right is about what happens when two children who were conceived by artificial insemination decide to bring their donor father (Mark Ruffalo) into their lives, and the lives of their lesbian mothers (played by Bening and Julianne Moore), and it is probably fair to say that no studio would have looked at the script twice given its subject matter. Cholodenko believes she can only make the movies she wants to make in the independent sector, though even there it's hardly easy.

"Oh, it was super-painful to get it made," she says. "Even after Annette and Julianne were attached, when it came down to people wanting to write a cheque… well, there were a lot of conversations, but they just never committed."

If, by some miracle, a studio had been involved, it isn't too hard to work out how much tweaking there would have been to Cholodenko's script. A joke about oral sex between two women? No thanks. We have audiences in the midwest to consider. A scene in which two women get off on watching male gay porn? Ditto. As for the film's ending… suffice to say that The Kids Are All Right does not have a Hollywood ending, at least not in the heterosexual sense of the term; Cholodenko would doubtless have been asked to rewrite it. "I wanted to make a film that was not sentimental, sanctimonious or apologetic; so did Annette and Julianne. So that's what we did. It is a political film, in the sense that it's saying: this marriage is as messy and flawed and complicated as any other marriage. I couldn't have done that anywhere other than in the independent sector."

A studio might also have been tempted to mess with casting. Hollywood is nothing if not obsessed with youth, though, alas, this passion extends only to female cast members (positively ancient men still get to play opposite women young enough to be their daughters; Bening is 52 and Moore is 49).

"I was painstaking about casting. I thought, if this isn't spot on, it isn't going to work. When I was talking to my casting director [about a particular actor], I would say, has she had work? And if they told me 'maybe', I would say, in that case, no. I wanted the film to say this is what a 52-year-old woman looks like and she's still sexy. It took me so long to cast. I mean, I didn't want to cast Kate Winslet. Who would buy that she had an 18-year-old daughter? And I like Helen Mirren, but she's just so intent on being older and sexy…

"The problem is that most of them [Hollywood actresses] have had work and it's just horrible! There's no way you can say that they don't look different. They don't even look younger – they just look weird. They say, oh, my eyes are drooping. But is it really any better to have them so high to your forehead?"

The shooting of The Kids Are All Right took just 23 days and Bening and Moore spent very little of that in make-up. "When the film was finished, Annette watched it with her husband [Warren Beatty] and a few other people. I was, like, for fuck's sake! I hope she isn't pissed. I hope she doesn't say, I didn't know you were shooting me like that, or, how dare you show my arms? But she just loved it. Bravo to her. She is so cool."

Cholodenko and her co-writer, Stuart Blumberg, began working on their script in 2004. But the delay in getting the film made wasn't only to do with the laborious process of financing. In 2006, Cholodenko and her partner, Wendy Melvoin, had a baby by a sperm donor themselves and though the project had by then been given the green light, she put work on hold while she was pregnant. The film, then, deals with something that Cholodenko might one day have to cope with herself, though unlike Nic and Jules, the characters in her film, Cholodenko did not use an anonymous donor. I had worried that she would want to separate her life and the film quite decisively, but she is delightfully straightforward when it comes to it.

"I think the loss of anonymity for all donors eventually [in the US, as in the UK, children can now trace their fathers when they reach 18] is great," she says. "I'm all for openness. It's not important for the parents. But it is for the kid. In the US, you can choose [initial] anonymity or you can choose to have an open donor. I feel sad when I talk to moms who are, like, 'Ugh! I don't want anything to do with that person.' Really? Because I don't think your kid is going to feel that way. They will want to feel complete, that their life is OK. I have a massive dossier on my donor, he has committed to being available one day, and I know, too, that my kid has half siblings and it's all much less sad. It's a modern world out there!"

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In this blog I intend to do some historical justice to the many, many women who have contributed with their genius, creativity, adventurous spirit, nurturing - amongst other qualities - to the apparent linear and male dominated prescribed notion of History. This is just the beggining.