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Melissa Silverstein

Melissa Silverstein

Posted: November 2, 2009 06:07 AM

Interview with Katherine Dieckmann, Director of Motherhood

What's Your Reaction?

Women & Hollywood: You said in the NY Times recently that a man can write great women's movies but you don't think a man could have written this story.  Can you elaborate?

Katherine Dieckmann: Think about a movie like You Can Count on Me.  I think that in some ways it's a very female movie in the orientation of the writing.  But I think that until you have really been inside the experience of being a mother you can't understand the cultural and pragmatic obstacles are.  That's what I meant by that.

W&H: So many female directors don't want to be known as women's directors, but with this film you seem to be embracing that title.

KD: I am, but I have made two films with men at the center so I really don't think that's true.  I made this  particular film very much from my perspective as a woman.  The film I am writing now has a gay man at the center.  The movie I made before this, Diggers, has 4 hetero guys at the center.  To me, I don't want to be known as a women's director.  However, I still feel that female subject matter is really underserved in film and is vitally important to me even though I like all kinds of movies.

W&H:  I feel I must clarify, I didn't mean to imply that as a woman you should only direct movies about women, but there is something about the term.  Can you ever see a guy called a male director?  It's the labeling.

KD: Yes, it's about diminishing and controlling and I don't feel like being diminished or controlled in that sense.  But I think we still haven't figured out in this culture how to allow the female director to have a kind of iconic power.  I was struck a couple of years ago when Variety did an issue commemorating Brett Ratner breaking the billion dollar mark for his movies.  All the photographs were of these guys clasping Brett on the arm saying something like well done, dude.  There were no women in those pictures.  And I thought, what woman director could you cut out and put in Brett Ratner's place shaking hands with Bob Evans passing along the legacy vibe? No, that doesn't exist and that's what I mean by the iconic image of the woman director.  I wrote somewhere that directing is always talked about in terms of war and sports metaphors.  I went into battle.  I was on the playing field.  I don't really think about my work that way.  That's a foreign language to me and I think culturally that's how directing gets talked about.

W&H: There still seems to be a glass ceiling for women directors.  Things are not getting better, they are getting worse.

KD: I think that's true.

W&H: How do you think about breaking it down?

KD: We don't think about breaking it down because that's too discouraging.  I think every woman director I know and I know a bunch of them -- Mary Harron, Allison MacLean, Nancy Savoca, Mira Nair -- find that they (not just the women but the men too) are enormously supportive of each others endeavors.  Most women directors I know are really focused on how am I going to get my next movie made.  This movie I am trying to make called The Shags is about an all girl band and I was trying to get the script to Kirsten Dunst.  A friend of mine knew the director Peyton Reed who directed Bring it On and I got in touch with him and he didn't know me but he read the script and gave it to Kirsten.  So I feel within this circuit of people making movies there is an enormous tendency to try and support each other from both women and men.

The system is another issue.  When people ask if I have ever encountered sexism on shoots I honestly say I haven't.  I've worked with lots of guys and I've never found gender to be a problem in the pragmatics of doing things.  I think gender is a problem in the global picture of what gets made, how people get hired and how the profession is perceived.

W&H: There doesn't seem to be any will for change?

KD: There is a real tendency to ignore, as has widely been remarked, the successes of women-made movies.  It's like they are pushed under the carpet and you have to fight the battle all over again against the perception that they don't do well.  The do do well.  That's why I am curious about Motherhood because we are self distributing and I've been doing interviews with mom bloggers and the actresses have been talking with mom bloggers and we are doing this more grassroots approach including a breast cancer benefit where $1 from ticket sales on Fandango will go breast cancer research.  We are trying to movie things out through different channels.

W&H: The term mommy blogger is kind of loaded nowadays. Did you know what you were walking into?

KD: I've noticed.  I have to admit when I wrote my script I had never read a mom blog.  I had no idea.  Originally when I wrote the script the character was a journalist because that's what I knew but it didn't work and I thought that mom blogging was interesting because it has to do with this issue of voice and finding an outlet for your voice.  Why do you say it's loaded?

W&H: Because of the way they are treated in the culture.

KD: I think it's a very complicated issue.  I feel it's really important for women to be able to talk about the experiences they have that are so denigrated by the culture and I think it's really important to be able to move beyond those experiences sometimes to talk about other things.  So it is both.  There needs to be an outlet for expression about "dailyness" because that is what your life is and that is what sustains the human race and it is not to be trivialized.  However, for myself, I can't imagine anything worse that having to talk about mommy topics all day long.  That's not what I want to do.

I feel that Motherhood has invisible content like at the beginning of the film in the credits where Uma's character is scurrying around and making the coffee and feeding the banana to her kid.  It's all very whimsical but in fact her husband gets up and toasts himself some bread and sits back down to read and nobody sees that as off.  It's what we see all the time.  It's the beginning of the cycle of exhaustion and when people ask me why she is so tired I say did you miss all the things she just did?  That's what I mean about a woman writing the script.  You have to know the fatigue and the erosion of self esteem that kind of menial mundanity induces in most people except the weirdly and endlessly self sacrificing ones.

W&H: The producers on this film are women.  Did you seek out female producers for this?

Katherine Dieckmann: I met with a lot of men that I really liked about producing this film but I felt at the end of the day Rachel Cohen in particular (she was the woman who financed this movie) who I have been friends with for a decade and feel intellectually, politically, and spirtitually incredibly aligned with. She took it and found the money and I trusted her and knew she would have my back and she did and was there for me every step of the way.  I felt the same about Pam Koffler from Killer Films who I had known for a long time socially and who I had talked to about the script before I had even started to write it.  I felt that these women really get me and get why I am doing this and I will be safe.

W&H: You talked a little about the current obsession with the Aptowian comedy films today.  How did it become such a fixation?

KD: I love those movies and I hate them at the same time.  Politically I hate them, but I love watching them.  I think there is a great confusion culturally about men's and women's roles and to me the Judd Apatow movies really reflect that confusion.  Women are for all the difficulties that we face are increasingly assured in the world.  I really do think that.  There is such anxiety in men about how they are supposed to be and so this is a hysterical reaction to it.  I think it will be interesting to see how it shakes out in the next few years.

W&H: What is the message you want people to come out of the film with?

KD: The message I am trying to say, and it's not just a motherhood message, is to challenge yourself and also be accepting.  This character is doing neither in the the beginning of the movie.  She is neither challenging herself nor accepting the limitations of what her reality is and that has a lot to do with malcontent and nobody likes a malcontented person. Many mothers are malcontented because there are real limitation to the ways you can live your life as a mother -- economic, practical.  So I think on the one hand some things can be changed, but like I said in the NY Times piece is think it's really easy to hide behind motherhood and women have to challenge themselves not to do that because it's kind of easy.  If they want to say something or do something to not use motherhood as an excuse to avoid trying to do it.

W&H: Do you think you will get some backlash from some moms?

KD: Maybe.  I don't think I am saying don't be a stay at home mom or don't view mothering as a primary impetus in a certain phase of your life, but let's face it, it is a short phase of your life and as your children get older and they won't need you in that way and they won't if you've done your job right, who are you? Who are you at the end of the day?  Who are you apart from mom, and I feel that's the essential question of the movie.  This woman doesn't know who she is apart from mom anymore and I think many women experience that weirdly dissociative state when they become mothers.

W&H: What advice do you have for women filmmakers?

KD: Tenacity and determination.  I teach screenwriting at Columbia and I had a wonderful student really succeed with her feature in the last year Cherin Dabis with Amreeka.  I taught Cherien (in maybe 2003) and she had such focus and she rewrote that script -- I must have read 10 drafts of that script -- she worked and worked and worked and was savvy and persistent in the loveliest way and made a really good first film.  I think it takes for anyone, but especially women, an unbelievable persistence and really believing I have to say this, I have to get it out there, I will find a way to do it and not giving up on that.



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