A couple of months ago I was able to interview Lisa Cholodenko for a piece I wrote for the Human Right Campaign magazine. That piece will be out soon. (I will of course post it when it is available online.) Here is the rest of the interview.
Women & Hollywood: Why are you drawn to love & relationships as a filmmaker?
Lisa Cholodenko: Isn't that what all great movies and literature about? That's the kind of films and books that I like. Those that have juicy kind of complicated emotional characters and really kind of dig in to psychological states and shifting psychological states.
W&H: You came from the LA area to NYC to study film. Why?
LC: I came east because it was time when independent film was in full bloom. It was the early 90s and people like James Schamus who runs focus features was a professor up there (at Columbia University). The films that were coming out of NY were the kinds of films that I wanted to see.
W&H: You have said that Jane Campion's Sweetie and Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho are two films that influenced you. Why?
LC: Those were the two films that I saw at the brink of my realization that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was in my 20s and really all I can say was that it was the first time in my life -- except for when I saw my first foreign film which was a Truffaut film -- that in some instinctive way could see the auterism in the film. I found it wildly exciting to see a film that was so personal that was expressed so singularly particularly Jane Campion's film. I don't know how Sweetie holds up over time but I know the way she ended that film was so outside the box. She took on an idea that I just couldn't believe someone would be allowed to express and it was really riveting to me and made me want to make films.
W&H: Your new film The Kids Are All Right is already nicknamed the lesbian marriage movie. Do you think that's a good thing?
LC: Great, who named it that? I think it's fine. If it's got a nickname that fine. It's sort of a fond thing.
W&H: How did your own personal experiences inform the film?
LC: I'm a filmmaker, my girlfriend is a composer and musician so we're not like Nic and Jules in that way. We have one kid -- a four-year-old son that we had with a sperm donor. I guess we are a two mom family and we are raising a kid from a sperm donor so that's similar.
W&H: You tried to make the film in 2005 but couldn't get financing. Do you think having your own family at the time you made the movie made a difference to the film?
LC: I think that it was a real validation of everything that was in the film and there were certain scenes that were more poignant to me now after having my kid and being a mom. They were effecting to me then because they stayed in the film but watching them performed feeling the way I do now with my child was really something. It was really a validating experience creatively.
W&H: How was it working with a co-writer (Stuart Blumberg)?
LC: It was good. It was a very long experience. We live on different coasts most of the year. Stuart (Blumberg) is more bi-coastal. When we started writing he had an apt in LA and was out a lot. It was protracted but I really enjoyed the give and take of writing with somebody and the company and the comfort.
W&H: Did you always knew you were going to direct this film?
W&H: High Art is such a lesbian classic. Why do you think it struck such a nerve in the lesbian community and were you surprised that it was such a hit?
LC: I knew that there was something powerful about it but I wasn't sure that it would bust out of a more rarefied audience. People in the lesbian community appreciated that it wasn't focusing on lesbian issues per say but more on other complicated issues that happen.
W&H: Do you feel a responsibility in depicting the gay and lesbian community?
LC: I felt like I was doing something that had more gravity. It was important because there hasn't been anything specifically like this before and it's kind of a hot and important topic right now. I don't think of myself as an overly political person but it bothers me that we don't have equal rights. It's insane.
W&H: Why have there been mainstream gay movies but not lesbian films?
LC: Maybe nobody's had a real angle of a story. I think that just putting lesbians out there and saying look it's a lesbian is not interesting. I think the majority of the issues in the film are really universal and I think that's why this film can break through.
W&H: Some of the lesbian community reacted strongly and negatively when the heard about the Julianne Moore/ Mark Ruffalo relationship.
LC: Have they seen the film? Hopefully they will have a different slant because it makes sense on paper that some people would feel like that. To me, I think what really worked about the film is that she's not questioning her sexuality, she's questioning her marriage and I really think that comes forward in a much more profound way because he's a man. The fact that he's a man is not irrelevant but I felt it was important that in the scheme of the film, she is genuinely intrigued and attracted to him. They have a child together and that's a pretty powerful connection to have with somebody. And he's really cute.
W&H: That's what seems to have percolated out of Sundance.
LC: Yeah, I think it is why isn't our sexuality in of itself a valid thing? If it is going to be expressed in a commercial way why does it need to be confused and conflicted with well maybe I'm straight. On the face of it when someone would pitch it that way it sounds kind of dismissive, but I very consciously thought through the architecture of those attractions and the choices those characters make.
To tell you the truth I'm not really bothered by it. It's all good if people really want to talk about it go watch the film and then have a conversation, but if it's just a knee jerk reaction off what someone pitched the idea of the film, I could care less.
W&H: But it is based on how people reacted at Sundance.
LC: That's ok too. I just don't see sexuality that way. It's an auteur film. It's a personal film and it's our view of things.
W&H: There are very few women auteurs.
LC: I think because it's really hard and it takes a lot of balls and you have to be a very specific person to establish your career as an auteur. It's not a better person or a more talented person - it's a person who has to have a weird conflation of skills and one of them is being kind of like a hustler. Being good to some degree at making films and good at corralling people into your world who can support you and finance you or help you get financing and that's a very specific quality to have.
W&H: One thing I have noticed is that nobody describes your movies as "vagina" movies.
LC: I don't know if my films are about women in a kind of frolicking - here's a grab bag of women's issues. They are about women of substance with very particular stories. I don't feel like my films are about gender they are about identity - but a different slant on identity.
W&H: Did you have any issues with the MPAA on the rating?
LC: They made me cut a couple of things which was annoying. I think that MPAA is a pretty dated institution.
W&H: Please give me your thoughts on Kathryn Bigelow winning the Oscar this year.
LC: I think it's a new generation taking over the Academy. There are younger directors and screenwriters who vote so I think as we see a generational shift we will see some more women being acknowledged whether they are just nominated or they win. I really liked that film (The Hurt Locker). I had issues with it but I was super impressed. I do see it as a barometer for change. The last 10 years have been interesting. A lot more independent films have been nominated.
Originally posted at Women & Hollywood