Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Greenpoint Filmmaker Hannah Fidell Tells Us About NYC Postgrad Blues, and Tomorrow's Screening at The Gutter

Posted By on Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 4:21 PM

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Tomorrow night, Wednesday the 2nd, at 8pm, the young Greenpoint filmmaker Hannah Fidell will be hosting a screening of her first film, We're Glad You're Here, in the back room of The Gutter ("drinking, bowling and hanging out with the director to follow"). In the 60-minute film, Fidell's first (and inspired by a 2009 trip to SXSW), a young recent-graduate retreats from New York City and returns to Bloomington, Indiana. I emailed with Fidell—who's finishing up a Master's in the New School's Media Studies and preparing to relocate to Austin to work on her next film—about her photographic influences, postgraduate city fatigue, and the global hipster monoculture. The film's trailer is here.

What’s your prior filmmaking experience, if any?
My prior filmmaking experience is basically nill except that I worked at a commercial production company for two years... behind a desk. I came to the film completely naive about what it would take to pull a production together—but I think it was that same naivete and, well, unspoiled energy that got people excited to help make it happen. I had no fear.

What brought you to SXSW in 2009, and what’d you see there that inspired you to write your film?

I began going to SXSW when I was in college and it became a sort of ritual trip with friends. Over the years these friends and their significant others went on to start record labels or work for record labels so we kept coming back year after year. Since my tolerance for going to shows and standing in line and watching bands set up and break down isn't the highest, and also because I'm a huge film nerd, I gravitated to the film screenings where I fell in love with films by the Duplass brothers and Joe Swanberg. These guys are inspiring—not for the aesthetic value of their films, but really because they decided they were going to make a movie and then they fucking did it. And their early films are real. And human. And the concept of a narrative that isn't tied together at the end in a neat little bow was something I also really appreciated (and still do). They were the only ones at the time who were making something fresh.

In 2009, with the economic collapse, my job at the production company was really in question—and that meant that my future was really in question. I was told that I could be laid off at any time (I was permalancing) and the majority of my friends who worked in the creative fields (as well as other industries—my cousin is the guy holding a box walking out of Lehman Brothers in that iconic image from the day the banking world fell apart) were losing their jobs and couldn't find new ones. It was a really hard time for many of, us I think—also, working at a production company and seeing the creative process in action made me think, "Oh hey, what am I doing here behind a desk? Why can't I do this too?" Or maybe it was just "Oh hey, why don't I have health insurance?"

In 2009 at SXSW I saw a film by Joe Swanberg's wife, Kris, called It Was Great but I was Ready to Come Home. The film got me thinking that I could really do this. It was about the complexity of female friendship—and coming from a film theory background, I started wondering what would happen if all the key positions in production were filled by a woman. Does having a female director change the way that the story is told? But Kris’s film was also shot in such a brief period and for so little money that I thought, yet again, “What am I waiting for...”

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A look at the preview and your web presence suggests an interest in still photography—what artists, or filmmakers, influenced the look of the film?
I love photography—Stephen Shore is my favorite photographer right now. I actually have a blog dedicated entirely to visual references that I collect on the web, whether it is photography, moving images, title sequences... The blog is like a scrap book that I can easily reference from anywhere...but yeah, Stephen Shore. Amazing. In terms of cinematography, two recent foreign films stand out and I tend to reference them often: Revanche and Silent Light. In both of those films, each frame is a perfectly composed photograph.

Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy was probably the biggest influence in terms of the way I wanted the film to look and feel. In my opinion, Old Joy is the gold standard. I can't speak for everyone, but a lot of other filmmakers that I know feel this way as well.

In terms of acting, I tend to come back time and time again to Greta Gerwig in Nights and Weekends (that one scene where she' s watering her plants... incredible), as well as Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence (or really anything she did with her husband, John Cassavetes) and that last scene in Antonioni’s La Notte where Jeane Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni discuss the end of their relationship.

I’m reminded, in a superficial way, about another film about an aimlessly ambitious young woman who moves back home after school—though in Lena Dunham’s case, “home” means the city everybody else is struggling to stay in. Did you see Tiny Furniture?
I didn't see Tiny Furniture until it was out in theaters but of course I had been hearing about it since last March. I loved it when I finally saw it! And I think Lena is a comic genius... have you seen her Twitter? Hilarious!

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God help me for the phrasing of this question, but what is it about this generation (of which I suppose I’m a part, for the record) that inspires such directionlessness?
Well, take a look at The Graduate... isn't the basis of that film the same as what Lena or myself are trying to explore? I don't think this sort of aimlessness is new—the fact that it seems to be more prevalent in film today is because so many more people can make films. But when I wrote this story, I was struggling to really understand why I was working over 40 hours a week and getting exploited and living in a city where I was crushed like a sardine on the subway during rush hour every day and how it was possible that there was a superfund site less than five miles from my home and all the while I could hardly afford to live here (let alone enjoy it). I felt like a cog in the machine. All I wanted to do was escape—and the small midwestern town where I went to college was looking pretty great from afar. Actually, it is great—Bloomington is a liberal oasis in the middle of a conservative state, it has a thriving cultural scene (the record label Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian is based there) and you would laugh (or cry) if you knew how much it cost to rent a two-bedroom house that was just a short non-terrifying bike ride or walk away from one of the many organic food or coffee shops downtown.

But then again, it ain't New York.

I was going through a whole: What is success? Why do I want it? Do I have to live here in New York to get it? Do I have to be taken advantage of in a shitty job that i could lose any day? Are there other options out there? Those sorts of questions are ones that I think a lot of people can relate to, especially here.

Why screen at The Gutter? Aren’t you afraid of being drowned out by the sound of strikes and spares?
The Gutter seemed like an obvious choice—they have a new sound-proof back room and I wanted a place where people could drink and hang out and, perhaps selfishly, I wanted to go bowling (I have this newly rediscovered love of the sport) and figured why not do it all at one place... like, The Gutter.

What are your additional plans/hopes for the film as far as screening it? And what are you working on now?
The film has been selected to headline on March 2nd at the NewFilmmakers screening series, which is held at the Anthology Film Archives. Hopefully WGYH will be accepted into some of the other festivals that we submitted to. But at this point, I’m just so excited about starting production this spring on my next film: an adaptation of the story “The Gathering Squall” by Joyce Carol Oates. Its going to be totally different. And totally awesome.

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