Girl Talk: An Interview With Claudia Weill

04/02/2012 4:00 AM |

Let’s talk about Lena Dunham. There are many little similarities between Girlfriends and Tiny Furniture. She hadn’t seen your film?

No, she hadn’t seen it. Her mom told her to see it. She came to the screening at 92YTribeca. I’d heard about Tiny Furniture but I hadn’t seen it either. I was thrilled to meet her and we became friends. I just adore her. But I think I’m not alone!

One similarity that struck me between Girlfriends and Tiny Furniture is the placement of a poem early in both films. Somebody reads a poem to the main character, and there’s as much significance in the act of reading/listening as there is in the poem itself. It tells you what their relationship is going through.

I forgot about that! The poem in my film was by a girlfriend of mine, Honor Moore. She teaches writing right now at the University of Iowa. The poem is called, “I Have a War With My Mother…” She’s a wonderful poet and a wonderful writer. I really wanted to include all my girlfriends and their work in the film. Even though Honor has jet black hair, Anita’s character was loosely based on her.

Another similarity is that your film and Lena’s also both end in a gallery show.

That’s true, I guess that’s just the life.

Can you explain the giant photograph of the woman’s crotch in the male gallerist’s office in Girlfriends? Was that a comment on sexism in the New York art world?

Yes, it was an offhand way of pointing it out.

What do you think are the other differences between my film and Lena’s?

Tiny Furniture is more concerned with food.

I’m not sure why there’s not much about food in Girlfriends. Food is very important. Another thing is that Lena’s parents are much more in evidence in hers. The parents in my film are almost invisible.

Yeah. In Girlfriends, we see the parents show up at the gallery, but they don’t talk.

That’s a big difference. I thought Lena had such an amazing relationship to her mom in Tiny Furniture. I didn’t know about it until I was having lunch with Lena. Because I’d never read about the movie, she just sent me a DVD last year. I said, “That woman playing your mom is just amazing.” She said, “Oh, that’s my mom.” And then I met Gracie [Lena’s sister, who plays her sister Nadine in the film]. She has an astonishing family. I think she grew up understanding that you just make things every day. You get up and you make things, which is a fantastic heritage.

Were your parents artists?

No. My dad was a Sunday painter and earned a living with men’s haberdashery. They were European and they were very involved with the arts. But they weren’t artists per se. Do you know what I mean? It’s a different thing.

Where did they emigrate from?

Switzerland. Zurich and Lucerne. Both their families left in 1939 because of Hitler, but my parents met in New York. My dad was in the American army and my mom went to college here.

What did you study in college?

Modern European History and Literature at Harvard. But I wasn’t much of a student.

At Harvard.

Well. I went in as a painter, but I didn’t like how they taught painting. It was more history than process. But now I teach!

What do you teach?

Advanced Film Directing in the Graduate School at USC. Directing is a really hard thing to teach. There’s not a craft the way there is with acting and writing. You have to bring a lot of right-brain experinece and bring a left-brain lesson and create exercises so people can learn on their own.

Have you heard of this thing, the “Bechdel Test?” It’s a feminist yardstick for evaluating movies. To pass, a film must (1) have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other about (3) something other than a man. What other movies do you think are accurate reflections of female friendships?

Thelma & Louise, Mulholland Dr., all of Nicole Holofcener and Lisa Cholodenko.

Girlfriends has so many great zingers. (“When we go to Italy, we’re going to have to write down everybody’s dress sizes.”… “Don’t patronize her, Charlie, she’s a ‘professional’ now.” … “You’re not the same person. You’re married.”) What’s the role of comedy, or dark comedy, in the film?

Comedy is so important, especially when you are trying to challenge assumptions.

Ok. Care to comment on Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum?