Alexander, you once made a provocative statement: "Being a young American filmmaker is worse than making films under Communism, because the commercial and ideological exigencies are so strict that they suppress creativity." What did you mean by that?
I mean you always work under cultural and ideological constraints. Under Communism the workers are always good, the capitalists are always bad. How is it different here where the lead character has to be sympathetic, by page 30 such-and-such has to happen. If it's a couple who are apart, they have to come back together; if there's a crime, it must be punished. Someone recently said to me, Well in The Talented Mr. Ripley, he gets away with it. There are just assumptions about how things should be that outrage me. And that even extends to how films are lit. As a director you have to fight that. Why is that smoke there? What's that light source coming from over there? Why is this actress so pretty? Why is this actor's hair combed so nicely given the circumstances? Why are all the cars clean? What is this anal thing about everything in a movie having to be clean, pretty and beautiful? Like the typical American family, it's upper middle class with a big open kitchen, and they all have Range Rovers. Who are these people? I'm tired of it. [Hollywood conventions] are more rigid because you could at least make art under Communism. I think if I lived in an oppressive country I might become a truly great filmmaker.
Because you'd be forced to use indirection?
Of course. You saw it in so many Eastern European directors under Communism, and now you see it in films from Iran. Scorsese talks correctly about the film director as smuggler.
, he appears as a criminal. Director as killer.
The grenade thrower. I just hope that we are entering an age more where films do throw grenades, where they question, not support, the dominant ideology. Because that's what we used to have, films throwing grenades. I lament that we have so many movies and so many TV stations that film may have lost power to shock and challenge. I didn't get one single protest letter from Citizen Ruth, not one.
There were an unusual number of women at Sundance this year.
It's not making the first film that's so difficult for women; it's making the second one and building up a body of work. A lot of things have stopped women from moving forward. One is the mythology of the young male independent filmmaker, the new Orson Welles. It's like everyone is looking for this Orson Welles. You want a guy who walks off his second movie and goes to Mexico and doesn't finish it and the studio recuts it. Why is that myth so powerful? I'm to the point where I wish he had never been born.
I have to disagree. I hate hearing--like, My movie is not getting made because I'm a lesbian, or it's not getting made because I'm a woman, or it's not getting made because I'm black, because a lot of those scripts come to me and I can tell you exactly why they're not being made, and it's not because of that person's gender or sexuality. It's because they're lousy. Or the director is insisting on an unknown. Or the budget is $10 million when it could get made for three. Or because the idea is so inherently anticommercial that it's better to do it for $200,000 on digital. I honestly believe that great work wins out in the end. And I have to believe that. Because otherwise it's just like, why bother?
If it's true that women find second films so hard to finance, why is it true?
The first film, you are making it no matter what. You're just plowing ahead doing all the things that you have to do despite someone in one of the women's issues in Premiere--she should be hung--who said, I don't think any woman would make a film like Robert Rodriguez did, he really sacrificed a lot to make his first movie. I did phone sex to make my first movie. How dare she! I know a girl who's a stripper to make money to make her film. What happens with the second movie is that you think that you now are going to be courted, and you are being courted to a certain extent, but they're also courting these young white males that they have seen at the festival, and that's where their money is going to go. The support just isn't there. The fact that Kimberly Peirce hasn't been nominated for an award herself--why not? They are nominating her actresses, which is great, but why, if people loved her direction so much, is she not nominated?
Are women better off in the independent world than in the studio world?
I think we are a bit worse off in the independent world. The independent film companies are looking for the men just as much as [the studios]. I really turn to the black filmmakers for my model because there's always something out of Spike Lee's mouth that helps me get perspective on our place in the industry. Some journalist once asked him, Are you encouraged now that so many black filmmakers are working? Of course, there were about five. And he said, No, I'll be encouraged when we're getting the same budgets. I'll be encouraged when we're getting the same opportunities. Women are too grateful when we get to make a movie. While I think gratitude is a very nice spiritual trait to have, enough already. It is time to move into action because gratitude alone never got women anything, and certainly it didn't get us the vote and everything else that we've accomplished. Kimberly's movie is almost a metaphor for this--like, Well, I'll just pretend I'm a boy and hope no one notices I'm a girl. And you know, I just got to go look at what happened to Teena in the end. I don't want to be there. I'm a girl, and I've got a voice, and I'm going to make a movie as a girl.