"Wendy and Lucy" and Kelly

|
()

By Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

Ficks interviews Kelly Reichardt, director of Wendy and Lucy, which opens in the Bay Area Fri/30. (For Guardian reviewer Lynn Rapoport's take on the film, go here.)

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Why are all the hipsters moving to Portland? They heard there were no jobs.  

Kelly Reichardt: That's a good one. It's actually not even a joke. Did you know 66,000 people moved to Portland last year? We (filmmakers) Todd Haynes, Gus (Van Sant), myself, we're all ruining it for Portland by making films there.

SFBG: Both of your last films were shot in Portland. Why did you start making films there?

KR: Todd Haynes is a close friend and moved there about nine years ago. He kept calling me and saying, "These people are so great!" And I was like "Yeah, yeah, yeah, shut up." So I started visiting him out there and started making some short films. Then Todd introduced me to Jon Raymond who ended up writing Old Joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucy and now we're working on a new film together. Jon also wrote a novel that I really fell for, The Half Life. If you don't want to take my word for it, it's one of Thurston Moore's favorites. In any case, Jon's writing is so region specific (born and raised in Portland) and his writing ties people into their surroundings in a way that is really appealing to me. There's also a lot of space in his writing, which makes it easy as a reader to bring your own self to the table. I'm making films again because I found a writer that really fits with my filmmaking style. And the films are so much the better for it.  

SFBG: While watching Wendy and Lucy I kept thinking this film is the perfect antithesis to Sean Penn's Into the Wild (2007).  

KR: It's funny, when I saw the trailer for Into the Wild I was like, "oh no, that's our movie!" But his film is more like, Nature on Speed.

SFBG: Michelle Williams was so wonderful in Wendy and Lucy, especially her scenes with the older man who played the security guard.

KR: The security guard is an interesting guy in real life too! His name is Walter Dalton -- Wally. I can't even remember what the character's name was suppose to be in the script but it just became Wally because he so embodied it. His other life before Wendy and Lucy was that he was a writer for TV like [for] the Smothers Brothers, Laverne and Shirley and Barney Miller. I love the Smothers Brothers. Plus he's a total lefty, awesome guy. And he just came down from Seattle to read for us one day. He's such a good guy, that when he would leave the set, we would all go, "Oh Wally."

SFBG: Wendy and Lucy, like Old Joy, feels like the answer to what's dragging down the recent indie cinema scene. Do you make a conscious effort to take that step when making your films?

KR: That's so nice of you. Come to my class and tell my students that. My students are all like "You're gonna show us this again?"

Wendy and Lucy trailer:

 

SFBG: I really do think your films are that next step. A neo-indie scene, which is less marketed to them and can deliver something that they didn't know they wanted.

KR: Well, I teach visual storytelling up at Bard College. It's a very groovy place. I get to work with a bunch of filmmakers that I really admire like Peter Hutton, Jacqueline Goss, Peggy Ahwesh, Les LeVeque. It's this hardcore, mostly avant-garde group who are all so badass. And that's the funny thing with me there; I'm like the sell-out narrative person of the group! (Laughs)

SFBG: What a great role to play!

KR: I'm what they can handle as far as narrative goes. So I teach visual storytelling, and the gist of my class is kinda old school in the way of telling a story through camera placement and movement. I do sort of feel that this is going by the wayside, how to tell a story visually, just by the nature of video cameras and the whole mumblecore movement which is the opposite to what I'm trying to teach. Though I can't say that my students have embraced mumblecore as much as I feared they would.

SFBG: Are you attracted to working with other filmmakers, or working in a community like the mumblecore directors?

KR: (Laughs) I'm in a community. I swear I am! Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue, 2005), Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, 2006), and I all used to share an office back in the day so we all like showing each other our latest films. It's true we don't act in one another films or anything. I have Todd Haynes watch cuts of my films and give me notes as well as Phil Morrison who directed Junebug (2005). Actually Todd Haynes did make an appearance in one of my films once when he stopped by the Wendy and Lucy set, by walking into a really long take, wearing an Old Joy t-shirt! I was like, "Who's that asshole? Oh Todd, thanks for stopping by." I also keep up with So-Yong Kim (In Between Days, 2006). So yeah, I'm in a community.

SFBG: Why did you start teaching?

KR: They say, "Those who can't do, teach" but they never talk about the actual teaching part. When teaching is good, it's really, really good. Being at Bard College is a place I have wanted to be at for a long time. There's eight students to a class and they don't let you just major in film. When my students are coming into my class saying things like, "I just built a theremin in music class!" it really charges me. One of my classes is Intro to Moving Image and all these kids who are growing up with computers are suddenly getting to go into the Cascades with a Bolex in their hands for the first time and it's awesome. Plus, I love to talk about film. As I said, I'm working on a new film, a Western with Jon (Raymond) and so I've been slipping Westerns into my teaching, which keeps me thinking about my own things in a new way. These kids who are studying avant-garde filmmaking more than narrative, will hear me say something I take perfectly for granted like "objective shot" and they'll bring in a shot of a beetle and ask if it's objective. And I'll get to go, "I don't know, let's sit here and think about it!"

SFBG: How do you continue to make these little masterpieces?

KR: I haven't put the burden of having to make my living on filmmaking. I mean it just didn't work for me. I think these films, the way we're making them really works because that burden isn't there. You go off and no one's paying attention to you and you have privacy and have six months to edit and then you can still go back and shoot and redo some things. There aren't too many hands in the pie. It's all just very small stuff. And since no one's getting paid on these movies, we can take that burden off the filmmaking process and I'm able to be put in the realm that's more feasible for me.

SFBG: Please just keep making more of these kinds of movies.

KR: Thanks, man.

SFBG: Michelle Williams was so wonderful in Wendy and Lucy, especially her scenes with the older man who played the security guard. KR: The security guard is an interesting guy in real life too! His name is Walter Dalton -- Wally. I can't even remember what the character's name was suppose to be in the script but it just became Wally because he so embodied it. His other life before Wendy and Lucy was that he was a writer for TV like [for] the Smothers Brothers, Laverne and Shirley and Barney Miller. I love the Smothers Brothers. Plus he's a total lefty, awesome guy. And he just came down from Seattle to read for us one day. He's such a good guy, that when he would leave the set, we would all go, "Oh Wally." SFBG: Wendy and Lucy, like Old Joy, feels like the answer to what's dragging down the recent indie cinema scene. Do you make a conscious effort to take that step when making your films? KR: That's so nice of you. Come to my class and tell my students that. My students are all like "You're gonna show us this again!" SFBG: I really do think your films are that next step. A neo-indie scene, which is less marketed to them and can deliver something that they didn't know they wanted. KR: Well, I teach visual storytelling up at Bard College. It's a very groovy place. I get to work with a bunch of filmmakers that I really admire like Peter Hutton, Jacqueline Goss, Peggy Ahwesh, Les LeVeque. It's this hardcore, mostly avant-garde group who are all so badass. And that's the funny thing with me there; I'm like the sell-out narrative person of the group! (Laughs) SFBG: What a great role to play! KR: I'm what they can handle as far as narrative goes. So I teach visual storytelling, and the gist of my class is kinda old school in the way of telling a story through camera placement and movement. I do sort of feel that this is going by the wayside, how to tell a story visually, just by the nature of video cameras and the whole mumblecore movement which is the opposite to what I'm trying to teach. Though I can't say that my students have embraced mumblecore as much as I feared they would. Wendy and Lucy trailer

SFBG: Are you attracted to working with other filmmakers, or working in a community like the mumblecore directors? KR: (Laughs) I'm in a community. I swear I am! Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue, 2005), Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, 2006), and I all used to share an office back in the day so we all like showing each other our latest films. It's true we don't act in one another films or anything. I have Todd Haynes watch cuts of my films and give me notes as well as Phil Morrison who directed Junebug (2005). Actually Todd Haynes did make an appearance in one of my films once when he stopped by the Wendy and Lucy set, by walking into a really long take, wearing an Old Joy t-shirt! I was like, "Who's that asshole? Oh Todd, thanks for stopping by." I also keep up with So-Yong Kim (In Between Days, 2006). So yeah, I'm in a community. SFBG: Why did you start teaching? SFBG: They say, "Those who can't do, teach" but they never talk about the actual teaching part. When teaching is good, it's really, really good. Being at Bard College is a place I have wanted to be at for a long time. There's eight students to a class and they don't let you just major in film. When my students are coming into my class saying things like, "I just built a theremin in music class!" it really charges me. One of my classes is Intro to Moving Image and all these kids who are growing up with computers are suddenly getting to go into the Cascades with a Bolex in their hands for the first time and it's awesome. Plus, I love to talk about film. As I said, I'm working on a new film, a Western with Jon (Raymond) and so I've been slipping Westerns into my teaching, which keeps me thinking about my own things in a new way. These kids who are studying avant-garde filmmaking more than narrative, will hear me say something I take perfectly for granted like "objective shot" and they'll bring in a shot of a beetle and ask if it's objective. And I'll get to go, "I don't know, let's sit here and think about it!" SFBG: How do you continue to make these little masterpieces? KR: I haven't put the burden of having to make my living on filmmaking. I mean it just didn't work for me. I think these films, the way we're making them really works because that burden isn't there. You go off and no one's paying attention to you and you have privacy and have six months to edit and then you can still go back and shoot and redo some things. There aren't too many hands in the pie. It's all just very small stuff. And since no one's getting paid on these movies, we can take that burden off the filmmaking process and I'm able to be put in the realm that's more feasible for me. SFBG: Please just keep making more of these kinds of movies. KR: Thanks, man.