Q&A with Jenny Deller, director of the indie hit movie "Future Weather"
In director/ writer Jenny Deller's movie "Future Weather," which the New York Times called a "tiny, beautifully acted movie," a 13-year-old girl named Lauduree becomes increasingly passionate about saving the environment as her own fragile personal world begins to crumble and transform around her.
Deller has seen her own environment transform since she started working on the movie five years ago: She moved to Columbus in August with her boyfriend, who works at Ohio State. One of her favorite Columbus activities? Checking out all the ethnic food markets and shops on Morse Road.
Yesterday, Deller met me at Caffé Apropos. We shared a Pattycake Bakery chocolate chip cookie and our thoughts on home, the environment, writing and women in film.
Tonight Deller will introduce a screening of "Future Weather" at the Wexner Center. (If you can't make it, the movie is for sale on DVD and iTunes and will be on Netflix this summer.)
Tomorrow, Deller said, she'll start writing her next feature film.
Perla Haney-Jardine as Lauduree in "Future Weather." Courtesy First Pond Entertainment.
Lili Taylor as Ms. Markovi in "Future Weather." Courtesy First Pond Entertainment.
7 p.m. Wednesday, May 1
Admission: $8 general public
Tell me a little about your background in filmmaking.
I'd studied all forms of storytelling in my youth and college. I wrote for a long time, short fiction. Then I got into acting. I lived in New York for five years pursuing acting, and the whole time I was there I was making short films. I finally decided, "I think I am ready to try a feature. That's what I really want to do. Maybe it's time to put all of my focus there." That's when I decided to write a feature length script [which became "Future Weather"].
What were some of your short films about?
They were definitely for learning purposes mainly. They were much quirkier than my feature. I was really interested in physical theater for a while so the first short I made I played a clown. It's a silent film. There was a much more ambitious one that was about 20 minutes and I shot that in Portland, Oregon, which is where I went to college. It was more of a quirky love story but again not as traditionally realist as "Future Weather."
Did making those short films and learning to tell stories that way influence "Future Weather"?
I think that it just gave me an appreciation for process, that you make a movie not just on set but through editing, through collaborating with your actors. Music can also add to it. But "Future Weather" was my first very professional, much more traditionally made film. I wanted to use the experience to get to work with as many collaborators as I could instead of wearing all the hats myself. It was the first time I actually worked with an editor, which I loved. It was the first time that I got to work with a composer, which was incredible. It makes everything richer than what just one person can bring. I think that's why I really enjoy filmmaking, it's collaborative.
So are you particularly interested in the environment as a social issue?
For whatever reason, I'm drawn to environmental issues more so than other social issues. Not that I don't care, but for some reason my heart just - I have a soft spot for that. I wouldn't consider myself a stereotypical granola, Birkenstock-wearing environmentalist, and I like the outdoors, but I'm not even, like, a big outdoors person, I just always seen the environment as where we live, as our home, not this thing that's separate from us. I think as a society we've got to break down that barrier or we're going to be in big trouble.
The first theme I was looking at in "Future Weather" was about a girl who's forced to leave her home. And how does she feel about that. I wasn't just looking at that "Capital E Environment," but all these little environments - her bedroom, her house - and all of these spaces that we inhabit.
How does home play a role in your life?
I think I'm always searching for home. I think I'm always searching for some place where I feel I belong. I don't know that I've found it yet.
For me, home represents my independence. I need my own place and I need to be there when I am overwhelmed.
One of the character's in ["Future Weather"] is Lauduree's mother and she got pregnant when she was 17. She didn't really want to have a kid but was forced into it. She then had to live at her mother's house for the first five years of her kid's life because she couldn't afford her own place. She couldn't be independent. So then when she finally could she moved as far away from her mother as she could, which was maybe five or 10 miles, but I think it felt remote. That's where Lauduree's made her home, in this very remote, rural trailer, which I think her mother fostered this sense of "we have our own little island, our own little space."
Is that part of why it's extra difficult for Lauduree to leave?
Yeah, that was something her and her mother had together.
There are a lot of female roles in this film. You're telling their stories and the stories of their relationships, like that one. Why is telling women's stories of particular interest to you?
As a writer I think one of my primary interests is character. I find character through voice, through what they have to say. I think women don't have as much of a space or have as much of a voice in our culture as they should. I think particularly in films it's even worse. I don't' get to see a lot of movies where women are even talking to each other in intelligent ways.
Even when you do see movies with a lot of female characters, they're not talking about much else than men.
Having a film with intelligent, interesting, flawed women characters has been both the film's gift and curse because people who get to see the film really respond to it. I have yet to hear anyone who has seen the film call it a chick flick. I think people just are genuinely responding to the characters, whether they are men or women. I think women are particularly happy to see what you and I are looking for in a film. But what's happened is it's also created a barrier for marketing the film. It's such a small film. No distributors felt comfortable enough to distribute it theatrically, that's why we're distributing it ourselves. We do have a distributor for digital and DVD and all those things, so you can see it, but no distribution company had the confidence to come in and say, "We think there's a market out there for this movie and we know how to reach it." What we've found is there is a market and they really want to see this film, but as DIY producers we don't have the means to get it out there.
How would you describe that market?
I think it has a wider audience - men, women, teenage kids. If I had to really hone in on a more target market, I think it's women anywhere between 19 and 65 that are longing to see women portrayed more honestly.
Another thing that's been interesting is I think that male critics will completely gloss over Amy Madigan's role in the film. She's the grandmother. She gives an incredible performance. You rarely get to see a 60-something woman given a role in a film with that much depth and that much honesty. There's nothing stereotyped about her but she gets put in a little category, maybe gets a mention about her performance but [critics are] always honed in on the younger women in the film. … The big surprise [in the movie's reviews] has been how invisible Amy's been to critics.
Amy Madigan as Greta in "Future Weather." Courtesy First Pond Entertainment.
Do you see any of yourself in Lauduree?
I think there's a part of me in every character of the film. I think what Lauduree and I have in common is perhaps a tendency to be overwhelmed by uncertainty and a proneness for anxiety. I think I got to explore ways to alleviate that, find a better path I guess. Lauduree's journey is a lot about accepting uncertainty; it's kind of a Zen path. She has to just remain open to the world and trust in things versus fighting them or trying to control them.
Was filming "Future Weather" therapeutic for you? What did you take away personally from sharing this story?
If I'm really honest it'll make me kind of emotional, but it gave me a lot more confidence in myself. I proved to myself that I could really see something through beginning to end, that I had the focus to do it. I didn't know I could be so passionate about something. Maybe I've learned to trust myself as an artist more.
Any aspect of "Future Weather" that you love?
I love the male characters in "Future Weather," too, the actors. We spend a lot of time talking about the women characters because they're leads but Anubhav Jain, who plays Lauduree's friend Neel, and then Bill Sadler, who plays Greta's boyfriend Ed, were just pleasures. I don't know that we see male characters like that very often either. Being sensitive, being supportive. They're also flawed. I don't think they're stereotypical men.
What has made you happy to have done "Future Weather"?
A very gratifying response that I didn't expect was I've had a lot of people who were abandoned by their parents come to me and say, "That was very truthful. That was very emotional." A bunch of emotions for them. They felt grateful that the film was there for them.
Last movie you watched:
"E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial"
What are you obsessed with watching or reading now:
"Enlightened" on HBO
Favorite movie when you were a teenager:
"Pee-wee's Big Adventure"
Favorite meal you've had in Columbus:
Fish ribs at Sage
The Budos Band (her brother, who composed a song for "Future Weather" is in the band)
Favorite movie you recently watched:
Favorite female actress or character in a movie:
Ellen Burstyn in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"