The Wex and the early Oscar contender

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Film still from "Certain Women"

Kelly Reichardt's latest movie, "Certain Women," the focus of early Oscar buzz, benefited in a big way from the Wexner Center.

Kelly Reichardt first came to the Wexner Center in 2004 to participate in the film residency program, hoping to find a little inspiration for a career that had hit a lull.

A decade had passed since she'd made "River of Grass," her first and, to that point, only feature-length film. Still, she came with a notable blessing from Todd Haynes, the Academy Award-nominated director of "Safe" (1995) and "Far from Heaven" (2002) who, with producer Christine Vachon, had received the Wexner Center's Artist Residency Award in 1995–96.

"I was trying to find my way during that period," Reichardt says, "and thinking that I wouldn't be able to get another budget together for a feature film."

Opting to shift gears, Reichardt worked on a non-narrative short film called "Travis" during the two-week residency at the Wex. And though she wasn't satisfied with the result, it did help lift her out of a creative rut, jump-starting her love of conventional storytelling again. The result included two acclaimed feature films, the missing-dog drama "Wendy and Lucy" (2008) and the Western "Meek's Cutoff" (2010).

This month, Reichardt will return to the Wexner Center to introduce the Ohio premier of her latest film, "Certain Women," a film that's generating early Oscar buzz and was made possible, in part, by a $50,000 Artist Residency Award from the Wexner Center.

The film is a drama that unfolds in Montana and features the star of "Wendy and Lucy" and "Meek's Cutoff," Michelle Williams. It was shot on 16 mm film rather than with modern digital technology, giving it a unique feel that complements the storyline. "Montana skies in the winter can be really clear and crisp, and if you're not shooting film, you just risk getting those really hard lines and a flatter look," Reichardt says. "Only on film could you get the detail."

But Reichardt was struggling to raise the funds needed to shoot the movie on film. It was a visit to Columbus in October 2014 that proved key. After learning of the project during Reichardt's visit, Jennifer Lange, the curator of the Wex's film/video studio program, subsequently followed up to see if the center might assist in any way. "It was kind of a serendipitous moment, learning that she didn't have enough money for this new project to shoot on film and knowing that, 'Gee, the amount of our residency award would allow her to [do that].'"

Every year, the Wexner's film/video, visual arts and performing arts divisions divvy up $200,000 for Artist Residency Awards. Generally, the amount allotted to each section rotates, with one receiving $100,000 and the remaining two receiving $50,000 apiece.

"The residency awards are really an opportunity for us to identify an artist who's at a specific moment in their career where actual monetary support would be meaningful for a project," says film/video associate curator Chris Stults, who with Lange and film/video director David Filipi, participates in the selection of recipients.

Reichardt was awarded one of the $50,000 prizes. It was the push that allowed her to create "Certain Women" the way she'd envisioned it. And audiences are raving. "Certain Women" was one of the most acclaimed movies at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and Vanity Fair identified it as a potential Oscar breakout.

Although Reichardt was not in Columbus during the making of "Certain Women," she will satisfy the "residency" portion of the award by introducing the film when it screens on Oct. 20 as part of a month-long retrospective of Reichardt's work, which takes place Oct. 6–27.

Reichardt looks forward to her return. "It's such a nice place to go-that theater is so good," she says of the Wexner Center. "It's a theater you can go to and you know the sound and the image are both going to be good."?

The Wex's ?Cinematic Friends

The Wexner Center has a long history of helping acclaimed filmmakers. Here are a few beneficiaries of the Artist Residency Award.

Chris Marker (1994–95)

Award: $25,000

Outcome: The French filmmaker, responsible for such classics as "La Jetee" and "Sans Soleil," created the installation "Silent Movie," described by the Museum of Modern Art as consisting of "a soaring tower of five oversize monitors."

Sadie Benning (2003–04)

Award: $15,000

Outcome: Benning used the film/video studio over a span of three years to create the video "Play Pause."

Guy Maddin (2008–09)

Award: $100,000

Outcome: A trio of projects by the Canadian filmmaker benefited from the award, including the film "Keyhole," which featured Jason Patric and Isabella Rossellini.

The Brothers Quay (2013–14)

Award: $50,000

Outcome: The stop-motion animation practitioners used the funds to complete "Mistaken Hands."