Every day through the end of the Sundance Film Festival, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing two interviews with Sundance ’06 competition filmmakers. Sixty filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an e-mail interview, and each was sent the same questions.
Maria Maggenti‘s “Puccini For Beginners” is a hilarious story about love and commitment across sexual boundaries. Unabashedly confident in its portrayal of lesbian relationships, the film’s heroine, Allegra, has just been dumped by her girlfriend when she meets a man who wins her heart against her will. At the same time, Allegra begins a relationship with a recently single straight woman, but soon finds herself in over her head and unable to handle either lover. “Waltzing behind the coming-out stories of a decade ago, Maggenti playfully ushers in a new era of lesbian cinema free from an ideological agenda,” says Sundance. “Puccini” is part of the Independent Film Competition: Dramatic category.
Please tell us about yourself. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Where do you live? What jobs have you had? What is your current job?
[I was] born in Washington D.C., grew up in Washington, D.C., West Africa, Western Europe, New York City. I live in Manhattan now. Prior to being a filmmaker, my day jobs ranged from office temp to transcriber of insurance claims for a park avenue doctor who was a total scammer. I was fired from my first and last waitress job one night after I was hired.
Since my first film (“The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls In Love”, Fine Line Features, 1995, also debuted at Sundance in January 1995), my day jobs have been as a professional screenwriter (“The Love Letter”, Dreamworks, 1999) and as a writer for the TV show “Without A Trace” (CBS, 2002-2005). Writing for a TV show is a total day job, you have to be in an office every day five days a week many weeks out of the year. In Los Angeles too.
What were the circumstances that led you to become a filmmaker? Did you go to film school?
I became a filmmaker because I liked music, pictures and words and figured that film would be a good place to play. Also I didn’t want to work in an office and I didn’t want to dress up every day (see TV job above…you can’t always get what you want). I went to NYU graduate film school. I went to Smith College as an undergrad and was a double major in Philosophy and Classics.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from? What are your biggest creative influences?
The initial idea for “Puccini For Beginners” came when I fell in love with a man. My biggest creative influences are heavy metal music, opera, anything about psychoanalysis, 1930s romantic comedies and living in New York City.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
It took seven years to make “Puccini for Beginners” – SEVEN YEARS! My biggest challenge was not giving up.
Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance.
I found out I was in Sundance when Gary Winick, our executive producer from InDigEnt, called me in the editing room. My knees got wobbly and my face went hot.
What do you hope to get out of the festival?
What I hope to get out of the festival?….happy, interested, engaged audiences. My own goal is to try and not have a nervous breakdown like I did the last time.
What is your definition of independent film?
Independent film…a movie that isn’t financed by a studio? I don’t know…it’s such a plastic term, [it] changes with the damn seasons.
What are some of your favorite films and why?
Favorite films: “My Man Godfrey”, “The Battle Of Algiers”, “The Bicycle Thief”, “Crimes & Misdemeanors”, “All About Eve”, “It Happened One Night”, “La Promesse”, “The Insider”, “Broadway Danny Rose”, “The Apartment”, “His Girl Friday”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, “Norma Rae”, “Amacord”. I like films that deal with moral dilemmas, class, and people falling down (in a funny way).
What were some of your favorite films from 2005?
The best films of 2005 – “Crash”, “The Family Stone”, “Murderball”.
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
No new year’s resolutions.
If you took President Bush’s job, who would you hire/fire?
…as for anything that has to do with George Bush, I’ll save my rage for the op-ed page.
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