[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
Mitchell Lichtenstein brings “Teeth,” his feature directing debut, to this year’s Sundance Film Festival. “Teeth” is the story of a female student who becomes engrossed in her high school’s purity campaign, and the film is “part horror film, part erotic/moral debate, and part outrageous assault on male vulnerability and fear,” writes Sundance. The film also centers around the “vagina dentata” myth, and is “the kind of metaphorical work that keeps on satisfying, playing with our fears, fantasies, and phobias to create a potent, over-the-top fable that needs to be seen to be believed.” The film is screening in Sundance’s Dramatic Competition category. Read indieWIRE’s review of “Teeth” here.
Please introduce yourself. Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I grew up in New Jersey, went to Bennington College in Vermont, then to the Yale School of Drama for acting. I was an actor for some years. I live in New York City.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
As a kid, I used to write short stories, and always wanted to get back to it. A few years ago, I started writing screenplays and short stories. I wrote and directed a short movie based on one of these stories.
How did you learn about filmmaking?
At the Yale School of Drama, they kind of pretend that film doesn’t exist (at least they did back when I was there). My experience as an actor certainly informs my writing & directing. And seeing Robert Altman and Louis Malle at work didn’t hurt, either.
How did the initial idea for “Teeth” come about?
I’ve known about the vagina dentata myth for a long time. Though there are many versions of the myth, the story is nearly always the same: the hero must conquer the woman/creature with the teeth. I thought it would be fun and informative to turn the myth around so that it is the toothed woman who is the heroine. And the story grew out of that “what if…” premise.
What are your overall goals for the project?
Goal for the project: If my storytelling works, I think that many different kinds of people will enjoy it on different levels.
How did the financing and casting for the film come together?
The film is privately financed. Our casting directors Kerry Barden & Paul Schnee brought in great actors. Our pool was pretty open because — luckily — our financing didn’t depend on hiring name actors.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
It became clear very quickly that — mainly because of the outrageous premise — no company was going to help us make “Teeth.” Once we resigned ourselves to finding private financing, though, things fell into place.
What do you hope to get out of the festival?
The movie should be quite a wild ride. It will become clear at Sundance if audiences are willing to go on this ride.
Please describe the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance.
We were angling to get into the Midnight Series, so almost more thrilling than getting into Sundance was Jeff and John’s vote of confidence expressed by their putting “Teeth” in Competition.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
A film created outside the mold of other — even other independent — films.
What are some of your favorite films, and why?
A mixed bag of 20 favorites:
“A Place in the Sun“
“Bonnie and Clyde“
“Cries and Whispers“
“Silence of the Lambs“
“Splendor in the Grass“
“Talk to Her“
“The Naked Kiss“
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
What is your top ten list for 2006?
I haven’t gotten out much this year.
What are one or two of your New Years resolutions?
To finish “Teeth” in time for Sundance. To enjoy the ride, whatever it is.
Get the latest coverage of Park City ’07 in indieWIRE’s special section here at indieWIRE.com