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SXSW Women Directors: Meet Karyn Kusama – ‘The Invitation’

SXSW Women Directors: Meet Karyn Kusama - 'The Invitation'

Karyn Kusama wrote and directed her first feature film, “Girlfight,” in 1999. The film won the Director’s Prize and shared the Grand
Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. It went on to win the Grand
Prize at the Deauville Film Festival, the Prix de la Jeunesse at the Cannes
Film Festival, and the IFP’s Gotham Award for Best Feature.

In 2004, Kusama directed the science-fiction love story “Aeon Flux” for Paramount Pictures. The
film starred Charlize Theron, Marton Csokas, and Frances McDormand, and was
released in theaters in December of 2005. Her third feature was the
comedy-horror film “Jennifer’s Body”, written by Diablo Cody. The film starred
Amanda Seyfried, Megan Fox, and Adam Brody, and was released by Twentieth
Century Fox in September of 2009. (Press materials)

The Invitation will premiere at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival on March 13.

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

KK: “The Invitation” is a meditation on
grief and loss carried within a suspense drama. At its core, it’s about a
dinner party gone horribly wrong and about the consequences of denying our
pain.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

KK: This movie made me think about the paranoid
thrillers of the 1970s that I love, movies that leave the viewer with more
questions than answers. I was interested bin the discomfort and dread I
felt when I first read [Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s] script — those feelings put me in touch with the
discomfort and dread I sometimes unwittingly carry around in my daily life. The story is an exploration of those tendrils of emotion and an
example of our worst fears blowing up into a nightmare, which felt very
cinematic to me.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

KK: The containment of the story combined with the
large number of actors navigating their way through the scenes made shooting
more difficult than one would initially imagine it might be. On the page
it reads like an “easy indie,” when in fact it’s deceptively
challenging to film so many points of view and have to stage all the actors in
a limited space.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?

KK: I want people to leave the theater wrestling
with the idea that our pain — physical, emotional, and spiritual pain — is
more than just a condition that needs to be silenced, numbed, or
“fixed.” Pain in all its forms is also a message, a kind of
distress signal to our hearts and minds. There are times when it’s really
important to tune into that message and just listen to it. When we don’t
listen, our understanding of the world gets more and more distorted, and we
become capable of doing things we very often regret. This movie takes
that idea to an uncomfortable extreme.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

KK: It’s the same advice I offer to male directors: We have to accept that making movies is a never-ending process of occasional
progress, frequent setbacks, and unexpected curveballs being thrown our way. Navigating that process requires stamina, curiosity, openness, and
creative fire. It is absolutely essential that the process alone be
fulfilling enough, because in the end that’s what you’ll spend most of your
time doing — being in the process, and not always landing on the desired
results. There’s no glory in climbing a mountain if all you want to do is
to get to the top. It’s experiencing the climb itself — in all its
moments of revelation, heartbreak, and fatigue — that has to be the goal. 

W&H: How did you get your film funded? 

KK: I am honored and lucky to be one of the first
films funded by Gamechanger Films, a consortium of investors who finance movies
directed by women. Once we secured that money, it was easier to complete
the rest of the financing with another new financing outfit called LegeArtis. Overall, getting this movie made took tenacity, patience, and some even-keeled
optimism. 

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

KK: That’s a
tough question because there ARE TOO MANY! So in the spirit of mixing
things up — I’ll offer five of my favorites: 

1) Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman, 23
Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.” If I had to choose just one film, this
would have to be it. Akerman directed this 200-minute domestic epic at
the tender age of 25 years old, and without a doubt, it is one of the slyest, most radical, sophisticated, and vividly realized works of cinema ever made. To all directors, male and female: to watch this masterpiece of a film
is to be humbled by the genius of its maker. All hail Chantal!

2) Martha Coolidge’s “Valley Girl.” it’s the movie that made me feel, at 14, that I could do this, too. I still
have to watch it once a year. Its compassion and humor still speak to me. And I can quote every line of it back to the TV. 

3) Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail” is one
of Denis’ greatest achievements. One of the most mysterious and beautiful
endings in movies.

4) Jane Campion’s “An Angel at My
Table” is another film that made me want to make movies. Uncompromising, observant, personal filmmaking.

5) Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break.” What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Pure action-pop perfection.

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