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by Nigel M Smith
January 5, 2012 10:33 AM
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FUTURES | 'Codependent Lesbian Space Alien' Director Madeleine Olnek on Sticking to Comedies

Madeleine Olnek. Photo courtesy of the filmmaker.

Why She's On Our Radar: Her debut feature, the hilarious black-and-white sci-fi romantic comedy "Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same," charmed the pants off critics and audiences at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year where it world premiered. It opens this Friday, January 6 at Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub Theater.

[Editor's Note: This interview was originally published last July before the film played at Outfest and Newfest.]

More About Her: Olnek is no stranger to Sundance. Two of her short films ("Hold Up" and "Countertransference") played at the festival and while in Park City in 2009, she was awarded with the L.A. 'Women in Film' grant for outstanding direction. "Coutertranference" has since gone to to win Grand Jury prizes at both Outfest and Newfest. Olnek, who's also an established playwright, holds an MFA in film from Columbia University, where she was given the Adrienne Shelly Award for Best Female Director. She is also the co-author of "A Practical Handbook for the Actor," which features a foreword by David Mamet.

The film's been hopping from festival to festival following its world premiere at Sundance. How's the ride been so far?

I’ve been on the festival circuit with shorts before. And I know once you get on it you’re on it. I still get emails years later for events to show my short films. It’s been great. We’ve had really great audiences.

I’ve been happy with how it’s gone. We’ve certainly had a very broad audience. Everyone from groups of seniors to young sci-fi guys. I was surprised to see the later group latch onto this film because I don’t see it as true science fiction, although I have huge respect for sci-fi.

Speaking of sci-fi, were you a big fan of the genre before taking this project on or did you become one in the process?

When I worked on it I did spend a lot of time at the World of Video in New York. The guys who work there know every sci-fi movie that’s ever been made. It’s a wonderful store. We're going to lose that with Netflix...that experience that people have in the video store where you can talk to people who are so knowledgeable about genres and about films. I tried to only let myself see sci-fi films while I was working on the movie. I at one point remember looking forward to the point where I would no longer be watching these types of films. Certainly some of the more primitively made ones absolutely have their charm, but they also can be bad in a way…that I tried to tip my hat to.

There’s something very charming about them in the same way I found something very charming about the downtown performance art/comedy scene when I first started doing theater in the East Village.

Of all the genres in B-movies, the sci-fi ones are the most financially successful because they really tap a nerve for people, in terms of the collective unconscious fears of nuclear war, the atomic bomb dropping etc. I thought it’d be funny to take that paranoid world and combine it with lesbian romance.

In an interview you did with Curve you said you'll only make comedies for rest of your filmmaking career. Do you still stand by that statement?

I think to make a tragedy is redundant. Life is already a tragedy, we’re all going to die. I think it’s almost not creative to make something like that. It’s just regurgitating the situation as it is. So I feel like it’s very important if you can make comedies to make them.

I remember my experience going and watching "Stardust Memories," being so excited to go see another Woody Allen, and realizing it wasn't another comedy. I was actually very angry because I felt like, how can someone who is so funny, who has a special way of seeing the world, turn around and make a drama. Anyone can make a drama. I think it’s an obligation of people who are able to do comedy to continue to do it.

In the same vein, are you set on only making films about lesbians?

That’s harder to say. I certainly have stories that I’ve worked on that haven’t been as much. I think comedy can contain the whole world. As you know how, it’s so hard to make a movie, whatever story you tell better be one you’re very compelled by. I definitely will be telling stories that I care about.

I have a wide view of what a lesbian story is. For example I think "Being John Malkovich" is a brilliant lesbian film. That movie has a happy ending for its two characters. That wide path it takes you on...I think that’s an amazing film. If I could ever make a film like that I could die happy.

I thought "Mulholland Drive" was also an incredible story about what it’s like to be gay. I don’t think people see that movie that way at all.

Check out the trailer for "Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same" below:

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