EDITOR'S NOTE: The interview portion of this article was originally published during indieWIRE's coverage of the 2008 Berlin Film Festival]
Her first feature may have been made relatively under the radar -- at least for a woman of her stature -- but iconic actress/author and all around uber pop star, now turned filmmaker, Madonna nevertheless made quite a splash when the film premiered at the Berlinale in February. Not surprisingly, Madonna landed on the cover of local tabloids ahead of the world premiere of her directorial debut "Filth & Wisdom" at the Berlinale , and she and the film were back in the spotlight last night as she celebrated the film at a premiere and party in New York last night. indieWIRE spent some quieter moments with Madonna during one of the few one-on-one interviews she gave back in Berlin.
Set in London, the film, which Madonna described as originally envisioned as a short, ultimately evolved into an 85-minute movie. Her film revolves around three friends desperate to better their lot in life and must deal with the reality of their immediate circumstances. In "Filth & Wisdom," Ukrainian immigrant, A.K. (Eugene Hutz) finances his dreams for music stardom by turning tricks as a role-playing cross-dresser, while the object of his affections, Holly (Holly Weston) takes a job as a stripper all the while training as a ballerina hoping for her big break. Meahwhile, Juliette (Vicky Mclure) works by day in a pharmacy hoping to earn enough money to go off to Africa and satiate her dreams of helping children.
Watch indieWIRE's exclusive scene from "Filth and Wisdom" here.
For anyone with an iota of Madonna historical knowledge, it easily is evident that the characters also represent "Madonna" -- from her own early quest to be a dancer, to becoming a singer with the band "The Breakfast Club ," to her more recent charitable - and adoption - efforts in Malawi.
"This is the terrain I've been exploring throughout the years," Madonna told indieWIRE during the conversation in Berlin. "Non-judgment and duality... People have misunderstood my [attention to] this theme yet it has made me what I am today." She referred to A.K.'s dilemma of needing to cross-dress in order to earn a living while working to achieve superstardom with his gypsy punk band, Gogol Bordello.
"I wrote the part for Eugene and it worked out [getting him]," Madonna said (she co-wrote the script with Dan Cadan who had assisted husband Guy Ritchie). The project had its genesis after Madonna designed clothes for H&M and convinced the retailer to let her direct her commercials to promote the line. "I worked with Nicola Doring who produced the commercials and we started to talk about doing a film." Madonna first collaborated with Doring, who now heads production company HSI's London office, when Doring produced Jonas Akerlund's video for her hit "Ray of Light," ten years ago.
After whetting her directing appetite with the H&M commercials and now her first feature, Madonna seems intent on going behind the camera again. "I love directing, I loved being behind the camera and having a say in aspects of [the production]." Continuing she added, "I made the movie under the radar and I think its sensibility is European..."
Explaining that she's always admired "the art of filmmaking and the ability to tell a good story," she added in a director's statement that she finally decided to "put my money where my mouth is." "'Filth and Wisdom' was essentially my way of putting myself through film school."
While there were no plans to take the film to additional festivals, Madonna's team are explored both traditional and non-traditional distribution options -- [Well after Berlin] they have made a deal with IFC Films, and "Filth and Wisdom" opens this Friday.
"I have other ideas swirling in my head," Madonna said coyly when asked what else is on tap. For now she also has a new doc, "I Am Because We Are," that will make its way around the festival circuit this Spring [at festivals in '08] (apparently with stops in Tribeca and Cannes). She is also prepping another feature that she hopes to direct. It will "take place in New York, London and Paris," she said of the new project, before quickly turning to her publicist, and smiling, "Oops, I don't know if I should have said that."