Ex-Portlander Miranda July has a new movie out this weekend, ‘The Future’, which will begin showing at Fox Tower on Friday, August 12. New Pipeline contributing writer Quin Benzel was able to sit down with the writer/director/actress to talk about three-legged cats, being in your twenties, and YouTube.
By Quin Benzel
If the name Miranda July could only be well known in one or two places, it's a good thing they happen to be the Sundance and Canne's Film Festivals. Her 2005 indie debut, You and Me and Everyone We Know, took home four wins in France and the Special Jury Prize in Park City, Utah. Jump forward six years and you arrive at The Future (no pun intended), a mishmash movie of artistic ambitions, the encroaching dread of middle age, and all narrated by a mangy, three-footed cat.
Of her work, and like any artist, July says, ¬Å“I feel compelled for reasons that are very personal.¬Â She’s one of many time-consuming interests. In between film projects, she put on an art exhibit for the Venice Biennale, polished off a book of short stories, and even produced a stage performance, which was the inspiration for The Future.
Sure, an unavoidable compulsion is necessary for anyone artistically inclined, but for the two 30-somethings in The Future, Sophie and Jason (played by July and Hamish Linklater), their sense of creativity is brought on by the unnerving realization of life's limitations. They adopt a cat named Paw Paw (voiced by July), a faceless, staccato-voiced feline, who's a constant reminder of their shortcomings.
¬Å“I feel like when you're in your 20s there's a much more open sense of time,¬Â July said. ¬Å“Being aware of mortality doesn't mean you feel like you're going to die right there. It just means you're realizing you won't do every single thing in the world.¬Â
Forced to finally face adulthood and take on the role of caregiver, Sophie and Jason scramble to justify their existence before taking the plunge: She creates a YouTube dance compilation (¬Å“30 dances, 30 days¬Â), while Jason, guided by coincidence, becomes a door to door peddler of environmentalism. The conflict of creativity meeting responsibility proves so formidable to Sophie that she seeks security in the affluent L.A. suburbs, ultimately retreating to a life of zero obligations.
But for July, not yet 40, artistic projects seem to appear like rabbits from a hat. The inspiration was inculcated at a young age.
¬Å“When I was in high school, that was sort of the beginning of indie film, Spike Lee, Sex Lies and Video Tape, but it wasn't so much the movies themselves, but the effort [in making them],¬Â July says. Prior to graduating high school, she put on a play at a local punk club in her hometown of Berkeley California about a correspondence with a man in prison.
In her early 20s, she waved goodbye to the normalcy of day jobs. (¬Å“Although I did steal a lot,¬Â she quips.) Performance art, visual art, writing, pretty much anything was on the docket. But before leaping into feature films, she started a distribution network for women filmmakers, where she would compile all submitted work as one and then return it “so they could see each other's work,” she says. ¬Å“I think I was looking for community in lieu of film school.”
Foregoing a formal background in film technique was probably for the best. July’s body of work is both uniquely herself and feminine enough in a way to speak to a large audience. Her two features have involved the Internet as a means of connecting characters with each other or the world around them. Sophie's YouTube dance opus explores the concept, in July's words, of teenage girls being watched and reacted to online.
The feminine angle creeps into the movie both within the story and outside of it. Even with a spate of talented female directors in the industry of late and becoming popularly known-Kelly Reichardt (Meek's Cutoff), Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), and certainly Katherine Bigelow (the first female to win Best Director in 08 for The Hurt Locker)-moviemaking is still very much a male-dominated profession.
¬Å“It's¬Â¦ pretty grim to be honest,¬Â July admits. ¬Å“It's really tough to get a movie financed, especially if it's like women leads.¬Â She remembers how Christine Vachon, a prolific female film producer, once said, ¬Å“women's stories are almost un-financeable, and [they] should go into T.V.¬Â
Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, but, even so, July’s fully aware of what mainstream marketing thinks of her, and humorously notes that “it doesn’t matter how smart I am, or that I’m a filmmaker; I’m a woman in my 30s.”
Quin Benzel, contributing writer
Quin Benzel is a contributing writer and somewhat of an editor at Vancouver Washington’s alt paper, The Vancouver Voice. When not working at Satan’s paper, as it was once known around those parts, he spends his time wishing he could travel more. He enjoys backgammon but has yet to find someone willing to play a game with him. Someday, he hopes to enjoy the taste of fish.