Interview with Katherine Dieckmann, Director of <i>Motherhood</i>

There is a real tendency to ignore, as has widely been remarked, the successes of women-made movies. It's like they are pushed under the carpet and you have to fight the battle all over againagainst the perception that they don't do well.
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Women & Hollywood: You said in the NY Times recently that a man can write great women's movies but you don't think a man could have written this story. Can you elaborate?

Katherine Dieckmann: Think about a movie like You Can Count on Me.
I think that in some ways it's a very female movie in the orientation
of the writing. But I think that until you have really been inside the
experience of being a mother you can't understand the cultural and
pragmatic obstacles are. That's what I meant by that.

W&H: So many female directors don't want to be known as women's
directors, but with this film you seem to be embracing that title.

KD: I am, but I have made two films with men at the
center so I really don't think that's true. I made this particular
film very much from my perspective as a woman. The film I am writing
now has a gay man at the center. The movie I made before this, Diggers,
has 4 hetero guys at the center. To me, I don't want to be known as a
women's director. However, I still feel that female subject matter is
really underserved in film and is vitally important to me even though I
like all kinds of movies.

W&H: I feel I must clarify, I didn't mean to imply that as a
woman you should only direct movies about women, but there is something
about the term. Can you ever see a guy called a male director? It's
the labeling.

KD: Yes, it's about diminishing and controlling and I
don't feel like being diminished or controlled in that sense. But I
think we still haven't figured out in this culture how to allow the
female director to have a kind of iconic power. I was struck a couple
of years ago when Variety did an issue commemorating Brett
Ratner breaking the billion dollar mark for his movies. All the
photographs were of these guys clasping Brett on the arm saying
something like well done, dude. There were no women in those pictures.
And I thought, what woman director could you cut out and put in Brett
Ratner's place shaking hands with Bob Evans passing along the legacy
vibe? No, that doesn't exist and that's what I mean by the iconic
image of the woman director. I wrote somewhere that directing is
always talked about in terms of war and sports metaphors. I went into
battle. I was on the playing field. I don't really think about my
work that way. That's a foreign language to me and I think culturally
that's how directing gets talked about.

W&H: There still seems to be a glass ceiling for women directors. Things are not getting better, they are getting worse.

KD: I think that's true.

W&H: How do you think about breaking it down?

KD: We don't think about breaking it down because that's
too discouraging. I think every woman director I know and I know a
bunch of them -- Mary Harron, Allison MacLean, Nancy Savoca, Mira Nair
-- find that they (not just the women but the men too) are enormously
supportive of each others endeavors. Most women directors I know are
really focused on how am I going to get my next movie made. This movie
I am trying to make called The Shags is about an all girl band and I
was trying to get the script to Kirsten Dunst. A friend of mine knew
the director Peyton Reed who directed Bring it On and I got in
touch with him and he didn't know me but he read the script and gave
it to Kirsten. So I feel within this circuit of people making movies
there is an enormous tendency to try and support each other from both
women and men.

The system is another issue. When people ask if I have ever
encountered sexism on shoots I honestly say I haven't. I've worked
with lots of guys and I've never found gender to be a problem in the
pragmatics of doing things. I think gender is a problem in the global
picture of what gets made, how people get hired and how the profession
is perceived.

W&H: There doesn't seem to be any will for change?

KD: There is a real tendency to ignore, as has widely
been remarked, the successes of women-made movies. It's like they are
pushed under the carpet and you have to fight the battle all over again
against the perception that they don't do well. The do do well.
That's why I am curious about Motherhood because we are self
distributing and I've been doing interviews with mom bloggers and the
actresses have been talking with mom bloggers and we are doing this
more grassroots approach including a breast cancer benefit where $1
from ticket sales on Fandango will go breast cancer research. We are
trying to movie things out through different channels.

W&H: The term mommy blogger is kind of loaded nowadays. Did you know what you were walking into?

KD: I've noticed. I have to admit when I wrote my
script I had never read a mom blog. I had no idea. Originally when I
wrote the script the character was a journalist because that's what I
knew but it didn't work and I thought that mom blogging was interesting
because it has to do with this issue of voice and finding an outlet for
your voice. Why do you say it's loaded?

W&H: Because of the way they are treated in the culture.

KD: I think it's a very complicated issue. I feel it's
really important for women to be able to talk about the experiences
they have that are so denigrated by the culture and I think it's really
important to be able to move beyond those experiences sometimes to talk
about other things. So it is both. There needs to be an outlet for
expression about "dailyness" because that is what your life is and that
is what sustains the human race and it is not to be trivialized.
However, for myself, I can't imagine anything worse that having to talk
about mommy topics all day long. That's not what I want to do.

I feel that Motherhood has invisible content like at the
beginning of the film in the credits where Uma's character is scurrying
around and making the coffee and feeding the banana to her kid. It's
all very whimsical but in fact her husband gets up and toasts himself
some bread and sits back down to read and nobody sees that as off.
It's what we see all the time. It's the beginning of the cycle of
exhaustion and when people ask me why she is so tired I say did you
miss all the things she just did? That's what I mean about a woman
writing the script. You have to know the fatigue and the erosion of
self esteem that kind of menial mundanity induces in most people except
the weirdly and endlessly self sacrificing ones.

W&H: The producers on this film are women. Did you seek out female producers for this?

Katherine Dieckmann: I met with a lot of men that I really liked about
producing this film but I felt at the end of the day Rachel Cohen in
particular (she was the woman who financed this movie) who I have been
friends with for a decade and feel intellectually, politically, and
spirtitually incredibly aligned with. She took it and found the money
and I trusted her and knew she would have my back and she did and was
there for me every step of the way. I felt the same about Pam Koffler
from Killer Films who I had known for a long time socially and who I
had talked to about the script before I had even started to write it.
I felt that these women really get me and get why I am doing this and I
will be safe.

W&H: You talked a little about the current obsession with the
Aptowian comedy films today. How did it become such a fixation?

KD: I love those movies and I hate them at the same
time. Politically I hate them, but I love watching them. I think
there is a great confusion culturally about men's and women's roles and
to me the Judd Apatow movies really reflect that confusion. Women are
for all the difficulties that we face are increasingly assured in the
world. I really do think that. There is such anxiety in men about how
they are supposed to be and so this is a hysterical reaction to it. I
think it will be interesting to see how it shakes out in the next few

W&H: What is the message you want people to come out of the film with?

KD: The message I am trying to say, and it's not just a
motherhood message, is to challenge yourself and also be accepting.
This character is doing neither in the the beginning of the movie. She
is neither challenging herself nor accepting the limitations of what
her reality is and that has a lot to do with malcontent and nobody
likes a malcontented person. Many mothers are malcontented because
there are real limitation to the ways you can live your life as a
mother -- economic, practical. So I think on the one hand some things
can be changed, but like I said in the NY Times piece is think it's
really easy to hide behind motherhood and women have to challenge
themselves not to do that because it's kind of easy. If they want to
say something or do something to not use motherhood as an excuse to
avoid trying to do it.

W&H: Do you think you will get some backlash from some moms?

KD: Maybe. I don't think I am saying don't be a stay at
home mom or don't view mothering as a primary impetus in a certain
phase of your life, but let's face it, it is a short phase of your life
and as your children get older and they won't need you in that way and
they won't if you've done your job right, who are you? Who are you at
the end of the day? Who are you apart from mom, and I feel that's the
essential question of the movie. This woman doesn't know who she is
apart from mom anymore and I think many women experience that weirdly
dissociative state when they become mothers.

W&H: What advice do you have for women filmmakers?

KD: Tenacity and determination. I teach screenwriting
at Columbia and I had a wonderful student really succeed with her
feature in the last year Cherin Dabis with Amreeka. I taught
Cherien (in maybe 2003) and she had such focus and she rewrote that
script -- I must have read 10 drafts of that script -- she worked and
worked and worked and was savvy and persistent in the loveliest way and
made a really good first film. I think it takes for anyone, but
especially women, an unbelievable persistence and really believing I
have to say this, I have to get it out there, I will find a way to do
it and not giving up on that.

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