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Lesbian directors hit the big time; four leading filmmakers make the leap from gritty lesbian indie movies to high-profile projects. (The Hollywood Issue).

"If it weren't for Go Fish, I wouldn't have a career," Rose Troche muses into her cell phone. The out director is conducting this interview from under a hair dryer at the beauty salon, and as her head heats up she contemplates how she went from making a small queer film to directing her new feature, the upcoming The Safety of Objects--an ensemble tale with a cast that includes Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney, Patricia Clarkson, and Moira Kelly.

"Everyone knows I'm a lesbian, and sometimes I think that helps," she says about her rising career. "Since I'm not relegated to a sexual object, there's a way in which I'm not commodified in the male world. I think in some ways that gives me freedom to keep working."

Troche is just one of several lesbian directors who launched their careers with independent gay-themed films and have gone on to find work in the fickle world of Hollywood, where women make up just 12% of the Directors Guild of America membership. "I think the heyday of the New Queer Cinema in the 1990s opened things up for these women, allowing them to get more attention and more work," observes film critic and Advocate columnist B. Ruby Rich.

Certainly, these directors are working in a climate where the notion of "chick flicks" has expanded to include not only mainstream weepathons but also thriving, gutsy independents. Just look at the attention movies like Boys Don't Cry and Girlfight got from both the public and the studio system. And Cheryl Dunye certainly helped redefine the idea of a "woman's movie" by making The Watermelon Woman on a shoe-string budget with an art-house attitude precisely so she didn't have to compromise her vision--which just happened to be an unadulterated romp through her lesbian world.

This year, Dunye is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her HBO movie Stranger Inside, a look at the brutality and passions of life inside a female prison. Her next project is, as she explains, "Victor/Victoria meets Tootsie in the world of hip-hop." It's being financed by GreeneStreet Films, the same company that produced In the Bedroom, which received five Academy Award nominations.

For any filmmaker, getting financing is tough, and getting a production deal is even tougher. But Kimberly Peirce beat the odds when New Line signed her up in 1998. The critical raves for Peirce's Boys Don't Cry--and Hilary Swank's Oscar for Best Actress for that film--probably sealed the deal. But like her comrades in crossoverdom, Peirce has chosen to develop and write her own material--a strategy that works particularly well for directors who may not be considered by studios for A-list projects.

Recently, Peirce was all over Variety and The Hollywood Reporter following the announcement that she has been hired to direct the longawaited, big-budget screen adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction masterpiece Childhood's End. She is also currently finishing up her latest script for New Line, which she is also slated to direct. Though she won't reveal its subject, she has said it is another true-life murder tale.

"It's certainly not a bad career move to make a gay film," says New Line's Lynn Harris, who is Peirce's liaison for her New Line production deal. "For me, content isn't as important as good performances, good camera work, and the ability to tell an engaging story."

The dedication these women have to their craft also envelops their personal lives. When asked if she's in a relationship, High Art director Lisa Cholodenko quips, "Laurel Canyon is my girlfriend." She's referring to her new movie, which stars Frances McDormand as a record producer who's confronted with the hedonism of her ways when her conservative psychiatrist son (played by Christian Bale) comes home to live in Los Angeles.

Unlike Cholodenko's acclaimed debut feature, Laurel Canyon doesn't have any gay content. "That's one way to go," she says about making queer art films. "And there are lot of great filmmakers I admire who are doing just that. But for me, I wanted to transcend my own rarefied world and push myself to be broad and universal."

In the end, Troche believes that even if she eschews queer themes (which she did in The Safety of Objects), every film she makes is, philosophically, gay. "For example, I write my women like I like my women. They don't let people get away with anything. They're tough-talking," she says. "The truth is, everything I do is informed by being queer. My homosexuality doesn't go away just because the characters aren't gay."

While Dunye's films continue to explore specifically lesbian subject matter, she agrees. "I think by staying true to our lesbian lives and coming to our projects with an independent spirit, it sort of worked out, because the film world saw us as who we are and had to take us the way we are," Dunye observes. Not to mention the fact that all these directors are tenacious and hardworking--qualities that appeal to studio executives like Harris. "These women are truly auteurs," she notes. "Those are a rare breed, no matter what sexuality."

Stukin also writes for Time.
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Article Details
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Author:Stukin, Stacie
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 2, 2002
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