Lena Dunham’s Creative Nonfiction stars Dunham as a college student navigating her way through the mess that is college social life (you can catch a trailer here).  At the same time, she is working on her screenplay about a college student (also played by Dunham)  sorta held captive by her professor in an isolated cabin.  Upon escaping, the student winds her way across the country in an effort to elude the professor’s pursuit.  The film played SXSW this year, and Ms. Dunham was kind enough to send a screener our way.  Adam and I had different reactions to the movie.  I don’t want to speak for him, but since he is on vacation, he doesn’t have much of  a choice.  I think he was a bit put off by the camerawork and maybe the DIY-feel of the film.  I admired the innovative storytelling, and though I think the story fell a bit flat at times, I certainly saw potential.  As did Filmmaker Magazine, which recently named her one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film.”  Ms. Dunham was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the film.

Golden Grouches: To ease into things, what was it like to have Creative Nonfiction play SXSW?

Lena Dunham: I was really really excited that Creative Nonfiction was at SXSW. That festival has debuted a lot of work that is meaningful to me, and they have a reputation for supporting truly indie film. Plus, Austin is an amazing film community and a very cool city– it makes me want to wear cut off shorts and learn to drive and listen to better music.

Anyway, I felt really lucky to get the chance to play SXSW– I’d been working on Creative Nonfiction for nearly 2 years and getting to screen it in front of a seemingly enthusiastic audience was pretty gratifying. I also watched a variety of films by other filmmakers I previously admired/came to admire. The Q and A’s after my screenings were vigorous and made me think. All I could ask for, really.

Also, an important side note: SXSW films are screened at the Alamo Drafthouse theater, and you can order french fries or cookies or ice cream right to your seat.

GG: I’ve heard nothing but great things about the Alamo Drafthouse, I’m just concerned that the ice cream might distract me some from the movie, as opposed to mindlessly stuffing my face with fries.  Anyway, before I forget, I was wondering if you could speak a little about your cinematography.  After watching the film, that was one of the first things we debated.  What kind of thought went into your decisions with the camera?  To give an example, one of the things we talked about was the shots of people where part of their head would be out of the frame.

LD: I wasn’t very experienced in the camera department when I made this movie. I’m still no expert, but then I was really in the dark. The film is mixed formats, Super 16 and mini-dv. The mini-dv portion was shot in a very haphazard, guerilla way, with a nonprofessional DP, so the issues with focus, the odd angles– they’re not studied choices. However, I also don’t think of them as unintential, because Iintended to shoot the film in a slapdash, immediate way. These sorts of mistakes reflect that. The Super 16 portion, on the other hand, was extremely careful in its construction, in large part because my DP, Brett Jutkiewicz, is a perfectionist and also a very experienced dude. I hope the discrepancy in the camera style between the two portions enhances the film for people, creates interesting contradictions, rather than confusing the audience.

GG: What was it like directing yourself?  Given the chance to do it over, would you still take on both roles of director and lead actor?

LD: Directing yourself is definitely hard. For starters, it sort of cripples you– you can’t see the shots, or step outside the scene and fiddle. You can’t even instruct the other actor in the same way– after all, it feels jerky to command someone else to change their performance when you’re sitting right beside them, getting off scott-free. On a really low-budget set like mine, the director is also the producer and the caterer and everything– there’s a lot standing in the way of really relaxing into your performance. However, I also love directing myself b/c I don’t feel any shame being hard on myself, or making unreasonable demands on my own time. And I know my characters better than anyone else does, because most of them are me.

GG: Maybe just two more questions to wrap things up, if you don’t mind.  First, I noticed that the the film had a sorta odd run-time, longer than most shorts but not quite feature-length.  Any particular reason for that?

LD: There was a lot more material in my first edit but I felt strongly that the film needed to be pretty taut and concise, in order for the audience to feel the wandering, naturalistic style of the scenes (and the shaky camerawork) was intentional. So the film sort of determined its own length by showing me what was boring and what was compelling (at least to me.) So now it’s roughly the length of an episode of Dawson’s Creek, a lil’ bit longer. My friend filmmaker Kris Swanberg also made a very short movie and she likes to say “it’s not feature length, it’s future length.”

GG: And finally, what’s coming up next for you?

LD: I’m at work on another feature that I hope to shoot this coming fall. I’m also working on video for the Guggenheim Museum– they’re an extension of my web show Delusional Downtown Divas. My friend Ry Russo-Young and I just wrote a script together, and I also wrote a real classic rom-com for fun. I try to stay busy and have enough balls in that air that if one of them drops my heart doesn’t break.

We’d like to thank Lena Dunham for their time.   We wish her the best of luck in the world of film and look forward to seeing her work in the future.  If you have any suggestions or tips for interviews, please e-mail us at GoldenGrouchesATgmailDOTcom.

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