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Scherfig, Mulligan, Arnold Talk An Education and Fish Tank

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 12, 2009 at 3:30AM

There's a plethora of women directors this fall, from Lone Scherfig (An Education), Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), Mira Nair (Amelia) and Jane Campion (Bright Star) to Karyn Kusama (Jennifer's Body) and Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) .
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Thompson on Hollywood

There's a plethora of women directors this fall, from Lone Scherfig (An Education), Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), Mira Nair (Amelia) and Jane Campion (Bright Star) to Karyn Kusama (Jennifer's Body) and Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) .

Danish writer-director Scherfig and London-based actress-turned-director Andrea Arnold have fashioned two very different movies on similar themes. An Education is about a bright young teen (Carey Mulligan) who breaks out of her stifling middle class life via a suave rake (Peter Sarsgaard) who sweeps her off her feet. She emerges sadder and wiser. So does the lower class teen in Arnold's Fish Tank , which is an intense mother-daughter tale about what happens when a sexy man (Michael Fassbender) moves into the house and actually treats both his girlfriend and her neglected daughters better than anyone else ever has.

Arnold prefers to work with non-pros, but decided to cast Fassbender rather than go with her local garbage man in the role of the charming seducer of a rebellious young teen. "I thought maybe it would be too tough on everybody having inexperienced actors," she says. "Katie Jarvis had such a huge job, she's in every scene. So I decided to cast an actor who has seen more life than they have." She withheld the script, doling pages out in sections to keep the actors focused on the here and now. The actors used her scripts, but added some local color to the dialogue. For the film's tour-de-force climactic chase through the park, Arnold was only able to shoot two takes. "You have to think on your feet," she says. "Everything becomes live and real."

Thompson on Hollywood

Arnold won an Oscar for her third short, Wasp and took her debut film, 2007's Red Road, to Cannes, as well as her second, Fish Tank. Red Road was the first in a proposed trilogy dreamed up by Anders Thomas Jensen and Scherfig, who created the Advance Party concept with a set of characters to be used by three first-time feature directors in very different films. The next one, Rounding Up Donkeys, has been shot but not yet released. After Toronto, Arnold is going home to work on two scripts.

My Telluride flip cam conversation with Scherfig and Mulligan, in two parts, is on the jump:


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.