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Night Moves Director Kelly Reichardt On How Her "Action Film" Is About People, Not Politics

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
May 29, 2014 2:17 PM
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"Night Moves"
"Night Moves"

After gaining notice for Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, her small but critically acclaimed collaborations with actress Michelle Williams, director Kelly Reichardt has made the biggest -- and by far the most accessible -- film of her career in the eco-terrorist thriller Night Moves. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard as a trio of radical environmentalists from vastly different backgrounds, the film asks complex questions about the destruction of the planet and whether violence can and/or should have a role in fighting against climate change. 

Women and Hollywood spoke with Reichardt about how Night Moves is about people, not politics; how her shooting circumstances tend to resemble the movies she's making; and that potentially perilous gap between a woman director's first and second films.  

You've worked with Jon Raymond, your writing partner, on several films. Talk about how you first decided to work together and what your writing process is.

I first met Jon through Todd Haynes. I had read his book The Half Life and I was on a drive cross-country. I just wrote him and asked him if he had any short stories that took place outside, and he sent me "Old Joy." And then with Wendy and Lucy, we sort of came up with an outline together. He gets the overall tone and vibe going, and then from the short story I wrote the script. For Meek's [Cutoff] he didn't write a short story, so that was a big game-changer. He had just done his book of short stories and didn't want to write a short story. He just wanted to write a script, which was very disconcerting.

He wrote this beautiful script. It was just a challenge because usually the short story would be my way into the film, as my work on the script comes later. We researched together and we discussed the things I wanted to be in the script, but it was a different process. Night Moves was again completely different. It's just evolved. I think that the seeds started in his brain. The voices come from him, and then structurally I have the things that I want to do.

Do you feel like this is a progression for you, or is it a departure?

I don't know. I don't think about such things. Let's say progression: that sounds more positive.

Your movies are very spare in dialogue. This is a movie where there isn't a lot of dialogue but a lot happens, which I feel is different from your other movies. It has more action. Do you agree with that?

This is our action film? Yeah. There's more happening. There's more plot, for sure. The other films, there's a lot of different ways they could come together in the editing room. There was a much clearer path for me to follow in the editing room in this one than the others.

You've said this movie isn't about politics, but about people. Can you elaborate on that?

It's a character film and about political people -- not a message film. We tried to take our own ideologies and political thinking out of it and really tried to stay in the heads of these three characters. Like all of [my] films, there are slices of life with people that you sort of catch up with. You have this short amount of time with them, and then you leave them. Hopefully they are films that ask questions. They all have similar themes -- the individual versus the group, what it means to be part of the community, that sort of thing. [Night Moves] has this very lone-wolf protagonist, and then on the fringe of him are these other ideas of people who live in the same world and are trying to figure out how to live in the current state of things.

There's all these different possibilities, and ultimately this film is asking the questions: "Are any of these the right answer? Or would any of them combined be enough?" Jon Raymond and I sort of started with the idea, "Why aren't we all out blowing shit up?" And then just sort of walked back from there, trying to answer that question for ourselves.

What was the biggest challenge for you in making this film?

It's funny, there are different levels of challenge. This isn't an easy film to get funded, obviously. Securing locations for people who will let you tell a story like this is challenging. In planning, I really expected that the shooting of the dam would be the hardest part.

But for me, the hardest stuff is when we get inside -- like shooting the kitchen scene. For me, figuring out my shots in a place with four walls is harder for me ultimately than the dam because I spend so much time shooting outside.

I was looking at your filmography and I noticed that the time between your first feature (1994's River of Grass) and your second full-length feature (2006's Old Joy) was a bigger gap than the rest of your movies. Can you elaborate? Is this the kind of thing that happens to women when they go from their first to their second or is it a whole other story?

That's part of the story, for sure. I really couldn't get another film made. I made a 50-minute Super 8 film, and then I basically just went back to making Super 8 film because I just couldn't make it happen and I was spending a lot of time just sort of spinning my wheels.

It led in the long run to time to practice on things and the ability to really fuck up and no one would care because nothing was at risk. Also, I realized that I wasn't really fitting into the system that existed and I wasn't going to change it, so I just tried to devise a way that I could make films. That started with a 50-minute Super 8 film narrative with two actors and a two-person crew and expanded into Old Joy, which was a six-person crew and two actors. Wendy and Lucy was a 13-person crew and one main actress.

I didn't see someone like me that I could look to and follow their path. I thought, "How can I make this up in some way that is somehow liveable for me and isn't just tortuous?" It took over a decade to figure that out.

But I think that you are a great role model in that respect. You've created something and you have a filmography. You're a role model. 

Where I teach, up at Bard College, there are a lot of girls in the class and I don't think there would've been the amount of women that there are now ten years ago. I can remember years ago, when we'd do tech, all the girls would sit on the curb and all the boys would climb over the equipment. That doesn't really happen anymore.

These girls are so confident. They are so young and they have such a strong idea of what they want to say. It doesn't even seem to occur to them that they aren't in charge. I have a lot of hope for the future of women making films.

When I read the press materials, it seemed like all the actors came on board with completely different acting methods. How were you able to take all of these different methods and make them connect in the way you did?

I guess when you're doing it, you never know for sure that things are working. Everything is happening so fast. You just have to keep looking to what's coming next. It's always a learning experience because it's so different each time. Some of what happens is that the process we're making the films in -- we have no net and barely any resources -- kind of reflects the situation of what the story is about. That seems to happen every time. If [the characters] fuck up their one chance, they are kind of doomed, and it's sort of the same for us.

I think that it ends up playing out onscreen, and also Jesse [Eisenberg] is really driving the truck, whether he's on-camera or off-camera, and Peter [Sarsgaard] is really driving the boat all the time, and Dakota [Fanning] really has to keep that boat from slamming into the dam wall.

The animals and the weather and the lack of space between the cast and the crew, which I think is different from other films where actors go and sit in a trailer -- we just make our actors work all the time. It builds this real intimacy, and I think in a lot of ways acting falls away in a sense. I don't know. Especially when it's pouring rain on you, which it is half the time if you're shooting in Oregon, when you're really down in it, it's just so busy in a way that it just seems to find its own rhythm.

And how many days did you shoot for?

30 days.

What's your advice for other women directors?

Wow. I've never really felt I have a handle on anything enough to give anybody any advice. My only advice is just for myself -- find some way to keep working. You can pull out your Super 8 camera, or I guess if you're young, your video camera. Whatever makes sense to you. Writing, storyboarding, studying film -- all of that stuff. Research, research, research. Stay busy so that you're not in a holding pattern and you don't feel like your world is in anybody else's hands. That's my two cents of the day.

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