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Sundance Women Directors: Meet Madeleine Olnek

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
January 20, 2014 4:09 PM
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Still from Madeleine Olnek's "The Foxy Merkins"

Madeleine Olnek is a writer and director who honed her skills in New York venues with more than 20 produced plays, all comedies. Her Sundance Film Festival shorts "Countertransference" (2009) and "Hold Up" (2006), and her feature, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same from the Festival in 2011, are viewable online.

The Foxy Merkins will debut at Sundance on January 20th.

Please give us your description of the film.

Margaret is a down-on-her-luck lesbian hooker in training. She meets Jo, a beautiful, self-assured grifter from a wealthy family and an expert on picking up women, even as she considers herself a card-carrying heterosexual. The duo hit the streets where they encounter bargain-hunting housewives, double-dealing conservative women and husky-voiced seductresses. Navigating the bizarre fetishes and sexual needs of their "dates" brings into focus the disparity between the two hookers, as fellow travelers who will share the road together but only for a while.

What made you write this story? 

I had long loved classic hustler films like My Own Private Idaho and Midnight Cowboy. I found that for big-budget films, women often don't get to play outliers like the ones depicted in these films. 

What was the biggest challenge in making the film? 

Our biggest challenge is happening currently: Will we meet our Kickstarter goal so that the movie has the money to get covered for distribution? We are currently at 43% with less than 14 days to go. Our Kickstarter link is here. We worked very hard to come up with creative prizes, too. 

What advice do you have for other female directors? 

Just start making your movie. Don't wait until all the pieces are in place.

What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

The biggest misconception -- not just for me, but for other comedic filmmakers as well -- is that comedy can't be a profoundly meaningful experience. People tend to think of only dramas as meaningful, but just because something is presented with weight doesn't mean it has weight.

Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films? 

Now that technology and distribution are more accessible, among the biggest challenges is that women will continue to shy away from the active promotion of their efforts (on Kickstarter for example) and be competitive with each other, thinking there is less to go around, rather than being supportive. Now that filmmaking has become more democratic, we should have a "we are all in this together" attitude, not just with women but with other filmmakers as welll and help each other promote our movies in the development phase when they need the help.

Name your favorite women directed film and why.

Triumph of the Will. (Kidding!) Actually, it's hard to think right now about a favorite movie directed by a woman since there are so many that I love. But I would say that I recently watched Donna Deitch's Desert Hearts and couldn't believe how smoking hot and great it still is -- a classic love story and so smart and beautifully shot. I also love Penny Marshall's A League Of Their Own ("There's no crying in baseball!"). I was laughing about that with someone just today. Also, one of my favorite films is Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol -- a brilliant and very dark comedy, as well as a fascinating piece of history.

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