Cannes Film Festival
Short Film Corner 2021
Wandering the streets of Hollywood, Jacqueline hopes to release her illusions. A late-night shop’s science fiction books promise other worlds. Climbing the hills, she recalls mountaineers looking for Shangri-La. At sunrise over sleeping Tinseltown, her fears lift, replaced by grace and clarity.
Hi Catherine, thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?
My sister and I were in New York when the pandemic hit, and we drove across the country to quarantine with our parents. It’s been one long film festival - the first week home, we made a list of a hundred films we all wanted to see…
Has this time offered you any new creative opportunities?
Yes, actually, my sister and I have been making watercolour posters of some of the films we’ve seen together as a family during quarantine, inspired by Peter Doig’s Studio Film Club. We’re lucky enough to be printing an edition of them with Lapis Press in Los Angeles.
Congratulations on having your debut short Lost Horizon part of this year's Short Film Corner, how does it feel to be able to present your short film at Cannes?
In school I remember reading lists of everyone nominated here year by year, and watching their films, and getting a sense of how film evolved - you can just feel it - the through line of directors, the wave of the culture, how each era built on the last. To have a film included feels like I understood in some way what has been happening all these years in this miraculous place.
This is very much a family affair production, what has it been like working with family on this film, and is it something you will do again?
In Franny and Zooey J.D. Salinger writes, “You don't know how to talk to people you don't like. Don't love, really.” That’s how this felt. I think I knew how to do this because it was my family. The classic advice to writers is, ‘write what you know.’ I have three copies of this book, I’ve read it so many times. And I’m very close with my family, so it was comforting working with them, surrounded by people I love, telling a story I know so well. It felt very natural. I don’t know if I really could have done it with strangers.
And yes, we’ve just shot the sequel, based on another chapter of the same book…
"The screenplay was originally twelve pages long and had eleven characters."
How did Lost Horizon come about, what inspired your screenplay?
My father lived in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés in his expatriate days, so we often stayed there as a family. You always get the sense that it all happened there - philosophers debating in the cafés, students drinking late at night, novelists recording the world in their notebooks - but you just missed it.
Reading Patrick Modiano makes you feel they would have welcomed you. There is something so unassuming and vulnerable in the way he describes simply sitting in a café waiting for life to unfold, or wandering the streets aimlessly because you still have all the time in the world. There is a sense that you will find answers, you will find meaning, you don’t even have to search, just by being in this place, surrounded by seekers - lost, uncertain scholars and wanderers - it will come to you, the meaning, the answers will find you.
When you started writing your screenplay did you draw from your own experience or people you knew to create Jacqueline?
Just below the Sunset Strip are all those old apartment buildings, sort of kitsch, designed to look like Tudor castles, or Hawaiian hotels, or Spanish haciendas. Greta Garbo lived in one of them, on Fountain Avenue. When I drive past, I imagine them filled with people dreaming of the silver screen, although so few will ever get there.
What they have in common with Modiano’s Jacqueline, with so many of his characters, is a deep sense of yearning, so earnest and intensely felt, regardless of the remoteness of their object of desire. It’s almost a virtue in itself, that sort of focussed, passionate, unyielding desire.
Growing up in LA, my life has brushed against so many of these people. They were my inspiration for Jacqueline, and what I felt linked her, a Hollywood version of her, to Modiano’s Jacqueline, in her different world of students of the esoteric arts, and hunters after great metaphysical truths, in the bookstores and cafes and boulevards of Paris in the ‘60s.
The California version of Jacqueline, and the Parisian one, both remind me of a Paul Eluard line, “There is another world, it is in this one.”
What where the biggest challenges you faced making this film?
Is it all right to say the greatest challenge saved the film? The screenplay was originally twelve pages long and had eleven characters. Everyone who saw the script said it was too complicated, that I’d never be able to make it. Because of the pandemic, it was reduced to six pages and three characters, so I ended up shooting in places I knew well, with family and an old friend. The pandemic made this simple enough for me to actually film.
How important was the collaborative nature of filmmaking for you when working on a film like this?
This was a new camera (old and restored, but new to me), and my friend who plays the bookstore clerk is an experimental filmmaker, so between shots he had to fix the camera a few times. My sister was the art director and costume designer. There was so little to do, but somehow it felt overwhelming at times, so everyone just naturally filled in what they saw needed to be done. It was sort of an understood, unspoken collaboration.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Well, I would say I’ve always had a passion for art, but it’s been directed toward literature, photography, art history - I’ve always admired people who loved one thing and devoted their lives to it. It seems like such a pure way to live.
What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from directing Lost Horizon?
To be flexible, to trust that the work will emerge. The screenplay was cut in half, we had no crew, and yet the spirit of the film stayed alive.
Now you can be reflective do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
After college I went to New York to study classical Greek. That summer I was house sitting for a curator of photography at MoMA, and her walls were lined with photography books, which I read in the evenings. That led to studying photography and publishing small books of photographs. Now composition comes more naturally to me, as a result of years immersed in photography.
So I would say to follow your passions even if they seem unrelated. They may lead you down a path that helps you make your film in ways you could never have imagined.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Lost Horizon?
It’s a feeling I find in Modiano, a sense of wandering the Left Bank late at night, walking down cobblestone streets with no particular destination in mind - that aimlessness is an end in itself, that you can trust there is a path leading you forward, even if you can’t see it, walking along in the dark.