kristen with directors

Kristen Stewart on her directing debut: ‘The best female film-makers are compulsive freaks’

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Stewart concedes she’s in a fortunate situation, aware that Come Swim probably wouldn’t be at Cannes if its director wasn’t an A-list actor. “People who are much more talented and inspired couldn’t ever have the opportunity to make a short film for the amount of money I was given to make this,” she admits. “I had eight days to shoot it. It was the most comfy process.”

If opportunities are limited for first-time directors, the situation is markedly bleaker if they’re women. Come Swim was produced as part of the Shatterbox Anthology project, run by US lifestyle website Refinery29, which aims to redress the disparity between male and female directors. But it’s an uphill struggle: only 7% of the top 250 films in 2016 were directed by women, a figure that’s lower than it was in 1998.

For Stewart, the only way to correct such an imbalance is with pure intensity. “The coolest female directors I’ve ever worked with are such compulsive freaks,” she says. “You ask Kelly Reichardt [director of Meek’s Cutoff and Certain Women] what it’s like to be a female director and she’s just like, ‘I don’t have an answer because I couldn’t do anything else with my life.’

“The female artists who do the best work, they’re just so focused that nothing is going to get in their way. Kelly, fucking Patti Smith, they’re just workers. It’s hard to talk about, because you need to talk about it to change it, but at the same time it’s like, ‘Just do it.’” She pauses, reconsidering this call to arms. “That’s the most ridiculous thing to say. Of course, people would just do it if they could. I’m in the craziest, most lucky position.”

Whether Stewart will continue making her own films is unclear. She still has plenty of acting commitments, including a drama about the hoax writer JT LeRoy, created by Laura Albert. What’s more, she doesn’t just want to stumble into any old directing gig. “People keep asking, ‘So what’s next for you? Do you want to develop projects?’ I feel they have to just come to you. I don’t want to do an impression of a film-maker. I don’t want to do it for the sake of it.”

If Stewart does return behind the camera, it’s likely to be on her own terms. “I don’t like the idea of making movies with any regard for an audience. Because I’ve worked with people who have been like, ‘I want the audience to think this at that moment.’ Well, who are you making this for then? Because if you start making this for everyone, you’ll end up with something generic. It needs to be its own animal. You can package and deliver an idea after the fact, but if it’s what informs you in the first place… pffft, don’t make movies!”

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Chvrches “Down Side of Me”
Directed by Kristen Stewart

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Kristen Stewart has starred in a total of seven different Sundance Film Festival titles including the rom-com favorite Adventureland in 2009 and 2010′s The Runaways, a biopic in which she plays legendary rock star Joan Jett. This year she returns for her directorial debut with the avant-garde short film Come Swim, which is described as “…a diptych of one man’s day, half impressionist and half realist portraits.” Come Swim is a part of Refinery29′s Shatterbox Anthology, a series of twelve short films helmed by women. 

© 2001 Rusty White/WireImage ; © 2016 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jonathan Hickerson ; © 2016 George Pimentel/WireImage ; © 2010 George Pimentel/WireImage ; © 2014 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jemal Countess ; Courtesy of Come Swim | Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Diary of a Teenage Girl
Director Marielle Heller

Everyone needs to get their asses out the door and see this movie. Seriously. It’s universally relatable and personal to the teenage experience. The plot centers around the main character Minnie’s first sexual experiences, and her relationship with her mom. It’s set in the 70’s (as you can tell by the above fashion and decor) yet the actions and feelings of Minnie are absolutely still engrained in the teenage experience today. The movie was so truthfully real, they really just got it right on this one. The scenes exhibiting sex and nudity are NOT meant to be flashy or exciting, and are used to provide a glimpse into the depth of her curiosity and new life experiences. Her nudity is sexualized only in the sense that she is discovering her own power and womanly sexuality, as most teenage girls do, and it’s so refreshingly recognizable to me as a teenager. There are some elements that I think could be tweaked, and some ideas that could’ve been developed further, but that’s only if I was being extremely picky.

Bel Powley (Minnie) is an absolute genius and it’s incredible to me that this is her first major movie. Kristen Wiig is perfect and spot on as her mother. As surprising as that casting seemed to me at first glance, she absolutely nailed it, and it was very meaningful to me that the director took a chance on her, because she really gave a raw and truthful performance. Alexander Skarsgard, who plays Munroe, the mother’s boyfriend, gives the most real and utterly flawless performance as well. I couldn’t possibly image someone more perfect for that role, and the interactions between Minnie and Munroe ARE the movie.

This film is profound and sublime, because of its inherent reflection of life as a teenager, and it’s poignant sense of familiarity. Don’t miss it.