There has been an outpouring of love for Kelly Reichardt as of late, with the “Showing Up” helmer awarded a Carrosse d’Or at Cannes – only the fourth woman to be honored this way – and now a Pardo d’Onore Manor at Locarno.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the U.S. director, described by the Swiss festival as a “committed, political and independent auteur.”
“Things have gotten easier over time,” Reichardt tells Variety ahead of the event, looking back on her 28-year career.
“I have done a lot of work in the last two decades and I work in a similar kind of mode and budget size. People are familiar with my producers and know them to be very reliable people. I’m not having to prove myself at every outing.”
Since her 1994 debut, “River of Grass,” Reichardt has been celebrated for intimate, simple stories. A practical choice as well as an artistic one, it turns out.
“I try to be realistic when thinking about what we are going to do. I don’t want to spend my life chasing financing. That’s a total drag,” she observes.
“That said, we have been pretty good at making the most of our smaller budgets. The stories and relationships aren’t necessarily simple, it’s just the scope of things. I like to take on two or three weeks of a character’s life as opposed to spanning years, a decade or a lifetime. One approach involves expanding time and one consolidating it. I’m not sure if big budget films with explosions and all are less simple when it comes to what they are getting across.”
While she admits it’s “great” to work with new people, Reichardt keeps coming back to her regular collaborators, from actor Michelle Williams – recently seen in “Showing Up” as a sculptor preparing for an important exhibit – to long-time writing partner Jonathan Raymond.
“In some areas, I don’t want to start from scratch,” she says.
“[Cinematographer] Chris Blauvelt and I are in a lifelong conversation about where the camera goes, how the movement will happen. I’ve made seven films with producers Neil Kopp and Anish Savjani. Chris Carroll is my assistant director – I don’t care what anyone else claims. We are picking up where we left off.”
Although she never compares the speed of her films to anyone else’s, letting an audience see something for themselves is crucial.
“I was reading an article from the 70’s about speed reading, which I remember being a big thing when I was in school. There was a whole program of learning using these SRA cards – we had them in elementary and junior high school,” she recalls.
“It was basically a way of looking at a piece of writing and grabbing the meaning without wasting time on the sentence. What a horrible idea! I’m interested in the sentence.”
She enjoys films that “reflect something back” at her, says Reichardt, also as a viewer.
“Something I might relate to but in a different context or circumstance than what I personally know. I recently saw ‘Adoption’ by [acclaimed Hungarian director] Márta Mészáros, a story about a Hungarian factory worker in the mid ‘70s. That character’s life is not at all like my life, yet it’s all very relatable and maybe expands my thinking in some way.”
Reichardt will introduce two films at Locarno this year: “Night Moves” about radical environmentalists (“a very underrated film,” she says, echoing Variety’s statement) and Williams-starring western “Meek’s Cutoff” set in the 1840s. The latter still remembered for anecdotes about how far its actors were asked to go in order to capture the harsh reality of that period and the rebellion that followed.
“It wasn’t about not showering. Well, maybe it was. For certain it was about the clothes,” says Reichardt.
“We didn’t have duplicates of the clothes so I didn’t want them to be cleaned and fresh but they were getting super stinky, so the actors were rallying for a cleaning day. The fabulous Vicki Farrell, who designed and made the clothes, sorted it all out.”
“In general, it’s nice to have the actors get deeply into the physical aspects of the characters. Some actors love to boast about doing their own stunts. With my films, the actors can boast about how smelly they get.”