Miranda July Interview in 'The Hartford Advocate'
Miranda July Makes Movies and Books and Art (and She'll be at the CT Forum on Nov. 18)
By Brianna Snyder
10:21 AM EST, November 15, 2011
Miranda July (at the CT Forum)
8 p.m., Nov. 18, Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, (860) 509-0909, ctforum.org
Up for discussion at this week's CT Forum is the very broad concept of "creativity." And there's a lot of star power on this forum's panel: Dave Eggers, Lyle Lovett, Jonah Lehrer and Miranda July, all creators of different types of creations, will chat about where creativity comes from, how it develops, what it is, what it means.
Miranda July's career is a colorful spectrum of creative pursuits. And her life is sort of bohemian and eccentric in a way that seems perfect for breeding "creativity," in any form. Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., July's parents ran a New Age publishing company. She wrote plays and staged them at local community centers. Her dad encouraged her to do things like write letters to a guy on death row. And then she moved to Portland, Ore., and did a bunch of cool performance-art stuff. Her first movie, Me and You and Everyone We Know, is on a lot of best-movies-ever lists.
This year, July's second movie, The Future, premiered, and her book, It Chooses You, is being released this month. It Chooses You is a kind of companion to The Future; it's a collection of interviews July conducted with people she found in the local PennySaver as a way of finding inspiration to complete her screenplay.
July is typically a fiction writer, though much of her fiction feels nonfictiony —- she told me in a phone interview last week that people tend to assume her characters are her — and so July's challenge in It Chooses You was to divorce her imagination from her subjects and let them tell their own stories. The book, written in 2009, comprises transcripts of the strange, elderly, troubled and estranged people who still put ads in the PennySaver to sell old leather jackets, photo albums, stuffed animals and erotic Christmas cards. The transcripts are interrupted by images of the sellers (taken by Brigitte Sire) and July's narration of the experience, and her struggle to find what she's looking for, though she's not sure she knows what that happens to be.
After talking to a woman selling Indian outfits for $5, July tries to parse the woman's quotes for a message, but stops herself from oversimplifying or misconstruing the woman's meaning. "It would require constant vigilance to not replace each person with my own fictional version of them," writes July.
It's lovely when art and humanity are so striking, so plainly part of each other, and It Chooses You contains many portraits of the accidental art in people's lives. July said her experience with a journalistic kind of nonfiction functioned as a parallel to her script, which is important to her.
July said she's "always needing a parallel thing," so that her art isn't "just about me and my fictional creation."
And lots of July's work has had a communal nature to it. One of her biggest projects was the Web-based "Learning to Love You More," a seven-year endeavor prompting people to "make an encouraging banner" or "reread your favorite book from fifth grade." More than 8,000 people made submissions before the end of the project, but the spirit of "Learning to Love You More" lives on in knock-off blogs inspired by the idea.
Another of her earlier collaborative pieces was Joanie4Jackie, a series of short films made by women, which July curated and sent around, chain-letter-style. Being one of the few women directors in the industry (she's also the only woman on the CT Forum's creativity panel), July said she's sometimes overwhelmed, and that it can be a relief to jump out of movie-making and back into fiction-writing, where the gender divide isn't quite as severe as it is in the movie world. Mostly, though, all creative pursuits are hard work, regardless of struggles relating to sex.
"I'm not reaching out to women filmmakers the way I did when I was younger," she said. "And then I realize, my god, the reason for that is kind of sad. I'm exhausted from just getting a movie made. … It's something I probably have in common with a lot of filmmakers."