Miranda July: A renaissance woman with a bright future

The writer, artist and film maker's tales of ennui strike a chord with today's film-goers, says Kaleem Aftab

Miranda July is one of art's great polymaths. The 37-year-old's gallery work has been presented at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and two Whitney Biennials. Her short stories have appeared in The Paris Review and The New Yorker. Now her new feature film, The Future, the long-awaited follow-up to the 2005 Caméra d'or winning debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, confirms her status as one of the leading American female film-makers of her generation. The Cannes prize sits alongside the many accoladesthat have been presented to the writer, director, actor and artist.

The Future, which she wrote, directed, produced and stars in, is a movie about that difficult time when a relationship loses some of it's initial lustre. Thirty-seven-year-old July describes it thus: "The love I'm talking about is that thing that you almost can't feel sometimes in a long-term relationship and so maybe you're more at risk of totally destroying it, but it is so essential and it is there and in the movie I think it's in the cat really. I mean the cat sort of holds the soul of the movie."

The events are told from the perspective of a squeaky-voiced stray cat with an injured paw named Paw Paw, which a bored couple of thirtysomethings (July and Hamish Linklater) decide to adopt in a forlorn attempt to spice up their waning relationship.

Her husband is director Mike Mills. He had a talking dog in his latest movie, Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and in the world of American independent cinema is often viewed as the male counterpart to July. They both make films that try to understand America through ethereal characters struggling on the margins with a heavy emphasis on alienation all relayed to the sounds of indie pop.

Sophie, the character she plays in The Future is a frustrated dancer who has taken a job teaching children ballet as much to alleviate boredom as to pay the rent. As with her debut, July plays a character intrigued with questions about the nature of the relationships with men and art. Her IT consultant boyfriend, Jason, is boring her; the couple sit on opposite ends of a sofa preferring to chat on their computers rather than talk to each other.

The fact that July stars in much of her own work, whether stage, gallery, screen, or books, makes it easy to wonder how autobiographical her work is. She deflects the query by arguing that the decision to cast herself has practical advantages: "I think of it more like I'm really handy. Because I'm right here."

Titles are clearly something she's fascinated by, I Started Out with Nothing and I Still Have Most of It Left, and Are You the Favourite Person of Anybody? are a couple of the intriguing names she's given her short films. The Future stands out as being strangely simple: "Well, I knew it had to be short, people were starting to get the titles confused," she explains. "In interviews, I'd be like, I'm sorry that's the story, not the movie. So I thought OK I've got to stop this."

July also encourages others to be creative. She is a founder of the online arts community Learning to Love You More that asks users to post their artistic endeavours promoting self-love. The success of the website has made July an inspiration to many.

All this makes the renaissance woman sound rather fun to work with. A suggestion she denies: "I think the actors are a little surprised because it seems like it's going to be fun when they meet me. And it's just like this horrible experience in which they're kind of forced into saying each line with a specific emphasis on certain words. I don't improvise."

'The Future' screens at the London Film Festival on Thursday ( www.bfi.org.uk/lff). It goes on general release on 4 November