Miranda July says she needs to meet more film-makers so that she can talk about hotel-room frustration: it's the end of another gruelling day discussing her startling debut feature film. It has been more than six months since the writer, director and star of 'Me and You and Everyone We Know' became the darling of the independent film community by winning the Special Jury Prize at January's Sundance Film Festival and then (jointly) picking up the Camera d'Or at Cannes.
She seems remarkably upbeat and fresh. As she approaches the sofa it becomes apparent that her brilliant blue eyes are enormous. She is gangly like a high-jumper.Her high tone and conversational style is like a child trapped in the body of a 31-year-old. She seems determined to please. Living with an innocent perspective in a harsh world is a big theme in her debut movie, and July says: "It's not that the movie is surreal, or that people talk in an unreal way; everyone is talking a little in the way that I talk, they talk very directly, and I guess if you have a whole cast talking that way, it may start to seen unreal."
Me and You and Everyone We Know is an ensemble piece in the style of Nashville and Magnolia. In a suburban American town in the age of communication, people with access to the internet, cell phones and video cameras struggle to communicate with each other. July plays Christine, a performance artist looking for a big break.
It's a remarkable film that manages to deal with themes such as childhood sexuality while still retaining its innocence. July has brought a unique voice to our cinema screens and it's one that has left critics floundering as to the best way to classify it. The best they have come up with is to compare July to Todd Solondz, but, July argues, "it seems such a bizarre comparison. Often I get into conversations that are bringing him up and tearing him down by saying 'You're not such a freak, you are more hopeful.' Maybe it's just that we are not the same."
July successfully blurs the boundaries between performance art and cinema. Me and You is made up of many scenes that would still work if they were shown as individual entities. July chirps, "I'm good at making many little things, and probably the hardest part was making them work as one big thing. I think that that aspect of the film most reveals where I came from."
Born in 1974 in Barre, Vermont, she is the daughter of two writers and publishers of New Age literature. At school she strove to separate herself from most of her peers. She began writing at a young age and reminisces about a trilogy she wrote at the age of seven called The Lost Child. "I put it on in this punk club out of town and nobody knew what I was doing. No one from school came. It was like my secret world. I dropped out of college quickly."
Richard Linklater's Slacker came out in 1991 and tapped into her feelings of angst. July had decided that she wanted to be a film-maker. Film-school was not an option as she always wanted to make things real from the get-go. She set about writing performance pieces and releasing albums containing stories told in her tremulous voice. Her tales would later appear in 'The Paris Review' and 'The Harvard Review'.
But July wanted to make short films and was in search of inspiration and role models, so she set up the Big Miss Moviola project. "If I could just see some women doing it, then I would have a context for myself," says July. "So I made a pamphlet that said 'send me your movie and I'll send you a tape with your movie on and nine other movies on it.' It was a really simple way that women and girls could see each other's work."
The tapes flooded in and July began shooting movies with borrowed video cameras. Her work was soon on show in New York's Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim Museum and at London's ICA. She was also taking performance pieces to the Whitney Biennial and the Rotterdam Film Festival.
"I'm insanely driven in a way that doesn't always make me that happy and there are a lot of things that I'm not good at," she says. "So I just sort of feel like there are some people who are married and have kids and that is the joy that they have. I've prioritised work for a long time and that can become a habit that is hard to break."
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