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Cholodenko-More than a ‘Lesbian’ Writer/Director

Cholodenko-More than a ‘Lesbian’ Writer/Director

Lisa Cholodenko chooses her projects wisely. I first heard of her when in 1998 she wrote and directed the mesmerizing film High Art with Radha Mitchell, Ally Sheedy and Patricia Clarkson. It is a film with so many layers that you are drawn back to it over and over. Each time you discover another emotion, another wound, and another awakening to possibility. You ache for each character and especially Syd. Cholodenko unveils the scared and tearful face of a young girl experiencing her first lesbian sexual experience that is oozing with the passion of love so deep it hurts.

In 2002 she wrote and directed Laurel Canyon with Frances McDormand and Kate Beckinsale. Once again she brilliantly peals back the insecurities and enticements of each character as he or she is bewildered and confused about love and life and family dynamics. The sexual attraction of “people” is explored. We forget if it is woman and man or woman and woman. It is pure human connection. We learn the comfort of loving who we are drawn to and or love a person regardless of age, looks, gender, and availability.

Julianne Moore and Annette Benning pulled all of us into a world where being secure lesbian parents is threatened by a birth father. The arrival of the man is the catalyst for revealing the bisexuality of one woman. She feels pulled in multiple directions due to feelings of “just not quite good enough” in all areas of her life. Her fear of losing all drives her to nearly losing it all. The Kids Are Alright was one more example of Cholodenko’s ability to bring the reality of not just lesbian marriage and family to the screen but in reality, the issues of any marriage and any family jus like the ones next door.

Cholodenko once again knows us. She has lived our lives. How did she know that when we feel insecure we drink too much or cheat on the one who loves us the most? How could she know that as lesbians we are so much more than whom we sleep with. We are the humans who had drug addiction issues just like the girls who like boys. We are the women who needed a bit of “outside help” to be parents and our kids are one of our most precious gifts if not the most precious gifts. Like adopted children, kids of LGBT parents often wonder if the grass is greener on the other side. That “who’s your daddy?” elephant in the room. Cholodenko often has many elephants in the room throughout her movies. We trip over them.

Now Cholodenko has directed the four part HBO mini series OLIVE KITTERIDGE with the finesse that has made her a consummate director. She choreographs complex stories that softly and subtly draw us into the world of those people who are saying what we may have always wanted to say. Olive is the poster woman for existing and not living. She makes us sad yet we admire her ballsy way of living. It is not an easy series to watch but you can’t seem to turn it off.

OLIVE KITTERIDGE is not a lesbian film so you may wonder why I talk about it in the context of LGBT filmmaking. The reason is 100% because it is directed by Lisa Cholodenko. She is a writer and director who comes along rarely. She is a lesbian and she does bring personal knowledge to those films that present lesbian characters. More than that, Cholodenko has that special pipeline to the human experience. Someone told her our secrets and our inner thoughts. She has catalogued our deepest fears, passions, and ultimate highs in her bag labeled “extraordinary film musts”.

There are some great female film directors and writers. Pay close attention to their films. Each has a bag of experiences to infuse in their films. With winter upon us may I suggest a rainy weekend spent under the covers with a good cabernet and two glasses on the table next to you. Turn the lights down and try a Cholodenko marathon. It may be a film trip to nirvana.

Jan Miller Corran is the CEO and founder of More Than Friends Film Funding, Inc. and has produced and/or consulted on over twenty films since 1995.

Check out Monica Palacios’ spoof on The Kids Are All Right.

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  • I love this portrait of the artist, Jan! It’s gorgeously done and deeply shared. I’ve been a big fan of Lisa Cholodenko ever since I discovered “High Art” – still one of the very best lesbian love stories on screen for me. You are so right that she seems to have “a special pipeline to the human experience” and that, as a lesbian, “she knows us.” I love to watch her movies again and again and as you say so poignantly: “Each time you discover another emotion, another wound, and another awakening to possibility.”
    Cholodenko is a great psychologist at work, but she is also a true artist. I think the artistic sensibility and perfection makes her lesbian stories so much more real than most celluloid stories about lesbians. Not long ago, I reviewed “Blue is the Warmest Color, the French film about a lesbian love story that won the Golden Palm in Cannes and caused a scandal. I compared this film, made by a heterosexual man, to “High Art,” the film made by a woman “who knows us.” I found the difference illuminating.
    My comparison:

  • Jan says:

    Renate I greatly appreciate your kind words. LGBTQ filmmaking is a a crossroads as the wish to be accepted in the mainstream is coming to fruition. Much discussion is underway amongst the lesbian film community regarding lgbtq as a viable genre. If it is now mainstream then the process of fundraising for independent films changes, Lisa became a mainstream writer/director. More are quickly following her lead.
    I loved your article link. Thank you.