Floria Sigismondi

Learning to Communicate


Floria Sigismondi has directed videos for the likes of Marilyn Manson, The White Stripes and David Bowie, but her talents as a filmmaker extend beyond the realm of music. Her first feature, The Runaways, starred Kristen Stuart and Dakota Fanning and made waves upon its 2010 release. She recently stopped by NeueHouse Hollywood to present Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark”, a movie that has evolved from box office bust to cult classic over the decades. We caught up with Sigismondi to discuss Bigelow’s influence on her career, and learn more about the way she thinks about the film industry and her position in it. 

Maris Curran

“Five Nights in Maine”

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Simply put, Maris Curran is on the rise. Coming off the success of her 2009 short film “Margarita”, she’s made her first feature, “Five Nights in Maine”, a drama starring David Oyelowo and Dianne Weist. On the surface, it’s a story about loss, but closer to its core, the film explores what can rise from the ashes — the humanity and connection that can be found in the darkest of times. We caught up with Maris on the evening she screened “Five Nights in Maine” at NeueHouse Madison Square, and learned a bit more about her film, her identity as a director and as a woman in the industry.  



NeueJournal: The orienting emotion of the film seems to be grief. What attracted you to exploring the nature of grief and the way it manifests?


Maris Curran: To me the film is really about compassion and empathy. So it’s an exploration of grief but it’s really about what happens when you feel great loss and pain, and instead of looking inwards and isolating yourself, you look out and see somebody else’s pain. It’s about the productive potential of empathy at that moment. I began to think about and write the film as my marriage was falling apart. That’s a very different kind of loss, but I was facing a similar set of questions to the main protagonist: What happens when the floor falls out from underneath you? What happens when your hopes and dreams change and disappear in an instant? I think that one of the most relatable, universal themes is our mortality — we are all going to go and we are all going to lose people.


Images: www.fivenightsinmaine.com


NJ: Pain and loss are the great universal connectors.


MC: Yes, but it’s not something we talk about a lot, particularly in the U.S. Making this film, I’ve had these incredible conversations where people are really brimming with the desire to talk about it. Losing people can bring people together. It’s something that people can share.


NJ: You chose to have your protagonists be very different people who share a weighty commonality. In writing this script, how did you create the characters first or were they born out of the idea of that specific circumstance?


MC: I created the characters first. I kind of imagined the husband and wife, and then had in my head. The way that I write is that I have characters live with me for a while and see where they take me. But there are a lot of contrast in the movie: It starts in the South and ends in the North; the two main characters, Lucinda, played by Dianne Wiest, and Sherwin, played by David Oyelowo — one is male, one is female, one is black, one is white, one is old, one is young, one is healthy, one is dying. We are really looking at different sides of America.


NJ: How does being a woman in the film industry affect your mentality as a filmmaker? Is it something you think about?


MC: It affects me because of the obstacles put in front of me. I mean ideally we will get to a place where we don’t have to have this conversation. We will get to a place where it isn’t one of the top three questions asked in every interview and I can just be a filmmaker, not a woman filmmaker. But I think that, as that recent New York Times article talked about, when you look at the percentages — of the current top 100 films, about 1.5% are directed by women — it’s outrageous. There are very few industries where the glass ceiling is that thick. Also, being a director is seen as an authoritative role, and I think that one of the most difficult things about this dynamic is that people don’t automatically go with the authority of a female director. As more women are making movies and as both men and woman become comfortable with women assuming that authority and doing it very well, then things will actually begin to change. Also, a lot of it comes down to financing. It comes down to people saying they want to see more films directed by women. More people need to open their checkbooks and put the money where their mouth is.


NJ: Are there any women in film that you feel particular allegiance to or gratitude for?


MC: It’s not a big community, and there are women who have and are opening doors. All the work that Ava DuVernay is doing right now — in the last two years she has probably done more for women and directors of color than anybody. And she introduced me to David Oyelowo. Also, there’s the generation before us, whether it’s Jane Campion or Mira Nair — these people have been making incredible work for a while. Also, we help each other. It’s important that within our community we share any resources we have. That is the only way that these tides are going to turn and crack this status quo.


NJ: What director would you like to direct your theoretical biopic?


MC: About me? I think I would say Marielle Heller who just directed Diary of a Teenage Girl. I think she’s interesting. Can I pick a dead director? Fellini! How fun would that be?


NJ: What actor would you like to play you in your theoretical biopic?


MC: Someone who is feisty. I would say, Cate Blanchett.


NJ: What’s your stance on the upcoming Star Wars movies?


MC: I am excited to see it. My brother-in-law already has tickets for us to go see it and it’s gonna be part of our Christmas. I’m of the “Star Wars generation.”


NJ: What is something you wish you weren’t so good at?


MC: I have more domestic skills than I would care to announce.


NJ: What is something you wish you weren’t so bad at?


MC: I sort of let go of the things I’m bad at.


Featured Photography: Harris Mizrahi for NeueJournal 

Chris Milk

Technical & Creative Frontiers

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Chris Milk is everywhere. He made a name for himself directing music videos for the likes of Kanye West, U2, Arcade Fire and Green Day, but now the scope of his work extends well beyond the arena of MTV, as he’s become more than just a great storyteller, but one of the pioneers innovating how we tell stories. Straddling the realms of art, photography and film, Milk’s comfort zone seems to lie on both the technical and creative frontiers —  he’s always pushing for new methodologies of experiencing content.


The collaboration between Milk’s companies, Vrse & Vrse.works, and The New York Times Magazine will be a bellwether experiment for the practice of virtual reality enhanced journalism. With their partnership launching at NeueHouse Madison Square early this November, NeueJournal caught up with Milk hoping to learn how this particular marriage of technology and storytelling may change more than just how we get our news.


NeueJournal: How can VR bolster the power of good journalism?


Chris Milk: Journalism is about conveying the truth. And in pursuing that truth, you hope your work affects people. So to craft a journalistic piece in VR simply means using a fresh, different tool to reach people. We as an audience have been inundated with good journalism through the written word, radio, and visual media – like TV and documentaries. But TV and documentaries are meant to “show” you something, whereas VR is meant to take you somewhere. What we try to do is craft stories that literally teleport the viewer, or at least their consciousness. VR can give people a different perspective, instead of just showing them one.


NJ: People mostly imagine VR as a tool for gaming or entertainment. What are some possible uses for VR that you think could extend beyond that realm?


CM: A lot of people are thinking about VR in so many different ways, and that excites us. We want to see this new medium grow in surprising capacities, and I think it will. I’ve seen some promising directions in medicine, therapy, and especially education.


VR, for me, can be an experience maker. What are the moments of real life that we find intriguing, beguiling, or intoxicating? It could be sitting next to a couple at a café in Milan, catching intimate snippets of their conversation. Or it could be a car chase. What I find important is the medium’s ability to share our human experiences, and potentially help people understand one another.

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NJ: How do you think VR will affect our powers of imagination? Will it cause them to atrophy? Will it enhance them?


CM: The same question was asked of radio, cinema, and television. And look at the beauty and scope of imagination that came of those tech / human interactions.


What’s so great about VR right now is that no one really knows with certainty what shape it’ll take, or what it’ll inspire us to achieve. But all the previous modes of storytelling have broadened our capacity for imagination. It’d be strange to think of VR’s impact as anything short of that.


Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal 

Doug Aitken

Station to Station, Cheese Fondue, & a Mustang


Some artists are defined by how they use a specific material or how they work within the confines of a medium. Doug Aitken, who dabbles in everything from painting to photography to performance, is not that kind of artist. In fact, his 2013 endeavor, Station to Station, blurred defining artistic lines so messily that Aitken prefers to call the piece a “happening.” This work entailed artists of seemingly every type hopping on and off a transcontinental train, experimenting with collaboration and performance throughout. The stationary version of the project took place at London’s Barbican this past summer. We caught up with Aitken on his recent visit to NeueHouse Madison Square, hoping to learn a bit more about the man behind this impressive body of work. 


NeueJournal: What’s your first memory of your mother?


Doug Aitken: I couldn’t sleep unless I was in a moving car, so my mom had to drive me around. All my memories of my mother are in motion, in her 60s mustang driving through Beach Cities in California.


NJ: What did you care about most when you were 10 years old?


DA: Becoming eleven… you always want to be older.


NJ: Who deserves an Oscar that hasn’t ever received one?


DA: There is such a long list. Give one to Werner Herzog… for everything. I think usually the people that deserve those awards don’t get them anyways. It’s a really capitalist award and often it doesn’t show too much as to how experimental a director is.


NJ: How does the internet work?


DA: It’s a box that you plug in the wall.


NJ: Who was your last text from and what did it say?


DA: Let’s see… I guess it was to Ugo Rondinone. I just visited him up in Harlem. He converted a Church into an art studio by the Apollo.


NJ: What snack can single-handedly return you to sanity?


DA: Cheese Fondue. Without a doubt.


NJ: What superstition do you believe in?


DA: None. Not superstitious at all. Although it is Halloween Eve…


NJ: How would you describe the color yellow to a blind person?


DA: Well it kind of looks like what a lemon tastes like I guess.


Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal 

Gaspar Noé

Raw & Unrestrained


A Gaspar Noé film cannot simply be “watched” — that word connotes an experience defined by the passive observation of something entertaining. Noé’s films are aggressively engrossing, often pushing audiences outside their comfort zone as they grapple with his unsettlingly raw and unrestrained cinematic presentation. After experiencing your first Noé film, you might find yourself wondering, “What kind of a mind births a movie like that?”. We sat down with Noé, hoping to learn a little more about the man behind “I Stand Alone”, “Irréversible”, “Enter the Void” and, most recently, “Love”. 


NeueJournal: What comes to mind when you think of the word passion?


Gaspar Noé: Fever, ecstasy, pain, and headache.


NJ: Could you describe your most recent dream?


GN: In different periods, I dream more. I went to Iceland recently and I think maybe because there is a lot of oxygen I was dreaming every morning and every afternoon. But lately, I’ve been recording the movie, drinking, going to bed drunk and waking up to a phone call from the Hotel. These last two months I don’t really remember having any dreams, besides the dream of not missing the plane.


NJ: The movie clearly has elements of romance and sex — there’s a physicality to it. Would you define it as romantic?


GN: I don’t think so. It’s a normal movie about physical love; romance seems very old fashioned. At least in France, when we say “romantic love,” it feels old-fashioned, and that’s not really what the movie is about. It’s more about passion or carnal love, an addiction to love. Love can be extremely addictive.


NJ: Would you say that you have any addictions?


GN: I have many. I would say sentimental addictions are very strong and also, when you make a movie, you have to fall in love with your own project, so you get addicted to your own work ultimately. You can also be addicted to another person’s work.


NJ: Did you ever have a favorite hero or antihero?


GN: I would say I like the heroes that do things that I would not dare to do. If someone wanted to put me in a spaceship going to the moon, I would freak out. So I have a lot of respect for astronauts — I would never, never take a spaceship anywhere. That’s actually a dream that I remember: One day I woke up all shaky because I was chosen to take a rocket to the moon, and all my friends were happy for me and I was just saying “No, it’s impossible. I don’t wanna take that spaceship.” But I had been chosen.


NJ: What do you think it is about space that is scary?


GN: Being alone in a metallic cage in the middle of nowhere. When I saw ‘Gravity’ or ‘The Martian’ —  I would never do that. For example, for me Philippe Petit is really a hero for me, the man who crossed the Twin Towers on the wire. I have vertigo, so I could never get close to that.


NJ: Do you have a treasured possession or something that you always have with you?


GN: When I was younger, I would have some things that my girlfriend offered me and when I traveled I kept them in my pocket.


NJ: If you could be reincarnated as someone, who would you choose?


GN: Maybe I would choose to reincarnate as myself, and go back to the starting point. Like ‘Groundhog Day’.


NJ:  What would your ideal destination be?


GN: Paradise as the Muslims describe it — all these sweet virgins. My father told me that in Paraguay women are very powerful because almost every single man died in battle so the country was basically run by women. A country with only women could be fun.


NJ: If you were to direct a music video for any artist or any song, what artist or song would it be for?


GN: Azealia Banks. She’s so sexy. When record labels approach me, I usually say, “No, no, I’m not interested…but if you know Azealia Banks, call me”. She’s such a good dancer.


Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal