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.
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