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Stephen Cone on ‘Princess Cyd’: ‘It feels like me closing a chapter in my work’

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Editor’s note: Following its Philadelphia premiere at the 26th annual Philadelphia Film Festival earlier this month, our own Sam Mauro had the opportunity to sit down with Princess Cyd director Stephen Cone to discuss the indie filmmaker’s latest project, which opens at Museum of the Moving Image in New York on November 3. Their conversation picks up below:

Princess Cyd was a phenomenally structured film, the sort that felt genuinely novelistic without being overwritten. I’m wondering how that cross-media osmosis is fostered…that’s poorly phrased. What do you read?

I spend a lot of my time lamenting my diminishing attention. I think about how quickly and how much I read in high school, versus now where I get distracted by all sorts of different things. I do read, regularly, but it takes me forever. It’s quite embarrassing. I used to read more novels than I do now. I read a lot of film criticism and film theory, actually, and I read a lot of essays. I have a book of American Transcendentalism that I like to pick up and read random passages from Emerson, Whitman, the whole gang.

My favorite author is Marilynne Robinson, who inspired Princess Cyd. I love Housekeeping. Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Housekeeping and Beloved are my favorite books, good writing about spirituality and science and all that sort of thing. I don’t read as much as I used to, is the short answer. I’m reading Moby-Dick right now. It’s Marilynne Robinson’s favorite novel. That may be why I’m reading it.

As someone who is non-binary and gender fluid, I found the character of Katie so affirming and wonderful. How did you find such an acutely positioned, special sort of performer?

Well, it’s an exciting process but a boring answer. I think Chicago is just a great city for talent. There’s no formula. I think you and maybe others would be surprised at the lack of directing I sometimes do on set. It’s much more about a positive vibe, a mutual respect. There’s nudging here and there, but mostly it’s an attitude like, “I respect you to do your job,” just backing off and finding themselves. Malic White, they’re a gender fluid performance artist who looks younger than they are. They’re playing around five or six years younger in the film. But I’m glad to hear that. I always wished we had more of Malic in the film. You know the movie was designed to be about the aunt and the niece, and like, to go into these corners of the store and ask how can you queer this up? I don’t think that was part of the original concept of the story, actually. I was like, “should Cyd meet a boy or a girl? And then I was.”

Do you have an audience who you hope sees your work with whom it resonates?

I get really excited whenever I see an 18, 19, 20-year-old, go into the theater and get really excited. I sort of live for [Princess Cyd], like, getting discovered on Netflix in the middle of the night by some queer girl in Arkansas, though I also wish they’d see it in a theater. With Henry Gamble, I’ve run across really hilariously cruel live-tweets of it by people who are not on the wavelength. That movie’s an interesting litmus test. Some people find it really organic and flowy and others find it profoundly contrived. I do look up these movies, not to massage my own ego, just to watch these kids finding the movie. With a movie like Henry Gamble, there’s gotta be at least one character you can identify with, statistically.

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Your films often grapple with a fluidity in sexuality, in gender, in personal expression – in context of the rigidity of so many of the world’s systems, especially Christianity. How do you believe conventional organized religion interacts with personal spirituality?

I always get asked about spirituality versus sexuality, but not that. Cyd was a deliberate break from exploring oppression. The movie is supposed to be easy. Sexual fluidity is so rarely seen in American cinema. I’m thinking hard. I will arrive at an answer. But I’m excited by the challenge. I’m interested in a spiritual worldview, and this is really where Marilynne Robinson comes into play, that is inspired, kind of imaginatively, by antiquities religion, but is deeply grounded in the present moment. My entry point is really Robinson. She is Christian, she loves science as much as theology, she loves the Bible as much as she loves American history. That sort of all-encompassing belief is inspiring to me.

I wouldn’t even call myself a Christian. I barely believe in a spiritual realm. But you can have a worldview that encompasses all the beautiful things without it feeling like a copout. And my movies are a way of, I guess, carve through a wall, and figuring out where these things go wrong and where they go right and also making sure that particular brand of spirituality doesn’t get lazy, as it often can get. What is lazy versus personal and liberating? All I have are questions, too.

I was raised to believe liberal Christian were lazy people who wanted to pick and choose what they liked from Christianity and unable to accept the harsh truths of Christianity. So once I graduated high school and started doubting my faith, I tried to be a liberal Christian for a while, but then I was like, “Oh maybe there is something to that.” It’s like making your own pizza off of a menu. So then I just tried to be an atheist. I don’t want to create my own religion. It’s only now that I believe that it is valid to have a personal faith.

That answer reminds me of Miranda, and of my mother, who raised me in Chicago until I was a toddler. I love how, say, if Miranda lived in California, or Upstate New York, she’d be sharper, or more obnoxious.

(Chuckling) Oh, that’s funny, I’ve never thought of that. Although I have to say, one of my regrets of the film is making her faith what I think is too vague. I actually wish she was more specifically a Christian, and I wish there was a scene of her either going to church or praying. She sort of accidentally became spacey. I feel like that was maybe a mistake. Because her faith should be as formidable as Cyd’s desire, for them to fully meet their match. I think the movie condescends a touch to Miranda’s faith. So much of this movie came out of that concern, you know – are we losing the quiet? Are we losing that ability to dream? We’ve obviously progressed in so many important ways, but I don’t want to lose that quiet. 

I think because of that I’m viewed as safe, soft filmmaker. Some critics have an interest in not just textural grit, but also a textual grit. See the risk, there, is that the utopia becomes a lax energy. Whether the movie succeeds or fails, that’s the scary thing. You risk losing action or conflict because you’re enjoying yourself. And certain viewers might just say, “Okay, nice party” and then move on to what they say is a meatier picture. This movie is interesting to gauge people’s entry-points in that sense. 

I think I have a good life. But that’s not to say I’ve settled. I’m exhausted with raising money for these micro-budget movies myself. I feel like Princess Cyd was me closing a chapter in my work. Next summer I’ll finally be shooting my first larger project; a Southern family drama.

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Robert Pattinson to star in horror-fantasy film ‘The Lighthouse’ from ‘The Witch’ director

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Fresh off his Oscar-worthy performance in Josh and Benny Safdie’s riveting New York City crime-thriller Good Time, Deadline is reporting that Robert Pattinson will star opposite Willem Dafoe in Robert Eggers’ upcoming horror project The Lighthouse, which will be distributed by A24, who also released the filmmaker’s 2016 sleeper hit The Witch.

Written by Robert and Max Eggers, The Lighthouse is described as a fantasy horror story set in the world of old sea-faring myths. “This new script blew us away,” A24 said in a statement. “It creates a totally unique and ambitious universe and manages to somehow feel scary, suspenseful, wondrous and beautiful all at the same time.”

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In 2015, Variety reported that Eggers had begun development on a remake of Nosferatu, the 1922 silent movie about Count Orlok of Transylvania, which served as what is considered an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stocker’s iconic 1897 novel Dracula. However, according to Collider, the Nosferatu is going on the backburner for now as production on The Lighthouse is expected to begin this spring, though a release date has not been announced.

“I am extremely happy to be working with RT, A24, and Parts & Labor again,” Eggers said. “Along with New Regency, they are providing me and my collaborators with the support and freedom to make this film the way it needs to be made. It’s a privilege.”

As someone who is a huge fan of everyone involved in this project, especially Eggers, whose directorial debut was simply outstanding and still haunts me to this day, it should certainly be exciting to see what he puts together with The Lighthouse. I mean, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in the same movie? How could you go wrong?

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‘Black Panther’ scores a record-breaking $25.2 million from Thursday night previews

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Ryan Coogler’s critically acclaimed Black Panther has already begun to dominate the domestic box office, reeling in a mighty $25.2 million in Thursday previews, breaking the February record previously held by Deadpool, which earned $12.7 million from Thursday previews when it opened in 2016.

Additionally, Black Panther also bested Captain America: Civil War, which earned $25 million from Thursday previews and, thanks to its stellar early reviews and an all-star cast that includes Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and Danai Gurira, is expected to round up as much as $170 million by the end of the Presidents’ Day weekend.

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Black Panther picks up after the events of Civil War and follows T’Challa as he returns home to Wakanda to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king after the death of his father. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king is tested when he is lured into a deadly conflict.

Earlier this year, Black Panther managed to break Marvel’s pre-sale record on Fandango to become the fourth biggest pre-seller in the ticketing company’s history. It’s bested only by the three latest installments in the Star Wars franchise including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Meanwhile, Black Panther has earned $47 million in foreign territories, bringing its worldwide total to somewhere in the $72 million range. We’ll keep you posted on the film’s box office performance over the course of the four-day weekend.

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Tiffany Haddish, Greta Gerwig, Chadwick Boseman among the 2018 Oscars presenters

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Producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd announced the star-studded first slate of presenters for the 2018 Oscars on Friday morning. The ceremony will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and will air live on ABC on Sunday, March 4.

Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Mahershala Ali, last year’s winners for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, will return to the Oscars stage to present those same awards, while 2018 nominees such as Greta Gerwig (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay), Kumail Nanjiani (Best Original Screenplay), and Margot Robbie (Best Actress) will also take the stage to present.

Additionally, it was also announced that Chadwick Boseman, Laura Dern, Jennifer Garner, Tiffany Haddish, Tom Holland, and Daniela Vega will also be handing out awards, as well.

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“Whether returning to the Oscars stage, or gracing it for the first time, each of these artists bring their own distinguishing and energetic appeal,” said De Luca and Todd. “Their contributions will make for an unforgettable evening.”

Among the nine nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards are Call Me by Your NameDarkest HourDunkirkGet OutLady BirdPhantom ThreadThe PostThe Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, while Christopher Nolan, Jordan Peele, Gerwig, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Guillermo del Toro are all up for Best Director.

You can check out the complete list of nominations for the 2018 Oscars here.

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