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

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CRITERION

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.

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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‘Wonder Woman 2’ changes its release date to November 2019 to distance itself from ‘Star Wars’

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Wonder Woman 2

In an effort to distance Patty Jenkins’ highly anticipated Wonder Woman sequel from the Star Wars: Episode IX craze in December 2019, it appears Warner Bros. has opted to push the film forward by an entire month from December 13, 2019 to November 1, 2019.

The follow-up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi was originally expected to open in theaters in May 2019 but was delayed after Colin Trevorrow was fired by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and replaced with J.J. Abrams, who is currently re-writing the sequel.

The news of the Wonder Woman sequel’s release date shift comes on the heels of a Page Six report claiming that Gal Gadot, who plays the title character, will refuse to reprise her role as the iconic DC superhero unless Warner Bros. cuts ties with accused sexual harasser Brett Ratner, though the studio claims the story is “false.”

Earlier this month, Wonder Woman crossed the $821.74 million mark at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing superhero origin movie of all time—a record previously held by Sam Raimi’s critically acclaimed 2002 Spider-Man starring Toby Maguire.

Wonder Woman is expected to be submitted to the 90th Academy Awards in 15 categories later this year including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score.

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Denis Villeneuve says he is too busy with his ‘Dune’ adaptation to direct ‘James Bond 25’

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Denis Villeneuve James Bond

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced this past summer that the world’s most favorite MI6 agent, James Bond, would be returning to the big screen in 2019 with Daniel Craig reprising his role one last time before officially calling it quits.

However, there has been plenty of speculation as to who will direct Craig in his final outing. Yann Demange, David Mackenzie, and Denis Villeneuve are said to be the top three frontrunners for the gig, but the latter doesn’t think the timing is quite right for him.

“The thing is, I don’t know about that,” Villeneuve said when asked if he is going to direct James Bond 25. “Daniel Craig is a very inspiring actor, and I had some contact, and the thing is that I’m busy right now doing Dune. But, I will say to have the privilege to work with him, would be a dream. I would love to work with Daniel and a Bond movie, for me, would be a treat. It’s a matter of timing I guess.”

Dune is, of course, a novel that Hollywood has had a tough time bringing to the big screen in the past, with the exception of David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation, so it would only make sense that Villeneuve, one of the busiest directors working today, would be devoting all of his time to making sure he gets his own adaptation done correctly.

As for Bond 25, which is being written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, it should be safe to say that we can cross Villeneuve off the list of frontrunners and expect either Demange or Mackenzie to take the directing gig. Either way, MGM will have to make a decision soon, as the film is scheduled to open in theaters on November 8, 2019.

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‘Justice League’ social media reactions call it a flawed, surprisingly fun superhero adventure

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Justice League Social Media Reactions Hit

The first reactions to Justice League have hit social media and they, largely, have rather positive things to say about the upcoming next installment in the DC Extended Universe starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, and Ray Fisher, though they do acknowledge that this surprisingly fun superhero adventure has some major flaws.

Justice League takes place just after the events of last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and follows Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince as they work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against a newly awakened threat. Zack Snyder directed the majority of the film, while Joss Whedon oversaw reshoots and post-production.

With an all-star cast that also includes Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Jesse Eisenberg, Robin Wright, Diane Lane, Kiersey Clemons, Jeremy Irons, and Ciaran Hinds, Justice League will open in theaters nationwide on November 17, 2017.

Check out some of the long-awaited first reactions to Justice League below:

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