July 8, 2008

Interview with Kimberly Peirce, Director of Stop-Loss

Sometimes films have the power to make change in the culture. That seems to be the case with Kimberly Peirce's film Stop-Loss about a soldier who returns from his time in Iraq hoping to be discharged having done his time, only to find out he is being sent back against his wishes. It is a powerful drama about the human consequences of war that so often get missed. Here is my review: Stop-Loss.

Since the release of the film Peirce has spent many months traveling the country, showing the film to raise attention about this issue. Her recent appearance at the National Press Club provoked national press coverage about this policy that is unknown to most of the country. Women & Hollywood spoke with Peirce about the cultural impact of her film.

Women & Hollywood: How do you believe movies can effect change in our culture?

Kimberly Peirce: Movies can be an incredibly powerful art form. The medium itself is powerful because you are creating a whole world and engaging people in a story. The way we release movies is powerful -- we create events and people go to see them in a theatre with others and talk about it. The way we do the advertising is also powerful. The medium itself and the way it is communicated to the culture has profound ways of engaging people and therefore effecting change.
W&H: You could have released this film and then moved on to your next project, but it seems you have become a spokesperson for this issue. Why?
KP: It's very interesting because it is similar to what happened on Boys Don't Cry. It's not so much that I start with the issue, I start with a character. My little brother fought in Iraq and it profoundly effected my entire family. My mother, sister and I were dealing with the fear you have when one of your loved ones is in combat. I was thinking about how it would change him. I went around the country and interviewed soldiers and their families and saw what they were going through. I have been showing the film to people -- soldiers and non soldiers-- and they are being moved and are saying to me "oh my god this has to be stopped," or "I didn't know about this thank you for teaching it to me." So in a way the movie is just a continuation of a basic curiosity and a need to communicate.
W&H: So you've created a cultural conversation about this issue?
KP: Yeah- it's really exciting. We have over 1,000 comments on the sound off website. I am very much a believer in telling a story honestly, emotionally and believably. People are saying thanks for making a movie we can relate to.
W&H: Most of the films about Iraq have struggled at the box office. Do you think there is a disconnect between the war and the country?
KP: I don't believe there is a full disconnect. I believe that in some ways these movies were not marketed correctly. If you had marketed them correctly they would be bringing in more people. When I took my movie around to 24 cities I had packed screenings and 90% of the audiences stayed for the q and a. Soldiers stood up and told their stories. They loved being emotionally moved. I believe that America does want stories that move them.
I've also heard criticism that there is Iraq war fatigue. I don't buy it at all. If you tell them the movie is going to be non-stop warfare they're not going to go, it's too threatening. But when you deliver a movie about people coming home and human emotions, they'll go and they'll love it. There is an appetite for that. I think that the reporting on Iraq and not making the stories personal has numbed the audience out.
Also, we put a certain expectations on the films that are not the broad comedies or the big commercial movies and I don't think they should be competing (with each other). I do think there is a vast audience for entertaining, engaging human stories but that audience should not be compared to the audience that is going to the broad comedies. When you release them at the same time and there's a competition as to who is number one at the box office, it's really kind of missing the point. They are not the same thing. They have totally different functions and I feel really passionately about that because what ends up happening is that the films get a bad rap and I think that it's much more complex than how people are explaining it.
W&H: So is there a general problem in marketing smaller dramas?
KP: Most of the time the public is not thinking about how many theatres a movie is in, what the per screen average is and they shouldn't be. But somehow this obsession with the box office is unfortunately skewing things.
W&H: How do movies that are a little different get seen in this box office obsessed world?
KP: I think they need a little more time meaning trying to open big quickly certainly works for high concepts and for big movie star movies. But we've seen over and over and over the movies that tell a story can do fantastic in the marketplace but they take a little more time to find their audience and to grow. When we were in the theatres we were finding an audience and were growing but there was this race against time simply because of the nature of the release pattern. I found that when I connected with my audience they loved it and just needed a little bit more time. Once the reviews came out and people understood how moving it was then it resonated. Subsequent to the opening weekend our audience started to emerge.
W&H: Talk about the status of women directors in the business.
KP: I wish that the numbers were higher for women directors. I think that women have found that they are getting the farthest in creating their personal visions when they are writing their own material. I co-wrote this film on spec. I interviewed soldiers and put together the material and images cut to rock music. When I gave it to the studio there wasn't that question about whether a woman could do this it. I managed to cut through all those questions by writing it on spec. My next movie will be a romantic comedy inspired by outrageous and hilarious stories. I think making genre movies is fantastic. I want to make wildly commercial movies that appeal to audiences so I see no limitations for a man or a woman. You just need to be a disciplined and great artist. We are in the entertainment business we gotta make them laugh and cry.
Stop-Loss is out on DVD today.
More info: Stop-Loss