Gillian Robespierre

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Gillian Robespierre

CEFF’s version of the Proust questionnaire

1. What is your favorite movie theater and why?
Angelika, which is in Manhattan. The theater is falling apart and sometimes you can hear the subway rattle into the station below. But it’s the theater I went to in my youth to see independent movies, from Jim Jarmusch to Parker Posey’s Party Girl. And it is beyond dreamy that Obvious Child will be screening at Angelika in June.

2. Your favorite movie rant.
It’s not a rant but I love when Gena Rowland’s character Mabel in A Woman Under the Influence is on the street asking passerby’s for the time because she’s waiting for her children’s school bus to arrive. She is wearing a chunky blue sweater and a very short skirt. It’s devastating because no one will give her the time, and people just pass her off as a deranged lunatic or worse invisible. The scene is so simple and devastating and explores on so many themes at once.

3. The death scene you will never forget.
Heathers. When Winona Ryder and Christian Slater serve Heather #1 a liquid Slater’s character claims is a hangover cure but is actually drain cleaner, and Heather falls through a glass table muttering the line “corn nuts!”

4. The first movie poster that you hung on your walls.
I think it was The Muppets Take Manhattan. A theater was going out of business and giving away posters. I was maybe 10 years old, so I took the Muppet poster.

5. What movie character do you identify with the most?
Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude.

6. Which look to camera struck you the most?
Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.

7. What movie made you travel the most?
My own. Taking Obvious Child on the road has been a whirlwind for me because I’m a City kid who rarely leaves a 5-block radius and I have been doing press all over the United States going to places I’ve never been before. Exotic places like Phoenix and Dallas, Texas.

8. If you had to live in a film, you would choose…
I’m going to skip this one.

9. The movie that scared you the most.
As a child I was afraid of E.T. As an adult I was haunted by and love Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.

10. The movie that made you laugh the most.
Blazing Saddles by Mel Brooks.

Portrait of Gillian Robespierre

Gillian Robespierre was born and raised in New York City. She fell into movies from an early age, with her father acting as her impromptu film history teacher. “My formative years were a steady diet of Mel Brooks movies and comedy records. My dad taped every movie that ever aired on HBO because he didn’t think the channel would last”, she explains smiling. In high school she was part of a group of “very cool dudes who liked to make horror films on the weekends”. Constantly relegated to the role of the girl who gets killed, with no lines and too shy to participate in the scriptwriting process, Robespierre remembers laying covered in fake blood observing the mayhem around her and thinking “I could do this better”. “That was the first time I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker and tell my own stories.“

Robespierre went on to attend the School of Visual Arts, where she felt more comfortable with the theoretical classes than with the practical ones. “I loved all my film history classes and was excited when we had to write papers. […] Writing a paper on John Cassavetes was a relief from all the technical classes.” After graduation she worked for the Directors Guild Of America for seven years. She describes the boring desk job as a catalyst to use her brain in other ways. She proceeded to work on her own projects on nights and during weekends. Before her first feature-length, Robespierre directed several shorts, including Chunk in 2006 and Obvious Child in 2009, a first attempt to approach her subject through the form of a short. The feature film of the same title that followed, starring Jenny Slate, tells the story of a young stand-up comedian who ends up pregnant after a casual night with a charming stranger. Although the pitch reads like heavy drama, Robespierre decided to approach it as a comedy. She felt the need to show that a young woman could come out of an abortion and still be fine.

The inspiration behind Obvious Child, both the short and later the feature came from the frustration of the director and her friends towards the limited representations of young women’s experience with pregnancy. “We were waiting to see a more honest film, or at least, a story that was closer to many of the stories we knew. We weren’t sure how long that wait was going to be, so we decided to tell the story ourselves.” The short film, also starring Jenny Slate, gained traction in festivals and then on the internet, igniting conversations. “That truly encouraged and inspired me to expand to feature-length, to share this film and these conversations with even more people.”

Today Gillian Robespierre is looking forward to a very long nap once her press tour is over. She then intends to start writing her next feature, for which she will be teaming up with the producer and story collaborator Elisabeth Holm. As of now the project is called Untitled Divorce Comedy”.


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