Hello Jennifer DeLia. Thanks for allowing us to interview you. Mary Pickford, the legend, helped start United Artists Corporation. You wrote and directed her biography Why Not Chose Love: A Mary Pickford Manifesto. What was the inspiration to pursuit this project?
I discovered her story in an art exhibit, accidentally. I wandered into an art exhibit in Toronto (Ontario, Canada), where she is from. I was working on my last movie and had a meeting in a building where there was an exhibition about her and I had five minutes to kill. I had no idea who she was. I just went in there and had this visceral reaction to seeing her story and feeling almost guilty that I didn’t know who she was. But also, felt a kindred spirit, a connection, and a role model. I just knew I had to follow down that rabbit hole and dig deeper to discover.
Don’t you feel that it is sad that women are still such an underrepresented group that you had to find her in Toronto? She helped found United Artists (in Los Angeles, California).
There is sadness there, for sure! But, it is also like discovering a treasure and sometimes timing is everything. So, if you release the story at the wrong time it is not received in a way. I feel like the collective is really ready to let the mother be unveiled. I don’t stay in the sadness.
That is important and this film will be important for this time when women’s issues are at the forefront, for example, the ‘Me Too’ movement. As a female director at a time when female directors are so underrepresented in Hollywood, do you feel a burden to carry such a big load of such an important person to Hollywood history?
I don’t take it on as a burden. I take it on as an honor. Of course, I want to do the movie justice and I feel a responsibility; but, I put that pressure on myself anyway. It is natural for me and I feel so blessed truly to have walked into that energy and to be able to do this film in an artful way with soul.
That is important, really important. What would you like the audience here today to take away from the film? What would you want to highlight?
I want to highlight the fun of storytelling. I want people to not feel so burdened by trying to translate stories for the masses to please everybody and lose their voice and identity in the process. I want creators to honor their vision and to realize it is an adventure and you are not going to make everybody happy but you will touch people more deeply if you stay in your truth. This has been a great adventure.
And could you explain the process of condensing someone’s life into a film. How do you decide what to focus on?
It is a very, very layered process and one is constantly peeling each layer back like an onion. You ask yourself. “What is the heartbeat? What is the message?” And anything that does not serve that can just go. You can read about Mary Pickford in a library or watch a documentary or google her. But, I wanted to capture the essence of her as a human being more than put her on a pedestal as pioneer. I was humanizing the icon and deconstructing fame in a way. I was getting to her humanity. I felt what served that message for me and I chose those moments.
Was there anything particularly challenging with this film as opposed to other films you have directed?
There was definitely more bureaucracy because of historians, family, the estate, and unions. Because we were trying to do it independently, there are investors and the budget. It was challenging. I was also learning the resistance to a female driven story like this. I really was naïve. It motivated me more; so, I don’t see it as a negative. But, I really observed that just because the film was about Mary Pickford did not mean that everybody was going to step up.
Referring back to your kindred spirit comment, is your and her kindred spirit still alive in the film despite all the bureaucracy?
Absolutely! That is where all the challenges came in. Staying on my own two feet and connecting with her. Not selling my soul, so to speak. We let our patience come through and let the film come out when it was meant to.
Could you give us examples of specific challenges?
A challenge was having investors that say yes and sign things and then don’t deliver. I was learning about my own judgement of character because, as they say, “it takes two to tango.” That was always hard, disappointing, and heartbreaking. There was the union and learning how to deal with it. I was learning what is good about the union. It is really, really hard to have an art form that is treated as a machine. We went from being nonunion to union, so I had to deal with the bureaucracy of that.
What union is this?
(audible laughter) Well we dealt with all of them. I think the hardest one for us was IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). I am okay to say that because we got to a good place. I learned what they are about and respect their role. But, they challenged me. They challenged me a lot.
And who would you say were your biggest supporters for this film?
My producers were one of my biggest supporters, not just in the producorial sense, but with their emotional and moral support. They really allowed me to have my creative process and did not get in the way of that at all. They were very thoughtful in their approach with me during this process. That was vital, really vital!
Friends and people that let me crash on their couch, the list of support just goes on and on and on!
And is there anything about the movie that you would like to share that you are not asked about?
I think that Mary Pickford really wanted to be known as an artist more than as a fierce businesswoman. So, the fact that I did this as an art film is not only because I am an artist. I am an artist and we have that in common. It is very clear in her memoire that her negotiations and her ability to understand her relationship to money and actually earn more than her male counterparts one hundred years ago was because of her drive to preserve creative integrity and to allow artists to freely express. She felt she was negotiating for artists more for than just the money. That was really empowering to me and it pushed me to push the medium because she was doing that. I think that can be missed sometimes because people think it is art just for art’s sake but it is really her essence.
I think a lot of Los Angeles artists would be able to relate to seeking that balance between business and creating. Thank You Jennifer DeLia!