KELLY REICHARDT speaks to Carlie Newman about her new film Certain Women

Sitting quietly in the hotel room, it is hard to believe that Kelly Reichardt is responsible not just for directing the film CERTAIN WOMEN but also for writing and editing it.

I was interested to know how she had approached the making of the film, given that it is based on two short story collections of Maiele Meloy. What came first, I wondered, the setting or the characters or the story. Kelly Reichardt replied that she loved the characters in Meloy’s stories. They are very much tied into the environment. She knew that she would do the Rancher story and wanted to build on that. Also knew she would do the first story, but it was the middle story that brought things together and made it work as a whole.

Kelly added that she didn’t want to do just one story. Looking at the Rancher story, she could have made a feature of feeding the horses. It’s hard to feed 24 horses in that climate, isolating and backbreaking, but the beauty of the place overwhelms and cancels the roughness of the chores. The challenge was to not let the majesty of Montana take over – it is in fact brutal and cold there. She explained that there wasn’t really one story to expand. Kelly wished to use ideas of the west and play with contemporary times. She wanted to bring out threads of old westerns and let the ideas come through. There is emotion in the Rancher story but Kelly didn’t want just that; she wanted the women to work off each other, and that would be more interesting. She admitted that the film was a somewhat isolated project as she was doing it on my own.

There was no overarching message and no carefully thought-out connections. She didn’t want to sum it up in the making or now. The location connects and the sound of trains shows connection with other places.

Asked about who inspired her, Kelly answered that she grew up in Miami – a cultural void – and left and went to Boston. She loves Altman and thinks that the film Stranger Than Paradise gave her a licence to make a movie. Looking at the way of combining stories together, there are no real connections of a triptych working from anyone else.

I was interested in how she managed to keep to such a short running time given that she was responsible for writing, directing and editing. Who did she go to for advice as otherwise she was all alone. She told me that she was in a community of filmmakers. She is always able to go to Larry Fessenden and Todd Haynes, her Executive producers, who will watch a cut and give notes “as I will for them.” They also read scripts and give her their opinions. They have been watching films together for 20 years now. Kelly uses a number of people that she thinks are smart and friends with whom she has been sharing work with for a long time.

Kelly spoke about the lines that Laura Dern uses to vent her opinion that “it would be so restful if I were a man” meaning she would have been listened to. Keely likes that expression. The director spoke about the ‘silence’ of her film with so much being left unsaid. She took time to explain that it is not silence as there is a lot of sound design going on: a train passing through, which gives the idea of distance. She has used the train like another would use a score. Also the radio in the background, she added. Livingstone is a very windy place and, depending on where you are, the wind makes different sounds – in a barn, in an alley way. It’s near a highway so you have highway traffic too, with trucks going along. There are winter birds …lots of sounds! Dialogue is just one of the tools in the box containing all the sounds. How you move someone into a frame or the cut, there are lots of different ways to get something across other than someone just coming out and saying, “If I were a man.”

I commented on the lovely guitar solo at the end over the credits. Kelly was pleased and said it was written especially for the film and she’d pass on my praise to the musician.

Asked about Michelle Williams, Keely remarked how she enjoys working with her as they have worked together a lot before. She is easy to work with as Kelly has a short cut way of communicating.

Interesting to talk to, Kelly Reichardt has given us a very special film which deserves to be seen by anyone interested in good films.

Read Close-up Films review of Certain Women.