Ivy Film Festival (IFF), the largest student-run film festival in the world, kicked off their week of programming on Tuesday with a casual conversation with Jodie Foster in the Martinos Auditorium in Granoff. Moderated by IFF Managing Director Oakley Friedberg ‘17, the conversation was centered around Foster’s forays into directing, most recently with Money Monster, a Wall Street thriller starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts coming out in May.
Foster has carved out a unique identity for herself, defying expectations of what it means to be a female leader, despite spending her whole life in an overwhelmingly conformist industry. She began her career at the age of three as an actress, appearing in an ad for Coppertone. Her entry into the entertainment world was full-force.
“I grew up doing an adult’s job as a kid,” she said.
After a series of television appearances, she rose to prominence after a lauded turn in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver alongside Robert de Niro, who will be speaking at Brown on Thursday. De Niro took her under his wing, taking her to coffeeshops and running lines while he remained completely in character.
“It was so boring,” she said. “But I realized he was teaching me how to improvise. He taught me more than Scorsese at that time. He taught me how to build a character. No one had bothered to teach me that before. They just told me to be natural.”
Foster entered Yale University as a literature major (the school did not have a film major at that time), and she expressed extreme gratefulness for her liberal arts education. “It was a time when I saw myself as a different identity, a wider identity,” she said. Seeing herself as as more than a member of the entertainment industry was “literally a lifesaver” for her, she said, “because we all know the casualties.” Instead of a traditional film school education, she talked of her cheap version of film school: “Go see movies and talk about what’s wrong with them.”
“It doesn’t mean your idea is better–it just means it’s more you,” she explained.
Following an illustrious career as an actor, Foster decided it was time to take the reins behind the camera. She conceptualized her first three films, Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays and The Beaver, as a sort of thematic trilogy, exploring young stardom, a search for self and middle-aged ennui. Her films are personal, even if they don’t seem that way on the surface.
“Invest your life story and it works its way into the narrative,” she said.
Money Monster, which has been in production for two years and still has “a week’s worth of mixing left to do,” is Foster’s first mainstream Hollywood film. “We’ll see if I do one of those again,” she added.
In terms of the lack of diversity in the directing industry, Foster said that “there aren’t a bunch of white men in a room twiddling their mustaches trying to keep us out.” Instead, Foster explained the lack of diverse representation in film with an economic outlook, arguing that studios just look at the bottom line, and view movies centered on women and people of color as “risks.”
“Why is it that we view women and minorities as risks?” she asked, urging the audience to look deeper in order to reconfigure power dynamics within Hollywood. According to Foster, attempts to achieve industry diversity by “coloring things up” is not the most comprehensive or effective approach. “You can’t just cure a disease by putting makeup on it,” she said. “You have to get to the root.”
Foster did express hope for women in film, noting that there were women in almost every aspect of filmmaking now, which was not true “even 10 years ago.” However, she was quick to point out that there is still a dearth of female directors. She then described her experience butting up against gendered assumptions of her competence and behavior as a director.
“It’s difficult for people to figure out how to handle me,” she said, explaining that she did not adhere to people’s expectations of her as a passive or impressionable director. Instead, she’s a woman not afraid to speak her mind, routinely telling people she works with, “I’m not going to do that.”
“Women are just a different kind of leader because of how we were raised,” she said, positing that gender differences in leadership styles can be wholly chocked up to “pure gender psychology.” She was “raised to be straightforward.”
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