On the Circuit
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies
Episode 4: Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig

Episode 4: Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig

Telluride Film Festival

Welcome back to A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies - Episode 4.

Lady Bird directed by Greta Gerwig, and the Telluride Film Festival

As with the previous films shared on this podcast, Lady Bird was a low budget indie, taking film festivals by storm, in this case, premiering at the top tier Telluride Film Festival.  The movie would help Gerwig transition comfortably to the filmmaker’s chair, launching a career that has continued to thrive, eventually leading to the Billion dollar Barbie juggernaut.

Here’s to hoping it does well at this week’s Oscar ceremony, even with the Academy snub. We’ll get to that later.  First, a little personal backstory.

Gerwig was born in Sacramento, California, and grew up in the River Park neighborhood. She is the daughter of Christine, an OB-GYN nurse, and Gordon Gerwig, who worked for a credit union on small business loans. She has a close relationship with her parents and they make an appearance in Frances Ha as her character's parents. She has a brother and a sister.

She has described herself as being an intense child, growing up, and did show an early interest in dance and graduated from Barnard College with a degree in English and philosophy. Outside of class, she performed in the Columbia University Varsity Show with her dorm-mate Kate McKinnon, who starred in Gerwig's Barbie.

Gerwig was initially interested in being a playwright but after getting rejected from MFA programs in playwriting, she instead focused primarily on acting. She made her film debut while still in college, with a small part in Joe Swanberg's mumblecore film LOL in 2006.  The film would premiere at SXSW.

Telluride Film Festival

First held on August 30, 1974, the Festival, hosted at the Sheridan Opera House, was founded by Bill and Stella Pence, Tom Luddy, and James Card of Eastman-Kodak Film Preserve. It is operated by the National Film Preserve.

“There are two kinds of film festival: there are the mega-hyped, hoopla-infested selling circuses, and there is Telluride. It is extraordinarily exciting, in this age of the triumph of capitalism, to discover an event dedicated not to commerce, but to love. And if that sounds old fashioned and starry-eyed, so be it. The cinema was always in the business of gazing at stars.” Salman Rushdie

The bulk of the program is made up of new films, and there is an informal tradition that new films must be shown for the first time in North America to be eligible for the festival. Telluride is situated on the international film festival calendar after the Cannes Film Festival, but just before the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. This insistence on premieres has led to Telluride's being associated with the discovery of a number of important new films and filmmakers like Michael Moore (whose first film Roger and Me debuted there in 1989) and Robert Rodriguez (whose first feature El Mariachi had its first festival screening there in 1992).

With a slate that is always announced the week of the actual event, the Festival has also hosted the American premiere of films such as My Dinner With Andre (Louis Malle, 1981), Stranger than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984), Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986), The Civil War (Ken Burns, 1990), The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992), Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001), and Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005). Just to name a few, prior to 2006.

Gerwig again teamed up with Joe Swanberg for Hannah Takes the Stairs in 2007. Described as, Love is playing the trumpet in the bath. Intern Hannah isn't sure she's found Mr Right, but she's sure ready to go looking. A bittersweet, bed-hopping indie comedy.

The film opened at SXSW and played more festivals before landing on DVD.

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In 2007, while Hannah Takes the Stairs was playing fests, Telluride showed The Bands Visit, which went onto Oscar glory, Into the Wild directed by Sean Penn, and I’m Not There by Todd Haynes.

In 2008, Gerwig would again partner with Swanberg. This time, co-writing and co-directing for Nights and Weekends, dubbed a mumblecore film.

If you haven’t heard that term before, Mumblecore is generally described as a subgenre of independent film, characterized by improvised and naturalistic acting, low budgets, and an emphasis on dialogue over plot.  And they’ve tended to focus on the personal relationships of young adults.

This was a tough shoot for Gerwig, who grappled with the complexities of nudity and intimacy on camera. About 3 minutes into the following clip, Gerwig comments on this challenge.

In Nights & Weekends, Mattie and James are in love. But too many mornings and too many miles apart have taken a toll on them. As they struggle with the distance between New York and Chicago, their visits become reminders of the difficulties, not the pleasures, of their relationship.

This time, Swanberg co-stars with Gerwig, and Gerwig co-directs with Swanberg, creating a film that resonates deeply and leaves scars that fade but can't heal.

The filmmakers returned to SXSW, and part of their Q&A was captured and can be found on YouTube, moderated by then Festival Director and current AppleTV guru Matt Dentler.

Gerwig Works with Baumbach

Greenberg would be next, in 2010, one of many projects she would collaborate on with her future husband Noah Baumbach.  

In the movie, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a failed musician now making a living as a carpenter in New York, returns to Los Angeles to house-sit for his brother (Chris Messina). He is stranded there, since he doesn't drive, until his brother's assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), comes to his rescue. She is as much a lost soul as he is, and as the pair begin spending more time together, they form a significant connection, giving Roger a much-needed reason to be happy.

The movie worked for critics but not for audiences. Both Greta and Noah’s wife, mother of their 5-yr old son, Jennifer Jason Leigh starred in the film.  Shortly after the release, Noah and Leigh were divorced.  

Telluride 2010

Over at Telluride 2010, a film that would become one of Gerwig’s favorite films was having its premiere.  Another Year by Mike Leigh would later be nominated by the Academy in the Best Original Screenplay category.

Leigh’s Another Year, also a favorite of Ari Aster’s, and tells the story of a middle-aged couple across a year in their life. In a 2013 interview to promote Frances Ha, Gerwig said she loved the film, and named it as an influence while she and Baumbach were writing the script for their movie. 

“I love that movie; it’s great, it’s the best. The way it’s divided up into seasons – that’s what kind of gave us the inspiration to demarcate the movie into parts from where she lived,” Gerwig said. “I really like in the movie the way there was elapsed time. You’d kind of be figuring out what happened in between these two sections. I just thought it was an amazing movie and I really loved it.” Greta Gerwig

Yes, in 2012, Gerwig and Baumbach woud join forces again to write Frances Ha  together for which she received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actress, in the Comedy or Musical category. 

The movie would Premiere at Telluride, before being released by IFC.

A few years later, in 2015, the Telluride program was created by founder and artistic director Tom Luddy, executive director Julie Huntsinger and one of the Telluride Film Festival guest directors, who change each year. These guests would eventually include Errol Morris, Peter Bogdanovich, Bertrand Tavernier, Salman Rushdie, Don DeLillo, Peter Sellars, Stephen Sondheim, Buck Henry, and Michael Ondaatje.

In 2015 Gerwig and Baumbach would partner once again for Mistress America,  which they co-wrote, with Baumbach once again directing Gerwig in one of the leading roles.

In Mistress America, Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a lonely college freshman in New York, having neither the exciting university experience nor the glamorous metropolitan lifestyle she envisioned. But when she is taken in by her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), a resident of Times Square and adventurous gal about town, she is rescued from her disappointment and seduced by Brooke's alluringly mad schemes.

The film would be acquired by Fox Searchlight just ahead of its world premiere at Sundance.

It’s Time to Direct

Gerwig had continued to act during this period,  in such films as Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress (2011), Woody Allen's To Rome with Love (2012), and  Rebecca Miller's Maggie's Plan (2015), but she was really heading for the director’s chair.  She knew this was coming, but wanted to have as much experience as possible, being part of the film process on the other side of the camera, and also as a writer.  Though she is credited as a co-director for Nights and Weekends, Lady Bird would be her first solo effort.  And she was ready.

Gerwig spent years writing the screenplay for Lady Bird. At one point, it was over 350 pages long and had the working title Mothers and Daughters. In 2015, Gerwig and her team secured financing from IAC Films, who produced the film alongside Scott Rudin Productions. Gerwig's manager, Evelyn O'Neill, also served as a producer.

Although the film has been described as "semi-autobiographical", Gerwig has said that nothing in the movie literally happened in her life, but it has a core of truth that resonates with what she knew.

To prepare the cast and crew, Gerwig gave them her old high-school yearbooks, photos, and journals, as well as passages written by Joan Didion, and she took them on a tour of her hometown in Sacramento. She told Sam Levy, the director of photography on the film, that she wanted it to feel "like a memory, and said that she wanted to offer a female counterpart to tales like The 400 Blows and Boyhood."[11]

To put the cast and crew at ease by knowing exactly how the day would run, Gerwig, using a technique she learned from filmmaker Rebecca Miller, arrived an hour before everyone else, planning the day. And she banned the use of cell phones on the set, which was a policy she borrowed from her partner, filmmaker Noah Baumbach.

The dynamic between the mother daughter was intense…and obviously that was intentional:

Filming began in Sacramento, California on August 30, 2016, for one week. Five weeks were spent on location in Los Angeles, with additional shooting in New York City, and filming wrapped on October 1, 2016.

Telluride Celebrates 44th With Lady Bird

In 2017, the 44th would be a big year for Telluride ff.  As had become the norm, the Festival would be full of amazing titles, but it’s worth noting that this was the year Chloe Zhau burst onto the scene with The Rider, fresh from its award winning performance at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes.  Of course, her next film Nomadland would win Best Picture, and propel her into the Marvel Cinema Universe, where she would go on to direct Eternals, and though panned by most critics, the film grossed over 400 million worldwide.

Another big title at Telluride that year was The Shape of Water, which would go on to win hundreds of awards with festivals (including the Golden Lion in Venice) and be nominated for 13 Academy Awards and win Best Picture and Director.

The big “discovery” was Greta Gerwig, and Lady Bird.  The film was a hit in Telluride and then received a standing ovation at its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival,and was praised and Gerwig's direction.

It  was theatrically released in November 2017. The film grossed over $78 million against its $10 million budget worldwide. Lady Bird received critical acclaim, with reviewers particularly lauding Gerwig's screenplay and direction. The film was chosen by the National Board of Review, the American Film Institute, and Time magazine as one of the top ten films of 2017. According to the review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, it was given 196 positive reviews in a row, making it the record-holder for the most "fresh" reviews, until the first "rotten" one arrived in December 2017.

At the 75th Golden Globe Awards, Lady Bird won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Musical or Comedy for Saoirse Ronan, and also received nominations for Best Supporting Actress for Laurie Metcalf and Best Screenplay for Gerwig. At the 90th Academy Awards, it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Gerwig, Best Actress for Ronan, and Best Supporting Actress for Metcalf. With the nominations announced, Gerwig became the fifth woman in Oscar history to be nominated for Best Director. When she found out about the nominations, Gerwig said she was "in various states of laughing and crying and yelling with joy."

Little Women

On the heels of her success with Lady Bird, Gerwig turned to childhood favorite, Little Women.

In August 2016, Gerwig was hired to write the screenplay. In June 2018, Gerwig was announced as the film's director and screenwriter. She had heard about Sony's plans to adapt the book in 2015 and urged her agent to get her in touch with the studio, conceding that while she "was not on anybody's list to direct this film", it was something she aspired to do, saying how the book had inspired her to become a writer and director.

The film was a hit, commercially and critically in 2019, and Gerwig and Baumbach became the first couple to compete at the Academy Awards in the same category, and they both earned six nods for their individual films. They faced off for Little Women and Marriage Story, respectively, in three categories: Best Picture, Lead Actress and Supporting Actress. Little Women won Best Achievement in Costume Design, while Marriage Story’s Laura Dern took home the trophy for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.

The Barbie Juggernaut

After Barbie bounced from Universal in 2009 to Sony in 2014 and finally WB in 2018, Greta Gerwig was announced as director and co-writer with Baumbach in 2020. 

Barbie premiered at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on July 9, 2023, and was released in the United States on July 21. Its simultaneous release with Universal's Oppenheimer led to the Barbenheimer cultural phenomenon, which encouraged audiences to see both films as a double feature. The film has grossed over $1.446 billion dollars.

A few months later, Telluride celebrated its 50th anniversary, with an extraordinary slate, which included:

• ALL OF US STRANGERS (d. Andrew Haigh, U.K., 2023)

• AMERICAN SYMPHONY (d. Matthew Heineman, U.S., 2023)

• ANATOMY OF A FALL (d. Justine Triet, France, 2023)

• ANSELM (d. Wim Wenders, Germany, 2023)

• BEYOND UTOPIA (d. Madeleine Gavin, U.S., 2023)

• THE BIKERIDERS (d. Jeff Nichols, U.S., 2023)

• THE HOLDOVERS (d. Alexander Payne, U.S., 2023)

• NYAD (d. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, U.S., 2023)

• PERFECT DAYS (d. Wim Wenders, Japan, 2023)

• THE PIGEON TUNNEL (d. Errol Morris, U.K., 2023)

• POOR THINGS (d. Yorgos Lanthimos, U.S.-Ireland-U.K., 2023)

• SALTBURN (d. Emerald Fennell, U.S., 2023)

• THE ZONE OF INTEREST (d. Jonathan Glazer, U.S.-U.K.-Poland, 2023)

Just for good measure, the past guests curated its Guest Director progam and included,  All That Jazz (d. Bob Fosse, U.S., 1979), elected and presented by Ethan Hawke. This one of Gerwig’s favorites.

Later in 2023, after the Barbenheimer phenomenon was largely credited with bringing audiences back to theaters in a significant way, it was time for awards consideration.  With 168 wins and over 450 nominations around the world, what would the Academy do?

Not enough.  Barbie did score 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, the industry at large was quite surprised to learn the film’s director did not earn a nomination for Best Director.

In a statement, Ryan Gosling said,

"There is no Barbie movie without Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, the two people most responsible for this history-making, globally-celebrated film."

Yes, the Academy blew that one, but hey, life will go on for Greta Gerwig.

She’s been hired by Netflix to write and direct two film adaptations of C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia book series. 

And Gerwig's talent agent, Jeremy Barber, said that she was "looking to move beyond the small-scale dramas she was known for," and that her ambition was to be a "big studio director."

Well, mission accomplished.  And more great things to come from the multi-talented Greta Gerwig.

And that’s a wrap for this edition of A History of Film Festivals In 100 Movies - Episode 4: Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig, and the Telluride Film Festival.

Greta Gerwig’s Favorite Movies

Thanks to IndieWire, here are the 30 Films the Director Wants You to See.





Telluride Film Festival

Entertainment Weekly
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Music from Lady Bird (used in podcast intro/outro)
Composer - Jon Brion and Lakeshore Records.


On the Circuit
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies will share the backgrounds, the stories and the filmmakers that have influenced the fest circuit and the business of movies. Covering the films and players that helped shape the landscape, the podcast will include the backstories, quotes, box office totals and career trajectories for the filmmakers that helped define this industry.