Josephine Decker: the films, books and people that influenced me

As her first two features begin a special tour of the UK, New York indie filmmaker Josephine Decker explains some of the diverse inspirations that fed into her uniquely beautiful and unsettling work.

Josephine Decker
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Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (2014)

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (2014)

“I walked out of this film and thought: I AM THE BLACK SWAN. And then felt all weird and snake-like the whole subway ride home.” – Josephine Decker

It’s hard to say about influences because I almost never know what my influences are until after I make a movie. Usually, I’m most influenced by people I meet, music I’m listening to, books I’m reading. Rarely do I think about other films before I make a film.

I met an amazing veterinarian while visiting a cattle ranch in Canada as a potential location for Thou Wast Mild and Lovely. She was so tiny and so wonderfully quick. She was the one who said the line: “Horse – you just throw the semen in there like it’s a javelin, but a cow, a cow takes precision. A cow takes finesse.” It was a very different line when it came out of Jeremiah. 

Here are some film influences I realised after the fact:

Antichrist (2009)

Gave me the freedom to be really vicious. Women don’t have to be perfect, don’t have to be deified. Thank goodness someone is letting women be hypocrites…

Antichrist (2009)

Antichrist (2009)

Black Swan (2010)

What does it mean to become a character? I walked out of this film and thought: I AM THE BLACK SWAN. And then felt all weird and snake-like the whole subway ride home. I haven’t felt like that since I was six and wanted to become Catwoman…  A great portrayal of great female character can really allow you inside of her…

That film influenced Butter on the Latch and then, in a way, Mild and Lovely… I am happy with the ways we sort of allowed audience members to ‘become’ Sarah (well, and also a cow).

Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan (2010)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

is definitely influencing my NEXT movie. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a really strong influence in advance, but that’s partly a story thing. Both that story and my next film Movie No 1 take place inside of an unusual and futuristic and sort of messed up treatment.

Collaborator influences

I think sometimes the films that your collaborators are referencing while making your movie are as important as the films you yourself are referencing – because they are shaping the work itself.

Stellet Licht (2007)

This film wasn’t an influence for me – YET (I have to see it but want to see it on a big screen… somehow!) – but for my DP Ashley Connor. She talked about Stellet Licht (2007) the whole time we were making Mild and Lovely. She was like: farm film! She was like: weird framings at the dinner table! She was like: immersive grass experience!

Silent Light (2007)

Silent Light (2007)

Days of Heaven (1978)

When we started editing, my editor introduced me to Terrence Malick’s films. I actually hadn’t been following his work, but David Barker thought that the voiceover in Days of Heaven was a great possible entrance for Sarah’s character to take a larger role in our film. Voiceover that is at an angle to the film itself. 

Days of Heaven (1978)

Days of Heaven (1978)

Non-film influences

East of Eden is the best book ever written. If you haven’t read it, read it – now. And slowly, because you will be very sad when it’s over. I could barely pick up a book for a year after I finished because… it was too torturous… Nothing lived up.

Reading that inspired the short story that inspired Mild and Lovely. 

Balkan Camp is a real place, which is really haunting and really beautiful and really a gorgeous dance party. Go. There.

Sarah Small and I had worked together for ages before we made Butter – and my desire to work with her as actor was part of the inspiration for that film.

Joe Swanberg used to make movies for absolutely no money at ALL. I love that man. It’s so great to just MAKE shit… It teaches more than any other way. Thank God he got me off my ass and off the foolish thinking that you need a million dollars to make a film.

You need people, and that’s it. And, while I would still love to know I can pay my cast and crew, many people get on board when you are passionate and grateful and caring and trying something new. You can do a lot for very little.

Watch the trailer for the ‘Two Films by Josephine Decker’ tour

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