In 85 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (responsible for organizing and giving out the Oscars) has awarded only one woman with the title of Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow, who won in 2009 for her work on The Hurt Locker, accepted the award and pronounced: “There’s no other way to describe it, it’s the moment of a lifetime.” Although Bigelow’s excitement was undoubtedly due to the fact that she had won an Oscar, a once in a lifetime opportunity in general, one can’t help but attach additional meaning to her words. As Barbra Streisand, who presented the award, mentioned: “The winner could be, for the first time, a woman.” Yes it was.
The lack of women directors in the film industry is striking. Not only has their work not been recognized, but film subjects are very rarely based on women alone. Christina Voros, whose new documentary, The Director, takes a behind-the-scenes look at Frida Giannini's work as Gucci's creative director, attempts to destroy boundaries that women as directors, and subjects, are facing. The documentary, directed and starred in by a woman, is undoubtedly reminiscent of Bigelow’s Oscar speech. Could Voros be at the outset of a culture-changing career, like Bigelow was a few years back?
Here, we speak to the director about her project, working within the realms of fashion, and dealing with James Franco as a producer.
Gotham: How did the documentary come about?
Christina Voros: Sort of fortuitously. I was getting ready to shoot the first feature I shot for James [Franco, The Director's producer]. He had just flown in from Rome where he attended screening of a restored print of La Dolce Vita that Frida and Gucci helped support. He showed up on the first day of shooting and was like, "We need to do a movie on Frida." I grew up against a backdrop in fashion and memories of going to the garment district to run errands and buy buttons. Based on my background, it just sort of seemed like the right combination of things. And so that's where the idea came from.
Gotham: You’ve worked with James Franco in the past. How was it this time?
CV: Every time is different. The one thing that is consistent is that James is very good at constantly pushing you to do things you haven’t done before. And he’s a tremendous collaborator in everything, something I don’t think he gets quite enough credit for. He’s got all these different things going and behind every one of those projects are like five other people who are having an opportunity to create that thing, too. He really allowed me to become a director and a producer.
G: The documentary is about fashion. Do you find commonalities between your industry and the one you are portraying?
CV: Fashion and filmmaking have a lot in common. And in some ways, that was the choice of the title. When you hear “The Director,” you assume it means of the film. Whereas what Frida does… She really is the director of a brand as opposed to a movie. Between fashion and documentary, there is a similarity in that you never completely know what’s going to happen.
Gucci is so polished, they have it down. They do these shows four to five times a year, and it’s almost scientific how precise everything is. But within that, things can go wrong–it’s like a series of potential for a miniature disaster at any moment. And that’s similar to documentary.
Film and fashion are both creating this dream world, and part of the dream world is believe that. Focusing your attention on one specific thing so that you’re not looking at the man behind the curtain. It seems perfect. It’s the illusion of something perfect when in reality it’s a very specific series of choices made to create that illusion.
G: What surprised you while shooting? Did you learn anything new about fashion?
CV: I don’t think I ever realized just how much is involved. There really are so many hands and minds that have touched each of those objects before [they get] to us in the store. Even though I came from a background of fashion myself and I grew up around designers, I don’t think I ever really put into perspective what that really means with a luxury brand.
G: What was your relationship like with your subject, Frida?
CV: It was great. Frida is very private. I think she was a little uncertain, not about me, but about the idea of this in the beginning. The greatest compliment to me is when somebody doesn’t notice I’m there. I think about six months into the process that started to happen. One of the things I love most about her is that she is who she is in the movie. I’m not cutting around anything to make Frida look more or less something than what’s there. She’s a very genuine, very warm, very funny, very sort of brassy, smart human being.
G: Do you think she’ll be more open about her personal life after this?
CV: I don’t think the film is going to change anything about her. She’s certainly not a person who seeks out attention and the limelight. Because of her love for the work, she wanted an audience to understand what goes into it. But it wasn’t self-serving or about putting herself out there.
G: What do you think makes Gucci the powerhouse it is?
CV: For someone who just did a movie on fashion, I don’t consider myself a fashionista in terms of staying up to do on who’s doing what when. I know that I’ve always been aware of Gucci. There is something about it that has sort of a timeless, modern cool. I will say that Frida does a remarkable job of paying attention and acknowledging the history that the brand comes from and the responsibility that she has to that, without being chained to it.
G: How was shooting in Italy?
CV: Such a hospitable culture. As Americans we’re underwhelming when it comes to our appreciation for hospitality, especially with New Yorkers. If I could move to Rome tomorrow, I would. It’s my favorite city in the world.