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Cosmopolitan Man: An Interview with Director Whit Stillman

Champs-Elysee Film Festival poster 2014

Whit Stillman likes Paris. And the feeling seems to be mutual. After all, why not? The American director relocated to the city in 1998 and lived there for twelve years. And this coming week will mark a triumphant return for Stillman, as the Champs-Élysées Film Festival, which runs from June 11-17, pays tribute to his work with screenings of Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco and Damsels in Distress, ahead of the theatrical re-release of Metropolitan, which will open in French cinemas on July 2nd. Stillman will also present a master class during the festival.

Originally released in 1990, Metropolitan deals with the lives of a group of upper class college students (dubbed the “urban haute bourgeoisie” by one character), home for winter break during debutante ball season. Metropolitan earned Stillman an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay and he won the 1990 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best New Director. 
 
His follow up film Barcelona (1994) was also well received, and solidified his reputation as a director. Set in the last days of the cold war, it chronicles the exploits of two American cousins in the Spanish city as they ruminate philosophically about life, politics, and their search for everlasting love.
 
Stillman's third feature, The Last Days of Disco (1998) follows two young women, recent college graduates working as editors in Manhattan, who also search for meaningful relationships while frequenting the local disco scene in the late 1970s. The film proved to be a break-out movie for actress Chloe Sevigny, and in 2000 Stillman published a novelization of the film, The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards.
 
After taking an extended hiatus from feature filmmaking, Stillman directed Damsels in Distress, released in 2011. Set at an American east coast university, it tells the story of a group of female co-eds and the recently arrived transfer student they embrace into their fold. The film was met with mixed reviews, and while some Stillman fans loved it, others found that it wasn't their cup of tea.
 
Then earlier this year, to the delight of many Stillman aficionados, the director and Sevigny reunited for his most recent project, The Cosmopolitans, a television pilot for Amazon Productions, which will allegedly debut at the end of June, or sometime thereabouts. Adam Brody, who appeared in Damsels in Distress co-stars. But right now, the director is busy getting ready to start filming his latest feature Love and Friendship, an adaptation of the early Jane Austen novel Lady Susan. The production is scheduled to begin principal photography in Ireland this autumn.
 
I spoke to Stillman recently and talked to him about The Cosmopolitans and Love and Friendship.
 
RB: Can you tell me about The Cosmopolitans because there's been a lot of internet buzz lately about this on your fan sites. It's about American expats in Paris?
 
WS: Yes. It's expatriates in Paris, not just Americans.
 
RB: How many episodes have you shot?
 
WS: We've just done the pilot.
 
RB: And if people like it, they get to vote on it?
 
WS: That's it. I'd love for people to support it and vote for it. Because then we'll get to make more.
 
RB: Then you'd get to do a whole series, a whole season?
 
WS: If it gets the green light, we'd get to make a series of 10 episodes.
 
RB: Tell me about the upcoming retrospective of your films at the Champs-Élysées Film Festival.
 
WS: Yes, I'm going to Paris to show the films at the Champs-Élysées Film Festival. They're doing a big night on Wednesday [June 11], showing Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco. I'm going to be there, and they're also showing Damsels in Distress on Friday the 13th and Monday the 16th. And then Metropolitan is being re-released in France starting July 2nd. 
 
RB: Is it going to be the same as the original theatrical release? Have you added any scenes?
 
WS: No, no, it's the same.
 
RB: I've noticed over the years that if someone has one of your films, they've got all of your films. If someone's got Metropolitan, they've got Barcelona. And Last Days of Disco
 
WS: Damsels got beat up quite a bit by some people who liked the other films. I really like Damsels. And I think a lot of other people are getting to like Damsels. But it's had a harder time.
 
RB: Do you think there's a common element in your movies that people respond to?
 
WS: Yeah, I think there are a lot of common elements. I think the one that is a little bit different is Damsels in Distress. The Cosmopolitans is more like the other films.
 
RB: You're going to be filming your next feature Love and Friendship in Ireland in the fall. Have you got it all cast?
 
WS: No. We have the leads [Sienna Miller and Chloe Sevigny] and we want to keep some parts open.
 
RB: And you're going to do all the principal photography in Ireland?
 
WS: Yeah.
 
RB: Have you got the locations scouted?
 
WS: Yes. Beautiful locations.
 
RB: Great. Well, good luck with that and The Cosmopolitans. And thanks for your time.
 

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