Sundance Features

January 20, 2007

Zoe Cassavetes, Broken English

"Everyone feels ashamed, hopeful, ambitious to some level, so even though it has the glamour of New York, people everywhere will get it."

(L-R) Gena Rowlands and Parker Posey in Zoe Cassavetes' Broken English

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

Just for the record, can you give me a little background on what Broken English is about?

Broken English is a story about a woman's loneliness and her quest to overcome it. It's about how other people's expectations on what you should be and comparing yourself to other people's lives can drive you to desperation. It's got overtones of a romantic comedy, but it's really a story of self-exploration.

Obviously, every filmmaker's work is personal to some degree, but how much did your own life influence the characters, events and themes in this film?

I used pieces of my own life, certain experiences... I was finding (I was single when I wrote this) that people were always trying to judge how well I was doing in my life by whether I was with someone. And I started talking to my friends about it and it seemed that they felt the same way. Society is really geared towards wanting you to get married, have kids, be "secure" no matter how far we've come. But everyone is also interested in finding love, so it's a double-edged sword.

How about New York itself? Could Nora or her story as you imagined them have occurred this way somewhere else, or is New York a direct influence on either/or/both?

I think this is a universal story. I live in New York, so it was kind of natural that I would set it here. But I think the themes are universal and even though this my be set in a more urban setting, people are more alike than we think. Everyone feels ashamed, hopeful, ambitious to some level, so even though it has the glamour of New York, people everywhere will get it.

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Pretty much everyone in your family acts and/or directs. In what ways, if any, did you rely on their insights and counsel throughout your work on this film?

It was great to have my mother in the film, and also get to talk to her about the script and the concept of the movie before we started. She's such an amazing actress and a huge talent that I was happy to have her insight, even if it was about very small detail sometimes. My sister, who is a filmmaker and also my best friend, was there all the way through; she's incredibly talented and honest, so I could always bounce things off her when I needed to. We were always encouraged to be creative in our household, and I think with my father's influence, to be as honest as possible. And always to have fun.

You are 2-for-2 in your films going to Sundance, but now you're going with a feature. How do the expectations/apprehensions/nerves change when in competition and on the market?

I try not to project too much on what's going to happen in Sundance. I'm working until the last minute to finish it, so I'm more apprehensive about that! But we'll be done and I'll pack and get on that plane. I'm so honored to go and get to share the film with all these people who love and appreciate film. I'm really proud of the film and everyone who worked with me on it, so to get to share that with them is great too. I'll probably be flop-sweating at our first screening, but I'll just have a glass of wine after and stop the shaking and have a great time. I think this seems like a great competition and I know so many people who are going with what seem like fantastic and personal films, which I'm really looking forward to seeing. So it's nice that we can all be there to support each other.

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