Alumna Only American Featured at 2011 Cannes Directors' Fortnight
Sheena Ghanbari | May 16, 2011
Alumna Liza Johnson
The Directors’ Fortnight committee chose 25 films, from a pool of 2,288, to show in this year’s screenings at the Cannes Film Festival. And the only American filmmaker selected in this exclusive group is artist and UC San Diego alumna Liza Johnson. Johnson’s “Return” is premiering at the prestigious Directors’ Fortnight May 12-22.
The Directors’ Fortnight is an independent section of the Cannes Film Festival and is distinguished for being eclectic, receptive and avant-garde. (It originated when the Cannes festival was canceled in 1968 to show solidarity wih striking workers.) The Fortnight has showcased the first films of George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola, among others.
Written and directed by Johnson, “Return” stars Linda Cardellini and Michael Shannon, along with John Slattery Talia Balsam, Paul Sparks, Louisa Krause, Rosie Benton and Emma Lyle. The protagonist, Kelli, played by Cardellini, is a soldier who returns home from duty. She is looking forward to coming back to the everyday and familiar but instead has trouble adjusting and feels misplaced in her environment. Kelli struggles with her family, workplace and relationships.
In Daily Variety, Fortnight artistic director Frédéric Boyer describes “Return” as “Taxi Driver” with a feminine twist. Both characters—Johnson’s Kelli and Travis Bickle, as famously portrayed by Robert De Niro—are veterans who experience isolation from society.
Other films that have influenced Johnson’s project are “Safe” and “A Woman under the Influence.” Johnson’s inspiration for the script is rooted in observations from a recent stay in her hometown in Southeastern Ohio and the dichotomy this presents to life in New York City. She also used Scioto County, Ohio as a backdrop for her previous film “In the Air.”
Johnson graduated with her Master of Fine Arts from the visual arts department at UC San Diego. She notes that the deliberately interdisciplinary nature of the program is its greatest strength. The crossover with communications and ethnic studies seminars helped to enrich her arts practice, she said. Another factor that pulled Johnson towards UC San Diego is the affordability of the MFA program.
Johnson is currently an associate professor of art at Williams College. Her work has been exhibited internationally in museums, galleries and film festivals, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Walker Art Center and the Centre Pompidou, as well as at the New York, Berlin and Rotterdam film festivals, among many others. She has been a fellow of the DAAD Berliner Kunstlerprogramm and the Sundance Institute and has published a number of articles and interviews about art and film.