Sundance 2011: Miranda July Steps Into The Future



On Friday night, performance artist, writer, and filmmaker Miranda July premiered her second feature at Sundance. The Future is whimsical at times (it’s narrated by a cat called Paw Paw), and brutally honest in its attention to the awkward and uncomfortable details of contemporary life, illuminating July’s singular way of being intimate and inclusive as well as aloof and alienating at the same time. At the Q&A following the film, acknowledging the 1,200-seat-capacity theater, July addressed the audience, “I’ve been carrying you around—all of you—since November. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all already incredibly close.” We had the pleasure of talking with July at the cocktail reception following the screening.

DEENAH VOLLMER: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with Sundance, over the years and in general?

MIRANDA JULY: So I submitted my first movie, Me and You and Everyone We Know, to the lab, got rejected a bunch of times, but kept at it. Finally I got in and went to the screenwriters’ lab and the directors’ lab, and it was pretty life-changing for me. It was a whole bunch of very serious filmmakers telling me I should take myself and the script very seriously. I think you kind of internalize that, a certain diligence in terms of the writing. The second movie didn’t get to go to the lab, because you only get to go once, but I was very determined for it to premiere at this festival—it means a lot to me. It’s also premiering in Berlin, so it’s a nice thing that they agreed to both do it, it doesn’t always happen that way.

VOLLMER: I know you do a lot of live performances and interactive projects. With film, do you ever feel frustrated that it can’t be more interactive, or are the mediums just different parts of your artistic being?

JULY: It is different parts, but I’ll admit with this movie I kind of initially thought it could be interactive because the performance that it evolved out of was interactive; it had audience members playing roles in it.

VOLLMER: Oh, could you tell me about that?

JULY: It was something I did at [new york theatrical space] The Kitchen. I actually cast a real couple from the audience to play the couple [in The Future.] The story was loosely the same, although totally not fleshed out at all, but it had Paw Paw, it had stopping time, it had the shirt. It had a lot of really key elements that I’m not sure I would have thought of if I’d gone straight to just writing a movie. Then eventually I was like, “I don’t think I need to really re-make the form of filmmaking,” I think it’s hard enough just to make a movie that you feel is good.

VOLLMER: I’ve noticed the theme of loneliness in your artistic career as a whole, and I’m wondering if you could tell me what loneliness means to you? Do you just think it’s part of the human condition, or…?

JULY: Does this movie seem lonely, too?

VOLLMER: It does. Maybe a little bit less than the last one, but yes.

JULY: I mean, I guess if you go very deep into people at all, you hit loneliness. You hit some sort of core part of themselves that sort of feels like they’ll always be alone on some level, even if they’re in a couple. And that can pop up in a kind of mundane way, it’s not even such a dramatic plight, you know? You feel it on and off throughout the day, we’re all used to it, you know? [laughs] It’s why we love the Internet. So it does, in writing about living things I guess, it ends up being essential and it runs pretty deep in me.

VOLLMER: Your movie is called The Future. What is your attitude towards the future?

JULY: I’ve always been the kind of person who really wants something to look forward to. I can barely stand to live if there’s not something I’m looking forward to, which I guess is really why this line of work is good—there really are these sort of giant occasions. And yet, that’s the great downfall of my life too. I’m never quiet right here, I’m so projected into the future, and particularly right now I feel like the future has more to do with sort of, mortality, and will I have a kid? All the sort of issues that come along with that, entering the second half. So the future now has some weight to it. It’s not just the birthday party I’m looking forward to.

VOLLMER: Right. Did the title come first or much later?

JULY: It came pretty late. People say titles are not that important in the end, but I am dedicated to the idea that a good title is worth so much. I had other ones, and then late in the game, I looked up a list of the most common words and “the past,” “the present,” and “the future” were on it. And I was like, “Yes, so perfect.” I yelled. I thought it was the best thing ever.

VOLLMER: It’s a great title. Changing gears a little, what’s the best or weirdest letter that you’ve ever received?

JULY: The best letter… I got an anonymous letter when I was a freshman in college, so this was before I was doing anything. I still don’t know who wrote it, if it was male or female. I guess it was a fan letter, but it’s different when you’re not making work, which was like a vote of confidence. It made it clear this isn’t a love letter, it went something like, “If you’re ever having doubts, just know you’re on the right path.” It felt like it was just sent from God. It was probably just another freshman or something at Santa Cruz. But I will forever feel indebted to that person because it’s never that easy of a time and I needed it and I saved it.

VOLLMER: Do you prefer hummingbirds or butterflies, and why?

JULY: Umm, both pretty amazing, hummingbirds probably. I think more about hummingbirds. And yeah, you actually can’t see one without having your mind blown. Like how are they hovering like that and you can hear the wings. So I think I would go with hummingbirds on that. Not that butterflies are anything to sneeze at.

VOLLMER: Can you tell me about the role of “sincerity” in your art?

JULY: I feel like life’s too short to not really mean it. Why waste your time if you don’t really care?