Whit Stillman’s first 3 films are an anomaly within the cinema of the nineties: unlike the gritty, violent, sensationalist, films that characterized that era (read: Pulp Fiction) Stillman presented a puzzling niche within independent film: intellectual romantic comedies chronicling the trials and tribulations of the America upper class-. Even more surprising was how good the films were, despite their critical and financial failure, gaining legions of fans over the following decade watching Stillman’s trilogy on repeat. As this audience grew, Stillman was largely silent, with his IMDB profile showing single projects that were never finished. This year, Stillman released his first film in 14 years, Damsels in Distress, to blown-out anticipation followed by mixed reviews. Despite this, Damsels is consistent with the way he has always worked: defying convention while appearing to do the opposite. 
 
I saw Damsels in Distress last night. 
Did you see it at the Sunshine Cinema? 
Yeah, I did. 
I should have told you about the Nitehawk screening last night. 
You played it at the Nitehawk? 
Yeah, we did a Q & A afterwards with the actor and the composer—you don’t have Twitter? 
I didn’t follow the twitter. I was supposed to get a screener but it didn’t arrive in time, so it was kind of a last minute decision. 
It’s amazing to have screeners, I thought they were verboten. 
Verboten? 
Verboten. 
lt’s illegal or something? 
Maybe in Canada it’s more liberal than in the States, but here there’s no screeners till the DVD comes out. 
I’ll be honest, I don’t like going to movie theaters very much. At the Sunshine, they botched the sound. 
It wasn’t good? 
The movie was great but the sound came in and out in weird ways. 
I think the release prints they have at the Sunshine are awful, sorry about that. 
Oh it’s fine. 
Did you actually pay to go see it? 
Yeah.
Were there other people in the theatre? 
Yeah there were. So you're not happy about the Sunshine. 
The thing is, I have a theory that people should really discuss movie experiences like theatre experiences. That every showing of a film no matter what the format, is all performance- it's the interaction between the person and the piece. The actor’s performance doesn’t change, but it’s vastly different each time someone sees it. I had a bad experience on Saturday because I am completely in love with Damsels in Distress. I am just enchanted with it. I have been getting bad reviews from people who love the earlier films, who can’t change their goggles to watch the new one. 
Your movies really polarize people
Someone said that they saw Metropolitan on their own and loved it so much that they wanted their best friend to see it. And their best friend didn’t like it. I remember I was very enthralled with a pastor at a church once. He was very intellectual, and would talk about all these amazing things and I was enchanted with it. I’d say to people “You have to come and see this guy, he’s amazing,” and people would come. And after a while I stopped trying to encourage people, I wanted to sit and think and enjoy what he was saying, appreciate it, and not worry about how the person I invited reacted to his mannerisms. It’s great when you can go with a friend and really enjoy it; but sometimes it’s better seeing it alone. 
Do you go to church a lot? 
Not lately. I try to. 
Damsels reminded me of Eric Rohmer’s Perceval (1978). That movie for him was a complete departure from the aesthetics he was known for, but it was un-mistakably his. 
You know that reference was made before. 
Really? 
WS: Yes, very early on by a really good critic. I feel zero synergy in relationship to Rohmer, but it’s been very helpful as a short hand for people to use. When Metropolitan first came out, they triangulated it between Rohmer and Woody Allen. 
What are your thoughts on film criticism? 
I find it very off-putting. It's hard to live in a town where I've gotten severely panned. I got some horrible reviews for Barcelona in Barcelona, so I find it painful to go there. I loathe San Francisco- I've never gotten good reviews there. Leaving New York had something to do with the fact that Disco was not well received in New York. 
Can you talk a bit about your writing process? 
Well, you know you have to get the character from here to there one way or another. You’re working along trying to break it down boringly. It doesn’t actually occur to you while you’re trying to write, it happens when you’re walking on the sidewalk. The best writing ideas come about shaving or going down the stairs. 
A lot of your protagonists are strange in that they are likable despite being assholes. 
Yeah. I think thats really great, but unfortunately the people who act like they are very cool cats turn out to be the people with the most pedestrian taste. They really want to be spoon-fed likable, dis-likable. It's the same with the studios. AP: You have to present things to them in a really reductive way? 
When people want an outline or a treatment or a letter explaining what you’re gonna do.... It’s the worst, worst thing for my process of getting things done. The things you come up with off the top of your head are going to be the lame, boring, boring ideas; they are always the first ideas you have. 
Sounds like writing a business plan or something like that. 
Yeah, exactly and also it’s a contract. As much as possible, I refuse to do that. 
I want to ask about the actor you sometimes work with, Taylor Nichols. 
He’s my version of an Every Man character. 
The Ad guy, the marketing guy
I was always inspired by business. I remember this little publication, I think it’s called Boardroom Reports, and they had all these sort of pep talks and insights for business men. I just loved the idea of being “business.” I remember one of the things I still think about was having a dispute with a customer: let’s say you have the corner grocery store, and you make change for a five dollar bill, and the customer says they gave you a ten, but you are convinced it was five dollars—what should you do? It said to go along with the customer because in the course of a year they are going to spend $5000 at your store and if you piss them off over five dollars, you've lost money. 
How many ideas can you fit into a film?
Apparently too many. I think probably art films have too much going on for most people to enjoy. 
I've always been curious about your relationship with Pierre Le-tan. 
Do you know of his work? 
I started looking at his work after I saw them on your posters. He does illustrations for a lot of French children's books. 
It’s one of the longest creative relationship I've ever had. The most important figure in my life was my uncle Ted Riley, my mother’s brother. My father walked off and uncle Ted was like the great figure; very charming and funny, just a wonderful gentlemen, terrific with young people. He created a business as the agent representative for artists and illustrators. He had a lot of superstars like J.J. Sempé. Pierre was sixteen when someone at The New Yorker saw Pierre’s work and loved it. My uncle took him on as a client. He was concerned about Pierre feeling awkward being much younger than everyone else at a party, so he invited my sister along who was more Pierre’s age. My sister knew him socially. When my uncle suddenly died, my sister and I tried to keep the agency going so I became Pierre’s agent. I asked him to do the international poster for Metropolitan in ’89. 
Chris Eigeman is the only actor that has a major role in the first 3 films. What is it about him? 
It’s odd because over the years, I've become more like the Chris Eigemann character. But when I started out, it was kind of a character I admired, the kind of guy who was willing to be really opinionated and courageous- saying and doing things that are brave in a way that I wasn’t. I always identified more with Charlie in Metropolitan who always agrees with everybody—there are four identification characters in Metropolitan, maybe that’s part of its strength. 
Identification characters? 
I call them identification characters- the characters you could identify with. My favourite example of that in literature is when a young man reads War and Peace, and of course identifies with Pierre, and Pierre’s point of view, which is sort of the Tolstoyan point of view. But Nikolai Rostov is quite silly, but you also identify with him; he's the normal guy. And then there’s the heroic aristocrat Prince Andrie, an idealist, brave warrior. So there are three identification characters. In Metropolitan the identification characters, the obvious one is Tom, Charlie is kind of sweet and sympathetic and sad. And Chris is the funny identification character, he's the guy who says and does things you’d never do. 
It’s the aspiration thing again, the guy you could be. 
The guy that actually said the funny reply that you never quite got out. 
Yep.
And does not feel shy and bashful in party situations. 
Yes, it’s very alpha and it’s very winning.