Joyce Chopra has produced and directed a wide range of award-winning films, ranging from Smooth Talk, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Feature at the Sundance Film Festival, to the A&E thriller The Lady in Question with Gene Wilder. She has received American Film Festival Blue Ribbon and Cine Golden Eagle Awards for her numerous documentaries, including That Our Children Will Not Die, about primary health care in Nigeria, and the autobiographical Joyce at 34, which is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
City Lights and the California Film Institute will celebrate the publication of Joyce’s book Lady Director: Adventures in Hollywood, Television and Beyond, published by City Lights Books with a virtual conversation between Joyce Chopra and Elizabeth Weitzman on Wednesday, November 9 at 6:00 p.m. PT.
Where are you writing to us from?
I moved from the countryside in Roxbury, CT about five years ago to Charlottesville, Virginia, to be nearer to my daughter who teaches at the University of Virginia. I greatly miss the New England landscape but shaking things up also has its unexpected rewards.
What is bringing you joy right now, personally/artistically/habitually?
It’s often difficult to find joy in this troubled world but I have moments of it when I’m with close friends and family and, of course, when I first dream up an idea for a film before I have to face the reality of realizing it. Perhaps the best tonic of all is listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing!
Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?
When imagining the movies I hope to make I’ve mostly been influenced by paintings and photographs rather than other film directors. When preparing for my film Smooth Talk, it helped to share Balthus’ paintings of languorous girls and Joel Meyerowitz’s book of photos, Cape Light, with the art department to convey the palette that I imagined. Although I have collaborated on writing film scripts, Lady Director is my first book. Since I began to write it just to keep my brain occupied between films, with no thought of it becoming a book for publication, I really didn’t look to other memoirs for guidance. I’m very fortunate that the publisher and great editor, Elaine Katzenberger at City Lights, saw its potential and encouraged me to find its proper form.
What books are you reading right now and would you recommend any to others?
The book that has had the most profound effect on me recently is The 1619 Project, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones, which reframed American history for me by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national story. Also just finished the fascinating bio, Agent Josephine, by Damian Lewis about Josephine Baker, the American-born French dancer and singer in 1930’s Paris who became an important spy with the French resistance movement during WWII.
If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?
I would more likely try to create a movie theater on a boat that put into ports for people with little means of seeing films otherwise. If the boat was small enough, we might then sail up the rivers that fed the oceans to reach even more people. Not sure what I would name it.