City Lights and the California Film Institute celebrate the publication of
Lady Director: Adventures in Hollywood, Television and Beyond
by Joyce Chopra
published by City Lights Books
Joyce Chopra in conversation with Elizabeth Weitzman
An intimate account of a seminal filmmaker’s development–as a creator and as a woman–both in art and in life.
Hailed by the New Yorker as “a crucial forebear of generations,” award-winning director Joyce Chopra came of age in the 1950s, prior to the dawn of feminism, and long before the #MeToo movement. As a young woman, it seemed impossible that she might one day realize her dream of becoming a film director–she couldn’t name a single woman in that role. But with her desire fueled by a stay in Paris during the heady beginnings of the French New Wave, she was determined to find a way.
Chopra got her start making documentary films with the legendary D.A. Pennebaker. From her ground-breaking autobiographical short, Joyce at 34 (which was acquired for NY MoMA’S permanent collection), to her rousingly successful first feature, Smooth Talk (winner of the Best Director and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1985), to a series of increasingly cruel moves by Hollywood producers unwilling to accept a woman in the director’s role, Chopra’s career trajectory was never easy or straightforward.
In this engaging, candid memoir, Chopra describes how she learned to navigate the deeply embedded sexism of the film industry, helping to pave the way for a generation of women filmmakers who would come after her. She shares stories of her bruising encounters with Harvey Weinstein and Sydney Pollack, her experience directing Diane Keaton, Treat Williams, and a host of other actors, as well as her deep friendships with Gene Wilder, Arthur Miller, and Laura Dern.
Along with the successes and failures of her career, she provides an intimate view of a woman’s struggle to balance the responsibilities and rewards of motherhood and marriage with a steadfast commitment to personal creative achievement. During a career spanning six decades, Joyce Chopra has worked through monumental shifts in her craft and in the culture at large, and the span of her life story offers a view into the implacable momentum of the push for all womens’ liberation.
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. She lives in Charlottesville, VA.
Elizabeth Weitzman is the author of Renegade Women in Film & TV, which chronicles the remarkable hidden history of Hollywood pioneers onscreen and behind the scenes. She was a film critic for the New York Daily News from 2000-2015, has contributed to several books on film, and currently covers movies for The Wrap. She has interviewed hundreds of actors and filmmakers, and written about entertainment for publications like the New York Times, Interview, Marie Claire, and Harper’s Bazaar. She speaks regularly on women’s issues at academic, cultural, and professional organizations around the world.
To learn more about the California Film Institute visit: https://www.cafilm.org/
Praise for Joyce Chopra’s Lady Director:
“Joyce Chopra paved the way for future female filmmakers, and this book illuminates how ahead of her time she has always been. Her honesty is refreshing as she lets readers into her life, detailing her relationships, friendships, personal triumphs and devastating tragedies. Here is a woman who has nothing to lose, who is ready to tell her story, from her perspective, in her own words, with no holding back. I only wish I’d had this book to read when I was a shy teenage girl, to give me extra confidence as I dreamed of my own career in film.”–Alicia Malone, TCM host and author of Girls on Film: Lessons From a Life of Watching Women in Movies
“Through the lens of an extraordinary, determined and adventurous career, Lady Director reminds us that present day female Oscar nominees for Best Director stand on the shoulders of women like Joyce Chopra. This surprising often shocking book is destined to become a classic.”–Honor Moore, author of Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury
Praise for Joyce Chopra’s film Smooth Talk:
“Chopra strikes an astoundingly tactile, intimate vision of Connie’s terror together with the burdens of self-doubt and silence that she endures–and that predators foster. The film’s power is enormous throughout; spare means (long-held closeups, a four-minute take of sisterly confessions) evoke adrama that seems to have been filmed holding its breath.”–Richard Brody, The New Yorker
“Chopra patiently observes the rituals by which the young attempt to forge an identity to present to both the world and themselves.”–Jake Cole, Slant Magazine
“Smooth Talk, Joyce Chopra’s electrifying 1985 adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s short story ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, ‘ remains one of the most insightful and harrowing examinations of American adolescence ever put on film.”–Peter Sobczynski, eFilmCritic
“Chopra has a precise eye for the vagaries of young adulthood.”–Dan Schindel, Hyperallergic
“Good work never truly vanishes, and 30-plus years later, Smooth Talk finds its receptive era.”–Michael J. Casey, Boulder Weekly
This event was made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation.