Do you know anyone who can say he or she has directed and produced five successful, full-length indie films by the time they were 27? I didn’t either, until I talked Joe Swanberg (LOL, Hannah Takes the Stairs), whose newest movie Alexander the Last premiered Saturday, March 14th at SXSW. Swanberg has already built up loads of praise in the indie community for his innovative, extremely low-budget films, which take a profoundly realistic look at personal relationships.
Alexander the Last follows a young, artistic married couple through their difficulties with monogamy and dealing with the temptations to be unfaithful. If you can’t make it out to Austin’s SXSW but are intrigued by Swanberg’s latest creation, you are in luck. Unlike many other indies, which only have the opportunity to be seen by festival-goers who happen to be in the right place at the right time, Alexander the Last will be available nationwide on IFC Festival Direct, accessible through most cable systems.
Just days before Swanberg’s Alexander the Last premiered at SXSW and was released on IFC Festival Direct, MovieMaker was able to catch up with the rising star director for a little Q&A.
Mark Hurley (MM): Your new movie, Alexander the Last, is set to premiere at SXSW on March 14th and will simultaneously be available on IFC Festival Direct. How was your film selected to be a part of the IFC Festival Direct channel?
Joe Swanberg (JS): We had a good relationship with IFC because they have distributed my last two features. We wanted to try something different, so we approached them with the idea of releasing Alexander simultaneously with the SXSW premiere. It’s something everyone has been thinking about and this seemed like the right film and the right festival to try it with.
MM: Technology in every aspect of moviemaking and distribution is constantly improving, generally to the benefit of indie moviemakers. How have these opportunities helped you get to where you are today?
JS: It’s an exciting time to be making independent films. Very small and lovingly made films are finding huge audiences. This is something many people were predicting would happen 10 or 15 years ago, so it has taken a while to get everything in place, but we are experiencing something very unique and unprecedented. IFC has put a lot of time, energy and money into promoting my work and building that audience, so it’s clear that I am personally benefiting from it. Hopefully it creates opportunities for many other filmmakers to find an audience through VOD distribution.
MM: Alexander the Last is your fifth full length film and you are still only 27 years old. What are your goals for your future moviemaking career?
JS: I have several more projects that I am working on or setting up for this year. My only goals for the future are to keep getting better as a filmmaker and to keep getting better as a human being. Hopefully those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
MM: Many people call you a part of the “mumblecore” film movement. Would you put yourself in this group?
JS: I have a weird relationship to the word and the idea of a “movement.” I think this is something best left to other people to discuss or dismiss. I am part of a constantly expanding film community that includes experimental independent filmmakers, reality TV producers, Hollywood directors, Oscar-nominated documentary makers and everything in between. The Internet has allowed all of us to be friends and stay in touch with each other despite living in different cities all over the world and only seeing each other a few times a year at film festivals. I don’t know if it’s a movement, but it’s certainly exciting.
MM: Many of your films center around a group of twentysomethings struggling with relationships or just plain growing up. Where do you get your inspiration for these films?
JS: I am excited by people. I hear stories every day that bounce around in my head and get me thinking about work. As I get older, the characters in my films will get older as well, but I still believe the stories will be motivated by my own experiences and those of my friends.
MM: You have already made quite a name for yourself within the indie film community. Could you ever see yourself doing a bigger-budget, Hollywood studio film?
JS: I have a much harder time imagining Hollywood being interested in me than me being interested in Hollywood. I don’t have any ideas right now that require more money or high-profile actors, so I’m happy to keep working as I have been. If that changes, maybe I will pursue another route. As long as I can go to sleep every night feeling excited and happy and like I’m not making the world a worse place to live in, then I really don’t care where I am working.