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When is an interview “not an interview?”

Pretty much anytime I happen to be in the driver’s seat for one of these conversational rides. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not the right person for press conference or roundtable interviews with talent. I don’t like walking into the room with an agenda, a line of reasoning that I have to make sure the interviewee backs up with the kind of answers my questions end up fishing for.

I want to go on a journey. It can be a breezy jaunt, which is what usually happens because hey, we’re all busy people and time waits for none of us. But sometimes, the ride is so relaxed you forget all about the destination.

That happened to me yesterday afternoon with writer-director Kelly Reichardt, whose Certain Women continues her novelistic approach to “writing” narratives through moving visual frames without feeling obliged to clutter things up with the noise of dialogue. There is wonderfully uncomfortable silence in her work, where we get to watch and appreciate how her characters live moment by moment. We see the chores and the daily grind. We get to see them and know them, so that when they do speak, their words take on greater meaning.

What a joy it was, to sit down at an intimate hotel restaurant table, shakes hands with Reichardt, and have her kick things off. Within moments, we were talking politics, but not in the typical broad strokes of the candidates and their platforms. Reichardt, ever focused on characters and character (traits), wondered about people, in particular, the voting populace of the United States.

What are they thinking? Will they vote? How will it go?

She’s a teacher, which led her to thinking about her students and their engagement in the process. She spends time with them, but isn’t sure that she knows them or what drives them. As an adjunct, I certainly empathized with her. I spoke of what little I do know about such things, my own stepdaughter who will vote for the first time this year.

We shared these snippets of stories, this sense of the character and characters of our nation, our communities, and our own families.

And it was funny when we realized we had better turn the tape recorder on and get to the business at hand. Certain Women weaves together three separate short stories from writer Maile Meloy into an intimate examination into the lives of a trio of women caught up in their small-time experiences in the middle of America. I love how Reichardt mentioned that while scouting for locations, she discovered that such out of the way places in the nation seem to be littered with law offices (and medical practices). One of the pieces allows us access to a lawyer (Laura Dern), sneak peeks at her personal and professional dalliances.


Laura Dern in ‘Certain Women’

Reichardt has collaborated with author Jonathan Raymond, who wrote the short stories that served as the basis for Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, as well as the screenplays for Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves. She has an affinity for filling these written narratives with the precious breath and movement of life. With Certain Women, she decided to handle the writing on her own, wandering among the words for a year.

While I haven’t read Meloy, it is not difficult to understand Reichardt’s attraction to these characters and this world she has spun from Meloy’s short stories. There is a physicality and specificity to the way these people inhabit time and place. She offers us sketches full of detail, but space for us to question and fill in the gaps with our own discoveries. She is communicating with them and us, in an exchange that is long-distance and immediate, a moving meditation.

We need far more conversations like this in our lives.