For me, 1996 was the year of the independents — the year they really took hold. It started in ’89 with sex, lies, and videotape and it peaked in ’96, with smaller films reaching a whole new level of commercial success. It was an extraordinary period. I don’t really define the years by my own filmmaking — I do it more by the films I see — so I don’t remember much from my own career at that time, except that I was so glad to have made The Portrait of a Lady with Jane Campion, who was coming off The Piano and is truly a singular voice in film.
Of the movies I saw that year, there was The English Patient, obviously. Anthony Minghella was one of my dearest friends, and that was a beautiful film that really sums up his talent as a director — an extraordinary accomplishment. Then, Emily Watson in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves — a groundbreaking performance. I saw that film and I was supposed to go out to dinner afterward. I had to cancel dinner. I went home, got into bed, curled up in a ball, and cried. I don’t know why I had such a profound, deep reaction to that film, but I did. It disturbed my spirit.
Baz Luhrmann had Romeo + Juliet. It wasn’t an independent film per se, but Baz’s whole essence is that of an auteur, someone who doesn’t play by the rules. Anthony, Lars, Baz: They’re all people I eventually was lucky enough to work with. I haven’t worked with Mike Leigh, but I think he’s amazing. In ’96 he had Secrets & Lies, which, for me, is his best film. He struck new ground the way Cassavetes did. Another one is Fargo — one of my all-time favorites. And Shine, from my own country! You also had all these new filmmakers appearing, like Wes Anderson, with Bottle Rocket, and Todd Solondz, with Welcome to the Dollhouse. All in the same year! It opened doors and I think it gave hope to a lot of people — hope that you can make movies that are not linear, that are lateral in their thinking, that are strange and unique, and they will find a commercial path. We need another year like that. —As told to Missy Schwartz