June 2020 Pride Feature
Credit: Photo Illustration by Braulio Amado for EW; Photo by Art Streiber / AUGUST

Fresh off the Netflix limited series Unbelievable and as we approach the 10th anniversary of her landmark queer film The Kids Are All Right, Oscar-nominated writer-director Lisa Cholodenko, 56, spoke with EW about her greatest cinematic inspirations.

Ordinary People

The 1980 family drama represents what Cholodenko loves about movies. “That was a big one for me. That showed me you can really say some stuff about people’s weird psychologies,” she says. “Here was a parent [breaking] that myth of unconditional love. I found it comforting! It felt like truth I hadn’t really seen out there, validated. I love the dangerous truth-telling. That’s what I really love about movies.”

My Brilliant Friend

As Cholodenko has moved more into TV, she cites HBO’s Italian series adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novels as a new favorite. “It’s exquisite. It reminds me that there’s still hope out there to make stuff that’s really layered and restrained. I wouldn’t say that inspired Unbelievable, but those kinds of shows, that kind of filmmaking, really inspire me. It packs an enormous punch that's really character-deep.”

My Own Private Idaho

Gus Van Sant’s 1991 queer classic arrived as Cholodenko was just coming up. It galvanized her: “It wasn’t my story, but I was really emboldened by somebody going, ‘I’m gay and I’m making a film about gay guys that are interesting to me.’ And it’s so sexy to look at. It’s provocative.”

David Lean films

Once resistant to Hollywood tropes, Cholodenko was introduced to Lean classics like Lawrence of Arabia later in life. “I remember being wowed by the [period], what he would do with the camera, the scope, that form of storytelling,” she says. “It opened up my mind in that way: the wow factor.”

The Godfather

When it comes to literary adaptations (she won an Emmy for helming HBO’s Olive Kitteridge), Cholodenko’s mind goes straight to some of the greatest films ever made. “For some reason I've been thinking a lot about The Godfather,” she says. “It had a real purpose and a punch [similar] to Unbelievable, in terms of being a crime saga. The limited series is a great form for a saga: a family saga, something that's longer than a movie, that requires a real investigative approach, with a real dramatic scope but a very intimate study. It's such a beautiful form. The Godfather could have been a limited series.”


Cholodenko says Jane Campion’s 1989 drama is the film that made her want to direct. “I remember seeing that alone in my early 20s and thinking, ‘My God, this is such a powerful medium,’ ” she says. “I just was like, 'I'm a woman, and there's a woman, and I'm feeling myself in the camera, and she's saying things I'm not supposed to be saying.' It was the experience of sitting in a theater and feeling like I understood — I could project myself into her making that movie, in the skin of this woman making something really tough. Maybe men have had that experience more easily. And it wasn't tough in a violent or genre way, or even hard; it was really a delicate movie, but psychologically was brutal.”

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