One year ago, on this day, Showing Up made its USA debut at the New York Film Festival, marking filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s fourth collaboration with actress Michelle Williams. To celebrate the release of the intimate, inspiring film, we’re looking back at the career of its equally-inspiring director.
Kelly was born on March 3, 1964 in Miami (FL). Always interested in photography and cameras, Kelly pursued that passion when obtaining her MFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Kelly’s debut film, Rivers of Grass, had its world premiere at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.
Kelly’s debut film, Rivers of Grass, had its world premiere at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Set in Kelly’s hometown of Miami, Rivers of Grass – co-written with Jesse Hartman and directed by Kelly – features a couple on the run from the law (a genre of film that Kelly would return to). After its commercial release in 1995, it was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards in both the Best First Feature category and the Best First Screenplay category. Kelly, who was also nominated for the “Someone to Watch” award, had burst onto the film scene as a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, although Indie audiences have consistently applauded her work ever since, Kelly was not met with the same enthusiasm within the industry. Kelly herself has said this hostility stemmed from her being a woman director. However, Kelly did not back away from directing, but instead funneled this frustration into her work.
In the following decade, Kelly released three short films: Ode, Then A Year, and Travis. Ode – an adaptation of Bobbie Gentry’s hit song “Ode to Billie Joe” – finds a pair of young kids stifled by small-town tradition. After this short, Kelly moved into more experimental territory. Travis pairs bright, mixing colors on screen with audio from an interview with the mother of a killed Iraq war veteran. Kelly’s abstract visuals bring a haunting melancholy to the mother’s words. Similarly, Then A Year shares disturbing true crime reporting on top of beautiful footage of Portland OR). This juxtaposition disturbs its viewers, each word turning a shot of a perfectly innocent tree into something sinister. Though all three differ in subject and setting, Kelly’s vision of the world – and of its dread – unites each film.
In 2006, Kelly finally returned to feature film directing with Old Joy. This sophomore film – which follows friends camping in rural Oregon – further cemented Kelly’s place as a burgeoning film genius. Met with similar praise as her first film, Old Joy won several awards, including the Rotterdam Film Festival’s Tiger Award (the first American film to ever do so).
2008 brought the first of Kelly’s four collaborations with actress Michelle Williams. In that year’s Wendy and Lucy, Michelle stars as a woman in a desperate situation, emotionally trying to reunite with her beloved dog. Two years later (this time in the Old West), Kelly directed Michelle again in Meek’s Cutoff. The disturbing film follows travelers along the Oregon trail who grow more desperate with their lessening water supply. In her review of the film, FF2 contributor Amelie Lasker wrote: “This film stands out to me for this way of leaving information out. We feel lost in the wilderness as the travelers do, with no decisive hints about possible hope or failure.”
In 2013, Kelly’s eco-thriller Night Moves made its debut at the Venice International Film Festival. Though a film about activism, Kelly’s Night Moves offers no relief to its viewers. In her review of the film, FF2 editor-in-chief Jan Lisa Huttner said: “In Night Moves, the explosions that interest Kelly most happen inside her characters. There is no audience catharsis when they accomplish their goal. Everything just gets more complicated.” Kelly, known for her interest and talent in character study, released one of her most ambitious projects with 2016’s Certain Women. The film depicts acting powerhouses Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone portraying Montana women braving a patriarchal world. Though pure Americana, the message and power of Certain Women certainly transcended its setting, and it won the very top award across the sea at the London Film Festival.
Released in NYC exactly one week before the start of the COVID pandemic, First Cow still met with buzz and praise from critics all around the world.
In 2020, distributor A24 promoted Kelly’s next directorial triumph, First Cow (the story of two nineteenth century drifters on the run in the American West). Released in NYC exactly one week before the start of the COVID pandemic, First Cow still met with buzz and praise from critics all around the world. In her review of the film, FF2 contributor Amelie Lasker praised Kelly’s directorial choices. “What I love about this movie is its lack of violence,” Amelie writes. “We see evidence of death and physical peril, and destructive effects of colonialism, racism, and abuse of natural resources, but none of it plays out in physical violence.” By the end of the following year, First Cow had raked up 27 wins and 157 nominations internationally (including a place on the USA’s National Board of Review’s “Top Ten Films” list). It was, admittedly, a very weird awards cycle, but a great accomplishment nonetheless.
In 2022, Kelly debuted her most recent film, Showing Up, at Cannes. Showing Up is an intimate look inside the life, and artistic process of Lizzy (a sculptor played by Michelle Williams). In her review of the film, FF2 contributor Katusha Jin praises Kelly’s ability to “respectfully” and realistically showcase the lives of these artists. “Movies often romanticize the life of an artist,” Katusha writes. “But Showing Up ignores the famous and goes beyond the highlights of a creative’s life. Kelly slows the pace and shows a rare glimpse of how much work goes into creating ‘art’.”
Although the film is an intimate character study, Lizzy could also stand in for many artists frustrated with the process… perhaps even Kelly herself.
Indeed, the movie mainly takes place in the moments “outside” an artist’s creation. In Showing Up, Kelly films both the intrusion of the real world on the creative process and the creative process on the real world. Although the film is an intimate character study, Lizzy could also stand in for many artists frustrated with the process… perhaps even Kelly herself.
Kelly has had her share of frustration and discouragement on her filmmaking journey, namely due to the sexism systematic in the film industry (and art at large). However, in the face of these impediments, Kelly never quit directing.
Kelly Reichardt allows her work to be affected by the hazards of the real world, and it is all the better for that. Thank you, Kelly, for continuing to create!
© Reese Alexander (10/5/23) — Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Katusha’s review of Showing Up here.
Read Amelie’s review of First Cow here.
Read Jan’s review of Certain Women here.
Read Amelie’s review of Meek’s Cutoff here.
Read Jan’s review of Night Moves here.
Visit Kelly’s Wikipedia page here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Michelle Williams as “Lizzy.” (Featured image is owned by A24 and used here with permission. All Rights Reserved.)
Middle Photo: At the Angelica Theatre in Soho (NYC). Photo Credit: Jan Lisa Huttner (4/9/23)
Bottom Photo: Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt with Michelle Williams attend the photocall for Showing Up during the 75th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals. Photo by David Boyer/ABACAPRESS.COM (5/28/22). Amaly Image ID: 2JA6HCW