Director Olivia Newman was so prematurely heartbroken over not being able to adapt Where the Crawdads Sing that she put off reading the novel for a year. "I have this distinct memory of hearing [author Delia Owens] interviewed on the radio, and I remember, as I was listening to her describe this story, I thought, 'Oh my god, this sounds like my kind of world,'" Newman recalls.
"At the end of the interview, they mentioned that Reese [Witherspoon] had picked it for her book club. And my heart just sank, because I thought, 'Well, she's going to go make it into a movie, and I'm going to read it and wish I could have turned it into a movie,'" she explains.
As fate would have it, Newman (who made her feature directorial debut with 2018's First Match) was ultimately hired to make the movie for Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine. The film follows Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who was abandoned as a child, left to raise herself in the marshes of North Carolina. As an adult, she finds herself at the center of a murder investigation.
Newman's adaptation owes as much to Owens' original source material as it does to the work of other filmmakers who have inspired Newman's own moviemaking. "It's really hard to narrow it down to five films. But when I was thinking about this, I was thinking about films that I revisit all the time as a filmmaker for various projects across different genres," she says. "These are films that have affected me, and that I go back to constantly."
Below, Newman shares those five films with A.frame.
Written and Directed by: Agnès Varda
The first film that always comes to mind is Sans toit ni loi, which is Vagabond in English. That was a film that I saw when I was in college, and it was the film that made me want to become a filmmaker. It was the first time that I understood this concept of the female gaze and how being a female director and having a woman's eye behind the camera could change the way you look at other women and look at the world. Agnès even used the camera language in a way that went against the grain. When she introduces Sandrine Bonnaire's character, instead of moving left to right, she's moving the camera right to left and immediately telling you this is going to be a different take on what it is to be a woman.
And the way that she breaks down that character through various perspectives was really fascinating, that this was a woman who was a bit of an enigma. And she can be at once really sexual, and she could also be repulsive, depending on who was interacting with her and the lens that they were putting on her. The very first film I ever made was a short, comedic adaptation of Sans toit ni loi. And the only time I ever met Agnès Varda, I actually handed her this VHS tape of my short film that I made when I was 20 — and I hope she never watched.
Directed by: Ang Lee | Written by: James Schamus
I'm a huge fan of Ang Lee. I think he makes really interesting choices in the films and the subjects that he tackles. What I love about The Ice Storm is that it's set in such a specific time and place, and it's really looking at this period in American history and looking at the alienation that a certain generation of adults was experiencing and how it was trickling down to the children. Tonally, what that film achieves is incredible, because he has these amazing comedic actors — Kevin Kline and Christina Ricci and Sigourney Weaver — and their performances are very funny, yet the material is quite dark. And it takes a turn into something so heartbreaking at the end, which is unexpected but feels earned, and I will never, ever shake the scene of the family showing up at the train station. Their son is getting off the train has no idea why they're all there. There's been this colossal shift in the relationships, and the way Ang captures that without any words, just the way they look at their son and the way he comes back into the fold, you know that this family has been changed forever. It's just so inspiring.
The score of that movie was the reason I hired Mychael Danna to compose music for Crawdads. Because what was so amazing about that score is that the instrumentation couldn't be further from 1970s Connecticut suburbia. So, it gives it this feeling of folklore. It makes it feel very timeless. When I was thinking about the score for Crawdads, I wanted it to feel like a bit of a fable and that it could be set in any time, in any place. This version just happens to be set in North Carolina in the '50s and '60s. But the music lets you know that it's the kind of story that could be told and retold for years and years.
Directed by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven | Written by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven and Alice Winocour
Deniz Gamze Ergüven's first feature is this brilliant story about five Turkish sisters, who, because of an incident where they are playing with boys their age in the water and riding on their shoulders, their very strict Turkish uncle and aunt — with whom they live — pull them out of school, and lock them in the house, and begin to marry them off one by one. They project onto these young women that they have become overly sexualized and are at the age where they need to be married if that's where they're heading.
It's set almost entirely inside this house, but it's beautifully shot. She captures sisterhood — the girls are almost always filling the frame, they're constantly touching and overlapping — and what it is to be part of a big family. And they're always kind of like lying all over each other as they're just so bored in the house. The story is this slow burn where you don't know what's going to happen, and it takes a turn that you really do not see coming. But it makes complete sense when you realize what has been happening in this house and what these girls have been living through. It's absolutely devastating, but I think about it all the time. I pull stills from it all the time for my work. I just happen to be lucky enough right now to be working with Deniz on a limited series, which is an absolute dream come true.
Written and Directed by: Céline Sciamma
Céline Sciamma is one of my absolute favorite directors working right now. Every movie that comes out by Céline, I run to see in the theater. She's such a visual master. She's got such a gorgeous eye for palette and for framing and lighting. Every film she does, I think, 'Well, now she's topped it. She's not going to do better than this.' And then, the next one comes out. I just saw Petite Maman in the theaters with my kids and was blown away.
In Water Lilies, specifically, I was amazed by how she's able to capture teenage desire and lesbian desire in a way that, as a teenager, you're still wrapping your head around what is the difference between friendship and romantic feelings, and where is the line, and how does it become that? I go back to her films — and that film specifically — all the time, for how she uses composition to create that point of view. She is so amazing at capturing the female gaze — but specifically from the point of view of teenage girls. Nobody does it better than Céline.
Directed by: Rob Reiner | Written by: Nora Ephron
So you don't think that I'm only interested in French women filmmakers or heavy dramas, When Harry Met Sally is one of the films that I can watch over and over again. I have seen it hundreds of times. Partially because I grew up without television. But we inherited a box of VHSes from my brother's friend, and one of them was When Harry Met Sally. We managed to get our hands on an old VHS player at some point, or we took them over to my grandmother's house who actually had a TV, and those were the movies that we watched over and over again.
When Harry Met Sally really stands the test of time as the absolute perfect romantic comedy. The performances are incredible. Meg Ryan is just mind-blowing. I know every line of that movie by heart, and yet I laugh at the same jokes over and over again. I think it speaks to Nora Ephron's genius as a writer. And Rob Reiner, of course, as a director. But it's one of those movies that, anytime I just need a pick me up, I can put that on and it makes everything better.