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Q&A WITH ANNIE BAKER

interview

Annie Baker is one of the United States’ most lauded and accomplished contemporary playwrights. She has been named both a Guggenheim Fellow and a MacArthur Fellow for her thoughtful and original dramatic work. In 2014, her play about three underpaid movie ushers, The Flick, earned her the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Obie Award for Playwriting. Baker’s film debut, Janet Planet (2024), concerns a mother and daughter who live in bucolic Western Massachusetts. As the mother enters a series of short-lived relationships over the course of one summer, her daughter falls in and out of love with her.

 

Janet Planet is now playing in U.S. theaters.

Q. What was the first image you had in mind for Janet Planet?

A.  The first image that came to me was what happens on the hilltop beneath the maple tree near the end of the movie… this miraculous act emerging from a child and a mother imagining something at the same time.

Q. Your representation of rural Western Massachusetts feels extremely lived-in—both in the little details you capture like the ever-present menace of ticks and the depiction of leaves changing colors with the seasonsas well as your vision of its almost cultish granola communities. How did your childhood memories affect your approach to shooting the film?

A.  As someone who’s into psychoanalysis, I would say that childhood memories affect my approach to literally everything, and it’s when I’m making art that I actually feel the most free of them. That said, I was super interested in revisiting certain places and textures and creatures that had a lot of resonance for me when I was young.

Q. There’s a magical sense of independence that comes with being a child in the summertime in which the world bends to your own rules and sense of time outside of school. Did this influence the way you framed the film from Lacy’s perspective?

A.  Yes, I was definitely interested in the ticking clock of the summer vacation. It can be such a melancholy time if you’re a lonely kid at home whose family doesn’t travel, and yet I remember never ever wanting it to end. It wasn’t fun but I didn’t want it to be over.

Q. Janet Planet was both your first film as a filmmaker and Zoe Ziegler’s first as an actress. How did this impact your working dynamic?

A.  Zoe and I ended up having a very simple and straightforward working relationship. I remember being worried beforehand that I would need these special tricks to get a kid to do what I wanted, and that as a first-time director on a very rushed schedule I wouldn’t have the time to adequately play with her, get to know her, etc. But in a funny way, mostly to her credit, it ended up being an extremely respectful and efficient collaboration. We both asserted our wills and didn’t beat around the bush with each other. I did learn that snacks are very important.

Q. What’s a piece of advice that you’ve never forgotten?

A.  My producer Andrew said to make sure that your editor and your DP are people you’re happy to spend months and months talking to and that the success of those hires is very dependent on the relationship you have with those people. I love the two people I hired very much.

Q. If you could choose to organize one retrospective, whose would it be?

A.  Well one amazing thing about New York City right now is how many great film retrospectives are happening all the time at our great independent movie houses. I feel so happy and satisfied as a moviegoer. I am hoping for a Hanoun retrospective soon. I do want more film prints, and more film restoration.

Q. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

A.  I play with my daughter. Right now we wake up and she is Furiosa, and I am Grover from Sesame Street, and we are racing our motorcycles, and I am about to lose.

Q. What image would you like to end this interview with?

A.  This is me and my DP Maria Von Hausswolff. We danced and sang together every day of our shoot. We would even dance while we were doing our Covid tests in the morning.