Tomorrow at 7:15 P.M., writer-director and Ithaca native Katherine Dieckmann will be screening her most recent film, Diggers, at Willard Straight Hall. Set in the late 70s, the film quietly observes the end of an era for a group of four Long Island clam-diggers and friends, in the tradition of Diner and I Vitelloni is just one accomplishment on Ms. Dieckmann’s lengthy resume. After spending time as a film critic for the Village Voice she began writing for Rolling Stone, before moving on to directing music videos for Wilco and R.E.M. The Sun had a chance to speak to Ms. Dieckmann about growing up in Ithaca and her love for making films.
The Sun: Do you think that growing up in Ithaca helped push you towards a creative lifestyle?
Katherine Dieckmann: Definitely. My father was a professor of French and Comparative Lit at Cornell. I spent a lot of time on campus as a kid, my parents would take me to see documentaries and photography shows at Cornell, and a lot of our friends were in the arts so definitely the environment in Ithaca affected me a lot.
The Sun: Career wise, you’ve worked in a few different fields. Can you talk a little about your career path?
K.D.: When I was a teenager I wrote for the Ithaca Times and the Grapevine — it was a little arts calendar/weekly free paper — which I don’t think is around anymore. My mom is still a journalist, she still writes for the Ithaca Times. So that was very much in my background, writing and journalism and things like that. I went to Vassar and got a B.A. in English and then moved to New York to work as a journalist. I was a film critic for the Village Voice for a while and then I started writing for magazines including Rolling Stone and Vogue and Elle and places like that. Then I segued from journalism to directing, first music videos and then The Adventures of Pete & Pete which I did for Nickelodeon for a long time, and then my first feature and now my second feature.
The Sun: Was it always your intention to eventually go into directing?
K.D.: Not really. It’s not like I had some burning ambition to be a director when I was 20 or something. For one thing, when I was 20 — which was a while ago at this point — there weren’t even that many women directors, it wasn’t something you would necessarily be thinking you could do. But I was always interested in writing, storytelling, photography — all the different areas of making a film were things I was interested in but I don’t think I put it together that I could actually do all those things until my mid-twenties.
The Sun: Even if you didn’t realize at the time, it seems like you had a clear progression in terms of the jobs you took.
K.D.: It’s funny, because when you open yourself up to things you might want to do — or you stay open to them — then things happen. I never really plan things to much, at least in my career, they’ve just kind of happened.
The Sun: What drew you to the script for Diggers?
K.D.: Well, I read it and I really liked the guy who wrote it, Ken Marino, who was in The State, and is part of the State/Stella comedy troupe. They just did a movie called The Ten. They’re a closely-knit group of people who do comedy. This script was a different side of his sensibility, and was based on his memories of growing up on Long Island. His dad was a clam-digger and his grandfather was a clam-digger. And I love character-driven dramas or comedy-dramas. I love The Last Picture Show, I love Diner, I love Breaking Away. Those are all movies from around the time the picture is set — The Last Picture Show was made in the 70s, Diner was set in the 1980 and Breaking Away was ’79. So those are movies from around that time and were in the vein of what this was and that’s a genre I really like. I know Diner was a big influence on Ken in writing it, and the idea of the four best friends, which is also like Breaking Away. But I just thought the characters were really well written and I liked the world, and I like worlds that are kind of working-class worlds where you can get into showing it in an authentic way. Those are all things that interest me so there was a lot there for me to jump into.
The Sun: As a writer-director, do you have a preference between the two? Would you rather be writing or directing?
K.D.: I love writing screenplays because it’s really private, and I like writing and the fact that I can do it, more or less, on my own. But I also love directing because it’s really exciting to collaborate, and directing is a totally collaborative medium, you cannot do it without other people. I love working with my cinematographer and my production team. Coming up with the way a movie looks, and having everyone working on that together, is really fun and rewarding. Also, I love working with actors. When you direct movies you get to watch good actors from a distance of three or four feet and it’s amazing, it’s a very magical process. Working with an actor to shape and sculpt a performance is a very rewarding and fun thing to do. I can’t say I like one over the other. When you make a movie you have to deal with people month after month after month, and then I just go back to my room and start writing again. Each is a totally different thing.