“Battle of the Sexes
”: Fox SearchlightValerie Faris
and her husband, Jonathan Dayton
, have co-directed music videos for R.E.M., The Smashing Pumpkins
, Janet Jackson, Oasis
, and many others in the 1990s and 2000s. Their previous film credits include “Little Miss Sunshine
” and “Ruby Sparks
“Battle of the Sexes
” will premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival on September 10. Dayton co-directed the film.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Vf: The film is an intimate portrayal of the private lives of Billie Jean King
and Bobby Riggs
leading up to the Battle of the Sexes
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Vf: I was particularly interested in the story of Billie Jean beginning a kind of personal transformation by becoming a leader in the fight for equal pay for women in tennis while having her first affair with a woman.
Billie Jean’s courage to put so much on the line to make change both in her professional and personal life remains very inspiring to me.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Vf: I hope they will go out and have a stimulating conversation about the thoughts and feelings the film raised for them, how it relates to their own lives, and — maybe in the bigger picture — what has changed in the last 44 years and what has not.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Vf: I think we all felt pressure to do justice to these larger than life characters. We worked to keep each character dimensional and the film complex, never reducing anyone or any subject to a cliché or a binary argument.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Vf: Fox Searchlight and Danny Boyle
and Christian Colson
brought the film to us. I think they liked the idea of a husband and wife team directing a film titled “Battle of the Sexes
.” This is our third film with Fox Searchlight.
By normal Hollywood standards this is a low-budget production, but it’s our biggest budget yet and big by Searchlight standards as well. We were fortunate to put together an amazing cast that made greenlighting the movie very easy.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at the Toronto International Film Festival?
Vf: It’s a real thrill to screen the film alongside so many other great films. It’s the ideal way to release a film: With a festival to usher it into the world, it gets the conversation going about the film in a very organic way.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Vf: Never go to bed angry at your husband/partner.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Vf: Probably what I would tell all filmmakers — and myself for that matter — is to do what you are uniquely suited to do, don’t judge yourself, and put a lot of love and hard work into what you’re doing.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Vf: This is the hardest question. There are so many I love. Andrea Arnold
’s “Red Road
” and “Fish Tank
” are two of my favorites. I love her style of storytelling. There’s so much drama but it never feels forced or contrived. I’m always right with the characters following them through the surprising turns of the story.
I’m also a big fan of Robbie Ryan
’s cinematography. He worked on both of those films.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.
Vf: With so many venues to present films now, there should be more opportunities as well. I think it’s our turn. The public is ready for some new blood and new stories.
Tiff 2017 Women Directors: Meet Valerie Faris
— “Battle of the Sexes
” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.