Jen Gatien

Manhattan Maverick

»Maverick«, that's one of those terms film critics like to use when talking about directors who buck the conventions of the industry. The term connotes a nearly mythical ideal: the filmmaker as an artist, doing things their own way and implementing their vision without compromise. A producer, on the other hand, is rarely called a maverick, since many cinephiles see them on the other side of the divide. In between art and commence, they are usually cast as the antagonist. And it is arguably the case that most producers shy away from risk, and only a few see it as breeding ground from which their work can grow - and a minefield for artistic discovery. One thinks of the late Ed Pressman, who gave American cinema some of its greatest moments over the course of his long career, by launching and accompanying the journeys of such young and risky unknown filmmakers as Terence Malick, Brian de Palma, and Oliver Stone to worldwide fame. Or Christine Vachon, whose courageous projects back in the 90s were crucial to the foundation of the New Queer Cinema in the USA .

Jen Gatien has always put her love of cinema and the art of storytelling ahead of all reason and financial risk since beginning her career in the late noughties. And like a rare gem, she is the one in a new generation of independent producers whose work lives up to the »Maverick« label.

In 2007, when director Deborah Kampmeier cast 12-year-old Dakota Fanning for her film »Hounddog«, a scene involving her caused a scandal. The juxtaposition of media excitement about a very young, new Hollywood star and the issue of sexual violence against minors culminated in a heated controversy. A ban on the film was demanded, theatrical distribution hardly possible. The producer, Jen Gatien, sided with the director and the young star, defending the film's artistic and narrative autonomy. The importance of enabling a filmmaker to realize their vision and making the decision to do so, even against her own financial interests, was put to the test with this – her first – major film.

Her next project was artistically almost even more risky – giving free rein to the »enfant terrible« of American independent cinema, Abel Ferrara, with a film without a script and bringing stars like Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones and Ethan Hawke in front of the camera. The documentary about New York's legendary Chelsea Hotel became one of the most beautiful and sensitive films in the career of Ferrara - another New York legend himself. From then on, Gatien has given impetus to American independent cinema with her projects whose stories always move on the fringes of society, nurturing new young talent both behind and in front of the camera. Pearls of soulful cinema have been created under her watch and wings. And stars were born. »Holy Rollers« gave young Jesse Eisenberg a breakout role. Paul Dano received critical raves for his role in »For Ellen«. Riley Keough shone in »Jack and Dianne«. And the debut feature of Xan Cassavetes, the daughter of John Cassavetes - the godfather of American independent cinema, premiered in Venice: »Kiss of the Damned«, an elegiac vampire film that returned the erotically charged genre to adult viewers in the teenage »Twilight« times.

Daughter of the iconic »Limelight« Club owner Peter Gatien, Jen grew up in the culturallly defining times of NYCs Nightlife artists and filmmakers. And survived its Giuliani-era gentrification. Her heart and core is Manhattan. Her distance from Hollywood only solidifies her inherent instinct for subjects that are firmly anchored in life – and in life on the fringes of society. In the tradition of producers like Pressman and Vachon, who also hail from New York, like the best auteurs, a common thread is revealed in their oeuvre – as Mavericks.

Chelsea on the Rocks (USA 2008)

Abel Ferrara, the famously notorious »enfant terrible« of underground cinema, directs his ode to the Chelsea Hotel, that legendary landmark of New York's artists and stranded souls, around which legends swirl. And Ferrara tells the story of this building as focused and poetic as we haven‘t seen from him in a long time. He lets long-time residents recount the stories of this place, brings experts on the hotel like Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, or Milos Forman in front of the camera, and traces the legendary events in small, cinematically told episodes. Ferrara cleverly intertwines this with a critique of our times, which strives for more and more conformity, control, and order. The Chelsea is a victim of this change, which quietly but harshly affects New York. It is being transformed into a smooth tourist hostel, the residents are being evicted, and all disruptive elements are being removed. In this brave new world, there is no room for those who think and live differently. This applies to the Chelsea as well as to Ferrara, making this film a beautiful blues about two New York legends.


Jack and Diane (USA 2011)

»Jack and Diane« paints a portrayal of love's intricacies against the vibrant canvas of New York City, embarking on a journey into the lives of two young women, Jack (Riley Keough) and Diane (Juno Temple), whose chance meeting ignites a whirlwind romance charged with raw emotion. Their connection defies expectations, breaking through Jack's tough exterior and Diane's innocence. However, impending separation looms as Diane's plans for European schooling emerge, prompting Jack to distance herself. While nurturing their blossoming romance, Diane contends with haunting visions she conceals from Jack. Riley Keough and Juno Temple balance sweetness with macabre undertones, infusing their summer love story with an eerie energy. The city itself breathes life into their narrative, a character reflecting the very pulse of their romance. With a lot of empathy for the emotional worlds of its two protagonists, »Jack and Diane« interweaves the essence of tender affection and the horror of the vulnerability of first love - innocent and sweet, yet also cloaked in a haunting shadow. Love is a monster.

For Ellen (USA 2012)

In a small, snow-covered town, struggling rock musician Joby Taylor (Paul Dano) is grappling with the complexities of fatherhood and personal aspirations. As he negotiates the legal battle for custody of his estranged daughter Ellen, he's forced to reckon with the emotional baggage he carries and the fractured relationship with his daughter. Driving through expansive, snow-covered vistas, Joby embarks on an introspective journey, the boundless whiteness mirroring his emotional ambiguity. Director So Yong Kim, known for her work in »Treeless Mountain«, once again delves into a family's intricate dynamics. Yet, she doesn't merely recount the story; she becomes a silent observer of Joby's life and a father’s struggle to reconcile his past failures while attempting to connect with a daughter he barely knows. The moment he finally reunites with her, their interaction is fraught with restraint and timidity, mirroring each other's hesitations. In a brief, transcendent moment, the film invites us to witness their unspoken connection, allowing them to coexist, if only momentarily.

Kiss of the Damned (USA 2012)

The vampire myth is continually sprayed with the holy waters of mass compatibility by the entertainment industry. The longing for suppressed dreams and guilty pleasures of the classical vampire movies is changed into a manipulative instrument for the conditioning of a willing youth. Boringly empty teen idols preach abstinence and a desire for social acceptance under the strong tutelage of a lawful authority. The title alone of Xan Cassavetes debut feature is an elegant rebellion against this thinking. Her story of the beautiful vampire Djuna, who falls in love with the writer Paolo and comes to yearn for the mortality of human life, is rooted deeply in the genre's philosophy and romantic motives. Cassavetes achieves a feast for all senses by celebrating her love of the great European predecessors from the 1970s. The elegiac images of Harry Kümel's »Blood on the Lips« or the explosions of color of Mario Bava come to mind. Still Cassavetes manages to create her own visual style and leads the genre into the 21st century with a masterful hand. Full of melancholy, steeped in eroticism and with a lot of black humor, she hands the vampire film genre back to the grown-ups.

Dixieland (USA 2015)

Chris Zylka and Riley Keough ignite sparks as star-crossed lovers who dream of broader horizons in this Mississippi potboiler by debut feature writer-director Hank Bedford. We follow Kermit (Chris Zylka), a restless and reckless 20-something-year-old just released from prison and keenly aware of the reality that awaits him on the outside. A trailer home, limited opportunities, a loving but disappointed mother (played in a transformational turn by country icon Faith Hill), and misguided friends willing to lead him right back into the life of crime. At a crossroads, he finds solace in the company of Rachel (Riley Keough) – the sexy, chain-smoking girl next door with a tough veneer who has taken up stripping to support her cancer-stricken mother. The two lost souls soon form a cocoon of young love with dreams of escaping their one-horse town. And Kermit is driven to help them out – the only way he knows how. One last job. One last bad choice. Framed as a crime thriller and intercut with real-life interviews of colorful local characters, it seethes with atmospheric poetry and emotional heat. In the heartbreaking world of Dixieland, one wild summer simmers deep into the soul.