The Spokesmouth: Diablo Cody on the Athena Film Festival

The Athena Film Festival runs February 7 – 10 at Barnard College, a celebration and showcase of women filmmakers at the acclaimed women’s college. This year, Diablo Cody serves as co-chair of the Athena Film Festival. We got to chat with Cody over the phone as she prepared for a weekend of films and guest speakers. For more on the schedule visit, as we focus on a few choice programs from Athena and Cody’s own upcoming films.

CraveOnline: I just got back from Sundance where there were quite a good few female directors. With that and Athena Film Festival, is this going to be a good year for women?

Diablo Cody: Man, I am so excited about what happened at Sundance. Jill Soloway, who won Best Director, is one of my best pals and ran “United States of Tara” for a season and I am so happy for her. Then Lake Bell won the Waldo Salt Award. I love her. It’s incredibly exciting, but it’s interesting to contrast the gains that were made at Sundance with the Oscar nominees this year because I’m kind of bummed out that there wasn’t a single woman nominated for Best Director and there was only one woman of 12 writers nominated for screenplay. So obviously strides are being made in the indie world but not necessarily in mainstream Hollywood.

What do we do about that?

Man, we make the Athena Film Festival. That’s what this festival is about. It’s showcasing women who are in leadership positions in films that are maybe not necessarily getting the mainstream attention that they deserve. The festival is necessary. It’s not just some goofy little niche girlie thing that happens at Barnard. It’s important. It’s very important to me.

Interestingly, Brenda Chapman is part of the talks and she was not even involved in the Brave publicity. Was it a big deal to get her and was there any wrangling involved?

I have to say, I am not the wrangler. I am more like the spokesmouth. I have no idea. I’m really excited to meet her because I just think it’s incredibly cool, her story and the fact that a woman was put in charge of a huge movie. I think it’s the highest grossing film directed by a woman ever, so I’m psyched about it but I have no idea if she was tough to get. I’m imagining she was.

Well, there’s a lot more to that story because she didn’t get to stay on Brave as director.

Tell me the whole story.

Oh, did you not know about Brave?

No, I’m kidding. I wish we had time to have an involved conversation about it. We’re going to get to hear her side of the story.

Have you seen any of the films previously? Ginger & Rosa, Invisible War and Middle of Nowhere have played before.

I’m so ashamed of myself, man, because I had a baby a couple months ago and I have two children now. I have a toddler and I have an infant. My movie watching has slowed to a halt. So this festival is very good for me as a viewer because I’ll get an opportunity to catch up with some of the stuff, and I’m very excited about it. I’m just going to escape my family.

Once the festival starts, do you get to go and have fun or is there a juror aspect you’re a part of also?

No, I’m not a juror. I’m just a co-chair so yeah, I’m just going to be basically drunk the entire time.

There’s a movie playing called Women Aren’t Funny. Will you have some opinions about that?

[Laughs] Yeah, this is a debate that rages on. I think I’ve even had this debate with Jason Reitman who I adore. But yeah, you would think that certain brilliant statements by people such as Tina Fey would have laid this whole thing to rest, but there are people that really, truly still believe that women on some primal level, because we’re responsible for protecting the younger of the species, are not funny or not permitted to be funny or should not be funny and it pisses me off. I’m not a comedian but it makes me angry for my comic sisters.

Well, it just came up again recently in the last year with public statements by people like Adam Carolla. Is it cyclical or do you feel it’s always something you have to fight?

I think the thing is funny women are just becoming more and more powerful, so these outbursts are becoming more frequent because certain people are feeling insecure. [Laughs] I think the protests tend to grow louder the more these people are proven wrong, so I’m not expecting this debate to come to an end anytime soon.

If you ever happen to see a female standup comic who really isn’t funny, are you kind of like, “Come on, girl, you’re ruining it for all of us?”

You know, I have to say I try to stay away from that attitude because I think that’s a huge problem and I think actually is what’s keeping a lot of women out of positions of power in Hollywood, because I’ve seen this happen where a woman directs a movie and it tanks. If you read the comments on like Deadline Hollywood, there’ll generally be a woman in there saying, “Great, now my movie isn’t going to get greenlit. Thanks a lot for making all women look like crap.” I’m like, that’s so incredibly unfair, because you know what? If Movie 43 tanks, you don’t see guys in the comments on Deadline going, “Oh man, f*** the Farrelly Brothers. Now my movie’s not going to get greenlit.” Because it doesn’t work that way for men. It’s not seen as a male filmmaker who failed. It’s seen as a filmmaker who failed. It’s got to be the same way for us.

Have you directed your film yet?

I directed in the Spring and the movie is going to come out in 2013, it’s called Paradise. It’s finished and I’m very proud of it and I’m looking forward to showing it off.

How different will a movie that you also directed be from your produced screenplays we’ve seen?

[Laughs] The directing might seem more amateurish. No, it’s different. I would say it’s smaller in scale. It’s very personal. It’s very sweet. It’s very much a romantic comedy, extremely girlie. It’s mine. I think the entire spectrum of my  personality is on display in this film but I also feel people might not be expecting it. Coming off of a movie like Young Adult that was very cynical, I think the sweetness and spirituality of this movie might take people by surprise.

But isn’t that how each of your movies are? It’s a surprise to people who were expecting something like the one before it.

That’s what I’m always trying to do. I would like to have a really diverse career. That’s my dream is to just keep doing something different and to never repeat myself. I think there are certain themes that come up over and over again in my work but I don’t ever want it to be executed in the same way.

Was writing Evil Dead very much a Diablo Cody project or something in service of another vision?

100% in service of Fede Alvarez and the producers, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. I was just honored to have gotten that call. I thought, all right, if there’s anything I can do here, a little dialogue work, a little story work here and there, I’m just happy to be their hired gun for a couple of weeks. That’s what I did and that movie is… I’m excited. I mean, have you seen the trailer? It’s terrifying.

Did you add any touch to the tree scene?

I was not involved in the tree scene. I will be playing the tree. No, I’m kidding. Yeah, it’s pretty messed up. I think people have been waiting to see a horror movie like this for a long time. I think it’s going to be cathartic.

Are you still working on Sweet Valley High?

I am still working on Sweet Valley High. I hope that there will be an announcement about that very soon because I’m very excited about the direction that that project has gone. It’s a musical and it’s super cool and it’s my dream.

Has a musical gotten easier with the rise of “Glee” and “Smash” and Les Mis?

You would think, but nothing’s ever easy. Nothing’s ever easy when you’re a weirdo and you keep handing in weird scripts.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.