TORONTO – Greta Gerwig’s much-lauded solo directorial debut “Lady Bird” comes at a crucial moment for women in Hollywood.
The flood of sexual harassment and assault allegations mounting against major figures in the film industry has many examining the Hollywood system and women’s treatment within it.
Gerwig, who is a strong Oscar contender for writing and directing “Lady Bird,” says she feels “very lucky” she had a supportive community of collaborators as she crafted the story of a strong-willed Sacramento, Calif., teen (played by Saoirse Ronan) and her turbulent relationship with her hard-working mother (played by Laurie Metcalf).
Even as more and more stories arise exposing sexual misconduct and sexism in the film world, Gerwig believes change is on the horizon.
“I hope so, I hope so, I really hope so,” Gerwig said during a recent stop in Toronto, where “Lady Bird” opens Friday exclusively at Varsity Cinema, before expanding into other major Canadian cities on Nov. 17.
“I have to hope so, because I love movies, I love cinema, and film is my home. It’s the place where I’ve put all of my effort and all of my time and I can’t despair, because I love it too much.”
Change is already being felt as more and more female directors, producers and writers made a splash at film festivals this year, Gerwig said.
“That is the thing that will change things: Valerie Faris, who made ‘Battle of the Sexes’ with her husband; or Maggie Betts who made ‘Novitiate;’ or Dee Rees who made ‘Mudbound;’ or Barbara Broccoli who produced ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.’ I could go on. They’re there and they are the ones who will change this,” said Gerwig.
“It’s about giving people who are under-represented more of a chance of a voice and a position of power so that it can never be abused.”
Gerwig, an indie star who got a Golden Globe nomination for her starring role in “Frances Ha” (which she also co-wrote), grew up in Sacramento and has much in common with Ronan’s character.
Both are of the same generation, both went to Catholic girls’ school, both have a registered nurse as a mother, both loved musical theatre growing up, among other things.
“But really it’s not autobiographical at all, literally,” said Gerwig. “They are not the events of my life, nor am I Lady Bird. I was actually quite the opposite of Lady Bird. I was very rule-following, I never made anyone call me by a different name, I was very much a people-pleaser and wanted my gold star.”
Also unlike Lady Bird, Gerwig adored Sacramento growing up. Writing the film was a way to explore something Gerwig didn’t have access to when she was a teen, she said.
“She became a heroine for me and I stole things that I had seen other people do, and I invented a lot. It was a setting that I wanted to write a love letter to and it was a movie about home and how home is something that only makes sense as it’s leaving you, which is something that is really close to me.
“And of course at the core of it is this mother-daughter love story, which is so deep to me.”
That dynamic is one that isn’t explored often by Hollywood, save for a few films like “Terms of Endearment,” which Gerwig chalks up to a lack of female writer-directors.
“Unless you grew up with sisters, I don’t know how you’d really be able to witness that up close and really be inside of it,” she said. “It’s such a specific, complicated, beautiful, loving, fraught dynamic.
“It’s all of those things, which honestly as a filmmaker, that is always what you’re looking for — the things that are so multi-faceted and so complicated that there’s never just an easy answer.”