An Interview with 'A Teacher' Director Hannah Fidell

A Teacher is one of the many incredible films playing at the Loft Cinema Film Fest this week, and I've written about it in this week's TW issue. Out of all the festival films I previewed, this one stuck with me the longest. A Teacher stars newcomers Lindsay Burdge and Will Brittain as a teacher and a student who are in the midst of an illicit affair. What could have been mere sensational, tabloid fodder is instead a moving film about love under disastrous circumstances. It's one of the best debut films I've ever seen.

What's your film-making background?

I didn't go to film school. I did, however, study film theory and cultural anthropology in undergrad as well as media theory in grad school. In a way, I feel like that gives me a leg up to explore more non-traditional types of narratives than someone with formal filmmaking training.

Was the film inspired by a certain teacher/student affair?

Nope. At it's heart, this is a story about doing something you know you shouldn't do and yet not being able to stop yourself. That could pertain to more than just a teacher/student affair and I certainly drew on my own experiences (as did Lindsay and Will) while we were making the film but I can safely say that none of us had ever had affairs with our teachers (or vice versa).

At times the film almost seems down right romantic, and there were moments when I forgot the heaviness involved in their relationship. Besides Mary Kay Letourneau, do you think a relationship like this could work/last when the student reached a legal age?

I'm wary of any relationship lasting...let alone one where the age difference is so great. I think, and granted I'm no expert here, but I've come to see a pattern in the type of women who sleep with their students...they've missed out on some part of their adolescence and are trying to make up for it too late in life. That said, I was very much trying to play upon audience expectation and kind of fuck with it...what I mean is that I wanted the audience to feel grossed out by maybe feeling some sort of sympathy for Diana's (the teacher) character...much in the same vain as what Michael Haneke does in The Piano Teacher. I know that post-Breaking Bad the buzz word of the day is "anti-hero" but I've always looked at the character of Diana as being just that.

Lindsay Burdge was excellent. Was the role written for her in mind, or was their an auditioning process?

She is an incredible actress. Yes, I wrote the film for her and she very much helped to craft who Diana ended up becoming. I was lucky enough to be friends with her first and we had made a shorter film together a few years back so we knew the best way to work with each other already which made it a lot easier than having to figure it out as we were filming.

What projects are you working on now?

I'm doing a movie that Mark Duplass is producing about the end of a young couple's relationship (hint: its another fucked up relationship movie) and i'm also remaking Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker which is a film noir from the 50s.

The film plays tomorrow night at 8 p.m., and Fidell will be in attendance for a Q&A. More information can be found at the Loft's website.