Indie Icons: Kimberly Peirce
Emotionally charged works that illuminate some of the most controversial issues of society are typical of stories written and directed by multifaceted rising director Kimberly Peirce. Peirce was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on September 8th, 1967 and lived in a trailer park for some time. After attending high school in Miami, FL she went on to study at the University of Chicago and there she majored in English and Japanese Literature. Following this she proceeded to go to Japan to work as a photographer as well as a model. Her notable debut, which established her reputation as a fearless and intriguing director was Boy’s Don’t Cry, which took her nine years to make. Her most recent Stop Loss, which was a Paramount Pictures production.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Peirce went on to get her MFA in film at the prestigious Columbia University in New York City. While at Columbia Peirce was working on a thesis about a female soldier in the American Civil War when she suddenly dropped the idea because she didn’t “personally connect to it enough.” But sparks flew and brilliance was concieved when Peirce read an article in the Villiage Voice about a person named Brandon Teena, a transman who was raped and killed in Falls City, Nebraska and Boy’s Don’t Cry was born.
Peirce notes that she “falls in love with characters as she brings them to life,” She says, “When I was eight years old I did animation and I loved bringing characters to life- they were like little friends to me, little human beings.” She certainly fell in love with the characters in BDC. She especially fell in love with Brandon Teena. The controversial film uncovers gender and sexuality issues that are generally brushed under the rug so to speak far too much within our society. Based on actual events the film follows the life of Brandon Teena a transgendered teen who preferred life as a male until it was discovered he was born biologically female. Her research and love for the film brought her to Nebraska where she talked to the real people she was writing about and she even sat in on the trials of the two homicidal suspects in the case which helped fuel her passion for the film.
While in New York, Peirce was moved by the tragic events of 9/11, and was inspired to write and direct the film “Stop Loss,” a political film which examines the policy currently affecting military personnel and their families. Soldiers who have completed their tours of duty in Iraq are being called back to the war zone for second and third tours.
This policy is being adopted because of the decreasing number of people entering in the army. This phenomenon is also known as the “back door draft.” A more personal connection for Peirce is present for this story because her brother enlisted in the army and was sent to Iraq, she talked with him via text messages for a while. Although her brother didn’t have to go back because of medical conditions, his friends did and she got to talk to them first hand. “This film is emblematic of our generation,” says Peirce.
Winning several awards which include but are not limited to, “The Princess Grace Award” from Columbia, the Astraea Production Grant (which helped Peirce with the making of BDC,) best New Filmmaker Award from the Boston Society Film Critics, Peirce has certainly begun to make quite a name for herself. As of 2008 she is in the process of co-writing a feature called, “Sex, Secrets and Taboo Suburbia.” She also directed one episode of the hit Showtime show, “The L Word,” and was signed by “New Line” in 1998.
Most of Peirce’s work involves gender identity and sexuality as well as political issues, the constructs of society and the stereotypes and discrimination that stem from it. She illuminates these issues and the importance of them. These kind of issues are more prevalent within our societies than we think. Yet directors like Peirce open our eyes through real, raw, and emotionally driven works.
“That’s what I’m most interested in — creating states of emotion for the audience. That’s how I watch movies. I can love all these different kinds of movies, but what I really love is when they get inside my nervous system.”
Online Journal. The Advocate (Los Angeles). April 2 2002.
Online Journal. Sight and Sound. 2008. Stop Loss.
various online interviews (you tube)