Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgård in a scene from The Diary of a Teenage Girl

New Directors/New Films filmmaker Marielle Heller’s debut feature follows the story of Minnie, a 15-year-old who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Heller talks filming in San Francisco on a tight budget, and the critical importance of telling girls’ authentic stories.

Since 1972, the festival has been an annual rite of early spring in New York City, bringing exciting discoveries from around the world to adventurous moviegoers. A co-presentation of The Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New Directors/New Films is now in its 44th year. Throughout the festival, running March 18-29, FilmLinc will present insights from this year's filmmakers.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Marielle Heller, US, 2015, 100m

Description: Minnie could be your typical 15-year-old girl, awash in the throes of sexual awakening. But because she’s growing up in the free-love-induced haze of 1970s San Francisco, instead of losing her virginity to a schoolmate, Minnie opts for an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s illustrated novel and brought beautifully to cinematic life by first-time writer/director Marielle Heller,The Diary of a Teenage Girl features a heroine who is smart, funny, and talented—with the cartoon characters she sketches occasionally coming off the page to offer additional insight into her psyche. As the precocious protagonist, British newcomer Bel Powley is a revelation, fearlessly embodying the curiosity, heartache, and pleasures of adolescence as Minnie stumbles along on her journey to adulthood. Powley is supported by the moving and tender performances of Alexander Skarsgård as Monroe, the object of both mother and daughter’s affection, and Kristen Wiig as the mom who sees her own youth slipping away in Minnie’s face. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Responses from Marielle Heller:

On falling in love with filmmaking:

For me it has never been about filmmaking specifically, but just about storytelling in whatever medium I am working in. I come from a theater background. When imagining this film, however, I wanted to really dive into the medium, and learn as much as I could about the form, so that I could tell this story in a specifically filmic way. And now I truly love the form and want to keep exploring it. 

On the importance of telling girls’ and womens’ stories:

I feel as though we are starved for interesting female characters, and I have rarely come across depictions of teenage girls that feel authentic.  When I read Phoebe Gloeckner's novel, I was floored by the honest telling of what it feels like to be a teenage girl. It felt important to me to tell that story—I think it's crucial to tell girls' stories. 

On her appreciation of actors and acting:

I really love actors and the art of acting, so I was really collaborative with my actors. I was lucky to work with some of the best actors out there—artists who really wanted to go deep with their characters and their backgrounds, and the script. So we rehearsed and did table work on the script, and then got up on our feet, finding things as we went along. 

On running around San Francisco:

Working in a quick time frame with so many locations was pretty difficult. Some days we had three locations to hit all over San Francisco,  so we had to move quickly. That's where the prep work with the actors really paid off. Plus [we benefited from] having the most incredible DP [Brandon Trost], and crew who were such pros, and were able to work so quickly. We made our way across that whole city during our shoot.

On her exciting current and future projects:

I am writing my next feature, which is a humorous look at grief and mental illness, and I am directing some really exciting television.