SXSW 2012: Lena Dunham returns as one of the 'Girls'
Writer-director-performer Lena Dunham is one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the South by Southwest film festival. She first came to Austin, Texas, in 2009 — also the first year for current festival producer Janet Pierson — with the short feature "Creative Nonfiction." Dunham met a number of people who would become key collaborators on her breakthrough film, "Tiny Furniture," which won multiple awards at SXSW in 2010, and she was back in Austin on Monday to premiere the first three episodes of her HBO series "Girls."
The show centers on Dunham's character, two years out of college and recently cut off financially by her parents, struggling to make a go of things in New York City surrounded by a circle of friends. The show has Dunham's signature blend of incisively urbane wit and wince-inducing self-involvement, such as when her character rebuffs her parents with, "I have a dinner thing and then I am busy, trying to become who I am."
Dunham was joined onstage at the Paramount Theatre by the show's executive producers, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner. Moderating the event, Pierson chuckled at a question regarding the inspiration for the show, as Dunham simply pointed to herself.
"I made this film 'Tiny Furniture,' " explained Dunham, "which was about this sort of moment immediately after college that I had experienced as extremely confusing.... Historically I have been interested in the female experience — that's a ridiculous thing to say out loud — but there was stuff that I wanted to continue to explore."
Apatow compared "Girls" to previous projects he has been involved with, the film "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and the television show "Freaks and Geeks," both for the way it turned out better than he expected and how the cast — which includes Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky — seems made up of many potential stars. He also acknowledged how much of his previous work is seen as dude-centric.
"I've never been around so many women before," said Apatow of his involvement in the production. "That was a new thing. No bongs, no penises, and they don't really like pornography. It was all very new for me in this collaboration."
"For me it's been low-stress," he added. "I'm like, it's Lena's show."
While it might seem unusual for a film festival to air episodes of a television show, the decision was motivated partly by the desire to continue to showcase Dunham and also as a way to include a medium where many currently find vibrant narrative storytelling.
"That's intentional," said Pierson in a phone interview before the start of the festival. "I think there's a lot of talent working in television, and we've been trying to figure out how to celebrate that kind of great filmmaking even if you're watching it on HBO or Showtime or AMC. It's great entertainment that you see on a screen. We've been trying to figure out for a number of years how to spotlight it, and the program with 'Girls' came together perfectly."
— Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas
Photo: Jemima Kirk, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet in "Girls." Credit: HBO.