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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

The First Monday in May

by director Andrew Rossi

In making The First Monday in May, I was drawn to the opportunity of filming with Vogue editor Anna Wintour and being able to revisit the mythology that surrounds her. I admit that when we first met I was surprised at how personable and forthright she appeared, because the legend from depictions like The Devil Wears Prada had led me to expect a cold and intimidating character. But she was far from that in our meeting, and I knew that I wanted to make a film that would, to some degree, unpack the Anna Wintour mythology.

During the several months of shooting I found it interesting to see Anna so engaged in the creative aspects of putting the Met Gala together, her attention to detail, her sense of the chemistry with everyone invited, how the party reflects the Costume Institute exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a very creative process and I think she may be viewed as more of a manager or producer, but from what we see in the film, I think she is as committed to a creative vision as to the commercial end. And as a person, she’s a human being. She’s neither the “dragon” nor the “devil” that gets bandied about in the media. Yes, she is a very exacting boss and she does not shy away from conflict; we see that very emphatically in the film. But I think that, as Baz Luhrmann suggests in the movie, when that behavior is exhibited by a male CEO there’s very little focus on that as a problem or something out of the ordinary.

Most of the films I have directed go behind the scenes of institutions that seem impenetrable from the outside. For example, with Page One I looked at The New York Times and with Ivory Tower we went on the ground at schools ranging from Harvard to Arizona State, and more broadly throughout higher education. I’m interested in understanding the mission of an institution as it plays out in the journeys of individuals who comprise the place. Hopefully, in the humanity of someone who represents the organization we might come to understand more deeply why the institution occupies a vaunted or contested role in our society, and whether that position is warranted or not. So when I had the opportunity to go inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art I was thrilled at the notion of understanding why, as a society, we have museums, what their functions are and how we decide what qualifies as the “art” that entitles an object to be inside the hallowed museum walls.

The exhibition we followed was “China: Through the Looking Glass,” which presented a fascinating context in which to see how fashion is not just about making clothes. Instead, in the show we see how designers have interpreted Chinese visual symbols to create a fantasy version of Chinese iconography, which they freely manipulate in terms of the fabrics chosen, silhouettes created and visual motifs employed. The designers take an idea about Chinese culture and totally transform it into an original work, so it really shows how the creative process in fashion can be an artistic process creating a work of art.

But there are also fascinating conversations here about how the designers are taking ideas about Chinese culture that have been passed on through film and other sources that come not only from Asia but from Western authors, many of whom have created movies or artwork that has embedded in it racial stereotypes. So that also opens up the question of whether the designer or indeed the curator of the show has an obligation to address those stereotypes and, at a minimum, flag them and try to unpack them.

Ultimately, this film has multiple layers, both in its approach to its subjects and in the subjects’ efforts themselves. I hope this comes through for audiences in a revealing and compelling way.