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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Diane

by writer/director Kent Jones

I believe that good movies—movies that last and keep evolving in the memory—come in an infinite number of shapes and sizes. But they all share one thing: they were made by someone who needed to make them. Not wanted…needed.

My need to make Diane began many years ago, when I was a teenager and the great aunts I’d grown up with were all still alive. There were uncles too, but it was a big, tightly knit New England family dominated by women, ten children born after the turn of the century in the backwoods who lived and raised their own families through the depression and WWII. They were tough, they were tenderly human, they were mercilessly funny, they were stoic, and there was nowhere I wanted to be more than with them, around the table of my Aunt Kay’s country kitchen in an old farmhouse at the end of a long dirt road bounded by a stone wall built by my Uncle Les. Most of them went through rough times, some of them endured real tragedies. And…they went on. They all lived to ripe old ages. We all thought they would live forever, but of course they didn’t. Many people who have seen Diane in festivals have told me that they feel like they’re watching their own families. That’s something I’m always happy to hear.

As I grew older, the story of the film grew too. It started to become centered on a mother caring for a son with a drug problem. Someone very close to me went through the experience of addiction. I was with him for a lot of it, and I was there when he came out of it. Mothers and sons who’ve been on both sides of that relationship have told me that I did justice to their own experience, and that’s good to know.

When I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s film of John Grisham’s The Rainmaker in the late ‘90s, I was impressed by the movie but truly stunned by Mary Kay Place’s performance as the mother of the dying boy. I had always loved her acting, in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and The Big Chill and in smaller roles in movies and television, but this was something else again. I thought then and there: when I make my movie, she will play the lead.

Mary Kay and I met about six years ago, and I told her what I had in mind. I sent her another script I’d written and she loved it. Periodically, she would check in with me and ask me where I was at with the writing.

During this period, I was losing my mother a little bit at a time. Her dementia began a couple of years after my father died, and she passed away in late 2014. I was there with her, and my friend who had survived addiction so many years earlier was by my side. About a month later, I got an email from Mary Kay, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t answer her until I’d finished a real first draft, which I did in the spring of 2015. It was only when we were editing that I realized just how much of my mother was there in the character of Diane.

No one makes a film alone. I was able to work with so many extraordinary artists, and I learned something from every single one of them. I must pay a special tribute here to Charles Weldon, who plays the small but crucial role of Tom. Charles, who was the Artistic Director of the Negro Ensemble Company and had a long and distinguished life as an actor and a musician behind him, passed away in December 2018. I feel privileged to have met him, and to have had the chance to work with him.

Is Diane a sad film? Yes, but it’s other things too. I wanted to make a movie that was sad in the way that life is sad, and joyous and funny in the way that life is joyous and funny, and confusing in the way that life can be confusing, and then…sometimes life just happens, and sometimes it just is. That’s what I tried to reflect and embody in Diane.

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