- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

Rebecca Miller is a Renaissance woman painter, actor, writer, director. Daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and the late Austrian-born photographer Inge Morath, Miss Miller, 40, has put her creative genes to good use, most recently with "Personal Velocity," which opens tomorrow in some theaters.
Earlier this year, the movie, which she wrote and directed, nabbed the Grand Jury Prize, the top award at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Miss Miller has had a sinuous career path, as she recollects in a phone interview, one that has taken full advantage of the artistic luxuries afforded by her lineage.
She remembers sneaking a copy of the Erica Jong novel "Fear of Flying" from her parents' library while she was growing up in Connecticut.
"I latched onto the Russians early on," Miss Miller says. "I loved 'Anna Karenina' the big epic books about women."
After graduating from Yale University in 1984 and fanning out West on road trips, she tried her hand as a painter, showing her works at the Leo Castelli and Victoria Munroe galleries in New York City.
In the early '90s, she appeared with the likes of Harrison Ford and Kevin Spacey in movies such as "Regarding Henry" and "Consenting Adults."
Then she directed her first film, 1995's "Angela," winner of the Gotham Award from IFP, an organization for independent filmmakers, and the Filmmakers Trophy and cinematography awards at the Sundance festival. A year later, she met her husband, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, at a screening of "The Crucible," based on her father's play.
After the success of "Angela," however, her cinematic ambitions were stalled.
"A film collapsed under my feet in the middle of pre-production," Miss Miller says, alluding to a project called "Gone to Earth," which she had planned to film in Ireland. "I was just not getting my films made."
She recalls thinking: "What do I do every day? I write."
Thus resolved, Miss Miller hunkered down and produced "Personal Velocity," a collection of short stories about seven modern women. It was published in the fall of 2001. She then adapted three of the stories about "the most outwardly dramatic" characters of the book into a screenplay.
"Funnily enough, when I turned away from film is when it came back to me," Miss Miller says.
Her friend Gary Winick, who directed this year's "Tadpole" and "Chelsea Walls," helped finance the movie, filmed on digital video for less than $1 million.
"Personal Velocity" is essentially a trio of short films, each about a woman facing pivotal moments in her life.
"The movie is about how we transform our lives through the choices we make and why we make these choices," Miss Miller says.
Should women marry, have children, pursue a vocation?
"Every choice exacts a price," she says, offering a realist's riposte to the easy utopianism of modern feminism and the injunctions of traditionalism.
Herself a mother of two sons with Mr. Day-Lewis, a 4-year old and a 6-month-old, Miss Miller says motherhood "wanting to have a child, wanting to want a child" is "very central" to each character's personality.
Under her direction, the film's structure changed somewhat from the screenplay she penned.
"When you turn over the part to an actor, you let go of a lot of things," Miss Miller says, explaining how the characters she envisioned in her head took on a life of their own through the interpretations of Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk, each of whom stars in one of the movie's three central roles.
She's quite comfortable, however, with how things turned out.
"Now, I can't imagine any other people playing these parts," she says.
One of her goals with "Personal Velocity" was to boil a movie down to its pithy core, to eliminate fatty cliches, to keep the narrative pace brisk.
"The film for me is three feature films with all the boring parts cut out," Miss Miller says.
She also sought to make each portrait photographically distinct so as to "reflect the inner lives of the characters."
The director bathed the first third of the film in grainy earth tones, giving what she calls a "timeless quality" to one of the women.
For the middle segment, she kept the camera mostly stationary, reflecting the "organized intelligence" of its main character.
In the third and final piece, Miss Miller used lots of tightly panned shots to show a compassionate and vulnerable woman "who sees life in close-ups" but "can't see the forest for the trees."
She peppered several scenes with punchy narration (voiced by "Angela" co-star John Ventimiglia), which, along with the musical score, glues together the three segments.
"You know these three women better than they know themselves by the end of the film," Miss Miller says.
None of the three women is particularly sympathetic; she didn't intend them to be.
No one whose life is opened up to the authorial scrutiny of literary fiction or the dirty-laundry airing of cinematic drama could remain totally sympathetic, she says. "To love ourselves and love each other anyway is the challenge."
Though that may sound like relativism, Miss Miller says her film takes a moral pause before subjecting its characters to collective judgment.
"I try really hard not to judge anybody," she says.
She prefers to leave that job to the audience.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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