Cannes Hidden Gem: Chloe Sevigny Steps Behind the Camera for Quirky 'Kitty'

The indie darling taps trusted friends — and a fair amount of courage — for her directorial debut about a young girl with an intense feline fixation.

As an actress, Chloe Sevigny has worked with the creme de la creme of auteurs, including David Fincher (Zodiac), Woody Allen (Melinda and Melinda) and Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers). The Oscar-nominated indie darling also has worked with several top female directors, ranging from Mary Harron on American Psycho to Kimberly Peirce on Boys Don’t Cry.

Working with women behind the camera helped shape her own directing style, which she put to use for the first time on Kitty, a whimsical 15-minute short about a girl who desperately wants to turn into a kitten — and then does. “There were some behavioral decisions when it came to the stigma of being a woman,” says Sevigny, 41, of directing for the first time. "Men can be utter narcissists and controlling, and people say, 'Oh, he's just a director,' but if you’re a woman and you show even the slightest bit of that, then you’re labeled as crazy. I’ve worked with lots of female directors who’ve always been labeled that. Any man who would exude any of the behaviors that these women did would even be praised for being a mad director. They’d say, 'How brave! He’s brilliant!'"

It took Sevigny years to find the courage to step behind the camera herself. The idea was first put in her head by cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier while shooting the 1997 art film Gummo. "I was making little collages and art on set, and he said,'‘If you ever want to make a film that looks like this, I’ll do it with you,'" she says. She immediately thought of Paul Bowles’ 1980 short story Kitty.

But years went by, with Sevigny busy with acting, and then Escoffier died in 2003. But recently, Sevigny came back to Kitty after she worked on some other creative endeavors like a fashion line and a photo book. “I think when I turned 40, somehow the confidence came to me and I said, ‘I’m just going to go for it,’ ” she says.

But Kitty, part of Refinery29’s ShatterBox, a series supporting emerging female filmmakers, was no easy task for a first-time director. The project stars a young child (Edie Yvonne), real kittens (seven were used to play the mystical gray feline) and practical effects (adding whiskers to Yvonne as she morphs into a kitten). The shoot took place in Los Angeles, using two homes in Van Nuys and Altadena.

Sevigny’s years in the business helped her recruit a team of key collaborators for Kitty. She hired casting director Laray Mayfield ("She’s cast me in more things than any other casting director of my career," Sevigny says) and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (whom she worked with on 1999’s A Map of the World) to shoot the film on 35mm; she even cast her friend M. Blash to play the cop. "I wanted to surround myself with people that I didn’t have to establish relationships with on three days," she says.

After Kitty premieres on the closing night of Critics Week, along with two other shorts by actresses Sandrine Kiberlain and Laetitia Casta, Sevigny says she’s got her eye on some books that she may want to adapt for her feature-film directorial debut. But first she’s got leftover 35mm stock that she wants to put to good use: “I’d like to do another shoot that’s less formal, something that’s a little looser and with less of a budget. You know, just hit the street and shoot.”