“Wait, was that the night we were all pole-dancing at subMercer?” asks director Kimberly Peirce, the visionary behind Boy’s Don’t Cry and this year’s Stop-Loss. She laughs from her belly, and it’s incongruous, given that I’m here as her guest, to watch her accept the Andrew Sarris Award at Columbia University, her alma mater. After a montage sequence that projects her most moving scenes for a crowd of aspiring filmmakers and aging professors, Peirce takes to the stage. She scans the room, and says, “People always ask me for advice, for that one thing that might help them ‘make it’ in film.” Aside from truth and passion and all the ideals that one learns in film school, she shrugs her shoulders and jumps into an anecdote about how she found herself hitting rock-bottom on national television.
Boy’s Don’t Cry was conceived while Peirce was still in school, albeit not as a feature film. She had little money, and no resources—a film school pauper. The person she had entrusted to look after her meager finances had taken advantage of her naïveté, and somehow, she found herself paying back thousands of dollars in debt for a car rental service gone awry. “I didn’t even have my license!” she says, laughing now. She was served with papers from the person to whom she still owed tons of cash, and shortly afterward, found herself standing in front of former New mayor Ed Koch on “The People’s Court.” Before the big, wooden doors (“fake,” she says) opened in front of her, an ominous Moviefone voice echoed, “She set out to make a movie about a transsexual…”
In front of Koch, Peirce deferred as he asked questions like, “Did you know that Vincent Van Gogh never sold even one of his paintings while he was still alive? Did you know that he never made any money doing what he loved? Did you know that he cut off his ear?” Peirce nodded. “Well, Miss Peirce, maybe you are this generation’s Van Gogh.”
I can’t remember whether or not she won, because I was too enamored of Peirce’s self-deprecating charm. And as we waved goodbye to Peirce and the reception’s shrimp cocktail, we sort of think Koch had a point—about the genius, not the ear.