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Credit: Emma Cummins | Collegian

Whit Stillman is an American writer and director. He earned a nom­i­nation for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his 1990 film “Met­ro­politan” and directed “Love and Friendship,” an adap­tation of Jane Austen’s novel “Lady Susan.” He spoke Wednesday night at the Center for Con­structive Alter­na­tives lecture series “Jane Austen on Film.”

Q: How did you get into the film business? 

A: When I was at Harvard, I went in wanting to be a nov­elist. But then I got very intim­i­dated at the thought of writing at length and being all alone, so I thought, “well, I’m more gre­garious, maybe I could work in TV comedies.” I had no way of getting into it, so I fol­lowed my resume into book pub­lishing for four years, very anxious to get into film. I found a way to rep­resent Spanish films for their sale. Some of the Spanish directors asked me to be in their films. There’s actually a film out now I had a role in called “Mem­ories of my Father” that just won an award in Spain. So, I got into the film business in Spain.

Q: What got you so inter­ested in Jane Austen?

A: I ini­tially hated Jane Austen. I read Jane Austen when I was really depressed my sophomore year. I was in this totally funky state — I had just been dumped by a girl, and someone told me to read “Northanger Abbey.” I really hated the book and I told everyone how awful Jane Austen was. I was encouraged to try again and I read “Sense and Sen­si­bility.” And then I really got to like them and began to read more and more. When I was writing the script for my first film, “Met­ro­politan,” I’d read parts of “Pride and Prej­udice” to clean my palate. An argument I had with a friend about “Mans­field Park” became part of the story of that movie.

 Q: What is your favorite Austen novel?

A: I have three favorites that are subject to change. “Mans­field Park,” “Pride and Prej­udice,” and “Per­suasion” all do dif­ferent things that are really inter­esting and really sym­pa­thetic with dif­ferent coloration.

 Q: What is your favorite film adap­tation of an Austen novel?

A: I really like our comic version of “Lady Susan,” called “Love and Friendship.” I think the great one is Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sen­si­bility” with Emma Thompson, as well as the “Pride and Prej­udice” TV long form. I’m so totally biased, though. The others might be good, but since I want to do them myself I just can’t bear them.

 Q: Do you have plans to do more Austen adaptations?

A: Yes, I do.

 Q: What are you thinking about adapting?

A: One thing I’ve learned about film projects is never tell people what it is. I’ve already said too much.

 Q: What do you think makes Austen so special and so long lived over two cen­turies after her life?

A: There’s a writer whom she greatly admired, a dom­inant figure in the 18th century, Samuel Johnson. Jane Austen’s kind of the fic­tional version — the cul­mi­nation of the John­sonian point of view in fiction. One of his the­ories was that people working at the beginning of a new form have all kinds of advan­tages. There’s room for greatness that people working in later periods have a very hard time equaling or sur­passing. Jane Austen really was present at the cre­ation of a certain kind of novel form. And also you have her excellent moral char­acter, her humor and her judgement, and the fact that she was working from this beau­tiful, very pro­found, John­sonian tra­dition. Her work is like a garden that has been beau­ti­fully fer­tilized, and she’s the first-growth oak in this terrain. She looms really large in that way.

Q: You’re a film­maker, but you’ve been involved in jour­nalism as well. What have your edu­cation and career looked like?

A: I studied U.S. history at Harvard and I had two pas­sionate interests there. One was the school paper. They had a very brutal, tough, masochistic com­pe­tition to get on the paper. It was a hor­ri­fying expe­rience, but it was a good expe­rience. It was a great edu­cation, and it was actually one of the best prac­tices I had for film directing. The other thing I was very inter­ested in doing were these sort of varsity shows — the stupid musicals they do with males playing female parts. I wrote two of those and I was really inter­ested in it. And then I realized later when I made the film “Damsels in Dis­tress” that it was essen­tially me getting to make the silly musical comedy I couldn’t make in college.