Lena Dunham is understandably emotional about her return to SXSW.
The young actress-writer-director earned big acclaim — plus the award for Best Narrative Feature — when she debuted her 2010 coming-of-age film “Tiny Furniture” at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas. She’s back there this week to unveil the first three episodes of her similarly themed, seriocomic HBO series “Girls,” which premieres Sunday, April 15.
“It’s so exciting,” Dunham tells Zap2it. “I got here last night (Sunday, March 11), and I was totally overwhelmed, in a good way. I cried for 15 minutes, which was partially exhaustion from staying up too late writing the night before, but also the genuine feeling that this place is hugely meaningful for me.
“To come back here with this new project is massive,” adds Dunham, “There’s also the bittersweet feeling that the last few times I’ve been here, it’s been seven girls staying in a room together, trying to figure out how we were going to get anyone to come see our movie. To see all the bicycles and tents was pretty surreal.”
Also starring several offspring of media figures — “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams‘ daughter Allison, playwright David Mamet‘s daughter Zosia and longtime Dunham friend Jemima Kirke, whose father is drummer Simon Kirke of Bad Company — “Girls” details the often frank misadventures of several New York City-based twentysomethings. Filmmaker Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) is among its executive producers.
A month before its debut, the show is starting to get attention through early reviews and frequent HBO promotion. “My first reaction is to be superstitious,” Dunham confides. “I’m happy for five minutes, then terrified, but HBO has a trust in content that hasn’t necessarily proven itself to have a specific demographic target.
“They’re fine with a show that has to find its audience, and they also really trust a creator’s voice. They’re looking for someone to put their stamp on something, then they kind of go, ‘OK. We’re just going to let you fly.’ It’s sort of awesome to work for a corporation, if you will, that’s giving artists that kind of freedom.”
Dunham earned it with “Tiny Furniture,” which recently got an honor accorded relatively few films … certainly one made by a relative novice. Also having won her a Best First Screenplay accolade from the Film Independent Spirit Awards, it has received special home-video treatment as a Criterion Collection release.
Happy though she is to be at SXSW again, Dunham realizes there’s some downside to her mission to promote “Girls” there. “I’m just sad I don’t have time to see more movies and harass more of my South by Southwest friends,” she laments, “but next time. I plan to be coming here for a long time.”