Lisa Cholodenko (born June 5, 1964) is an American screenwriter and director of film and television. She wrote and directed the films High Art (1998), Laurel Canyon (2002) and The Kids Are All Right (2010). For the latter film she won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay in 2010. She has also directed numerous works for television, including the 2014 miniseries Olive Kitteridge for which she won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special and the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or TV Film.
Cholodenko was born in the San Fernando Valley of California, the daughter of Marcia Cholodenko (née Elins) and Paul Cholodenko. She is the middle daughter of three sisters: her older sister is Karen Kardan, her younger sister is Laura Cholodenko.
Cholodenko is from a liberal Jewish family. Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Ukraine. Cholodenko's paternal great grandfather was from Kyiv, Ukraine.
Cholodenko studied anthropology, ethnic studies, and women's studies at San Francisco State University. She travelled to India and Nepal and spent 18 months in Jerusalem after graduation.
She then enrolled at Columbia University School of the Arts in 1992, earning an MFA in screenwriting and directing in 1997, where James Schamus was one of her professors, who would later become the CEO of Focus Features.
She got her start in the film industry in New York in the early 1990s. She worked as an apprentice or on John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood and as an assistant or on Beeban Kidron's Used People.
While at Columbia, Cholodenko wrote and directed a number of short films, including Souvenir (1994), which screened at numerous international film festivals and Dinner Party (1997), which aired on UK, French, and Swiss television, and was a winner of the British Film Institute’s Channel 4 TX prize.
Miloš Forman provided mentorship and encouragement as Cholodenko made her feature film debut with High Art. High Art won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival as well as the National Society of Film Critics award for Ally Sheedy's performance. Both High Art and her next film, Laurel Canyon, premiered at Cannes Director's Fortnight. The Joni Mitchell record Ladies of the Canyon was the catalyst for Laurel Canyon, which was set and filmed in the heart of the Hollywood Hills.
In 2010, she was awarded the Women in Film Dorothy Arzner Directors Award.
After completing Laurel Canyon, Cholodenko decided to move to LA permanently. While in the process of trying to conceive a child via anonymous sperm donor, she met with screenwriter Stuart Blumberg, who was a sperm donor in college. Together, they decided to write a screenplay, which would eventually become The Kids Are All Right. However, the project took five years to get to production. Filmed in 23 days, Cholodenko directed the film on a $3.5 million budget, a much smaller amount than her fellow 2011 Oscar nominees. The film was made with three different sources of equity financing, with Focus Features picking up the film for distribution.
The Kids Are All Right received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, a BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay nomination, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay nomination. The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. The film was also named best screenplay by the New York Film Critics Circle and won the Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay.
Cholodenko was a 2012–2013 member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In June 2014, Cholodenko was the guest director of the 20th annual Los Angeles Film Festival.
Cholodenko directed the 2004 film Cavedweller for Showtime; it earned Independent Spirit Award nominations for cast members Kyra Sedgwick and Aidan Quinn. She has directed episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, Six Feet Under, The L Word, and Hung.
In 2014, Cholodenko directed the HBO four-part mini-series Olive Kitteridge starring Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins. Olive Kitteridge is based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth Strout. Bill Murray, Jesse Plemons, Zoe Kazan, and John Gallagher, Jr. co-starred. Olive Kitteridge premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The show received widespread critical acclaim when it premiered on television in November. It received three Golden Globe nominations, and Cholodenko received a Directors Guild Award and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for her work on the miniseries.
Cholodenko was an executive producer, and directed the first episode, of the 2015 eight-part NBC miniseries The Slap, which was based on the Australian miniseries of the same name.
Cholodenko has written three of her films, and there are some thematic similarities as a result. Each of them are psychological character studies, revolving around a small cast of characters, and as the films progress the audience observes how the characters interact amongst each other. Her films address the fluidity of human sexuality and desire, and Cholodenko's work has helped give the LGBTQ community visibility in mainstream culture.
Though The Kids Are All Right was generally applauded by critics and audiences alike, garnering a Metacritic score of 86 and a Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics score of 95%, the film received differing opinions from the LGBTQ community, particularly for the plot device of a homosexual woman truly enjoying heterosexuality. Some critics saw this as a trope used in mainstream Hollywood, citing films like Kissing Jessica Stein and Chasing Amy. However, other critics defended Cholodenko's artistic choice, and found her approach realistic and well-handled.
Cholodenko gave birth to a son, Calder, by way of an anonymous sperm donor, while in a relationship with musician Wendy Melvoin.
Cholodenko lives in the Beachwood Canyon area of Los Angeles.
- Souvenir (1994)
- Dinner Party (1997)
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