Daniel Barnz in Wonderland

Out filmmaker Daniel Barnz arrives on the scene -- attended by the likes of Felicity Huffman and Patricia Clarkson -- with his first film, Phoebe in Wonderland .

BY Kyle Buchanan

March 08 2009 11:00 PM ET

After years of work in
Hollywood as a successful screenwriter, Daniel Barnz has
finally seen one of his scripts reach the screen, and it's the
one he made his directorial debut on. The out filmmaker's first
film,
Phoebe in Wonderland

, is about a creative 9-year-old (Elle Fanning) who begins to
act out in ways that stymie her academic parents (Felicity
Huffman and Bill Pullman). Though they've long encouraged
Phoebe's free thinking, they have trouble suppressing their
desire to see her lead a safer, more conventional life. Barnz
spoke to Advocate.com about the film's relatable gay themes, as
well as the effect that becoming a gay parent has had on his
story.

Advocate.com: You've said that much of the film is derived from your own
feelings of being different as a kid. Can you tell me a little
bit about that?
Daniel Barnz:

I was definitely, like, the weird kid growing up. I think
it's just so difficult to people when you're an outsider
and you're different, and yet you do come out the other end and
feel like it's given you a different perspective on things,
which you're grateful for.

Which, of course, is a journey any gay person can
appreciate.

You know, I'm particularly interested in things where society
confuses issues of choice and biology, which obviously plays
out in the film in a very specific way, and it sort of plays
out in the gay world as well. Frequently, these issues are
considered an issue of choice when, in fact, they're not.
People try to respond to that by setting rules and stuff, and
so for me, having gone through that experience, it sort of
naturally segued into what the movie would become about.

That's what struck me while watching the film: A lot of the
time, the arguments and discussions that Phoebe's parents are
having about her could be the ones made by parents raising a
gay child. They appreciate what is special about her, but
they're worried about how other people will react, and how it
might make her life more difficult.

Yeah, absolutely. Over the course of the 10 years that it took
to get this script made, I became the parent of two children
and it really did sort of change my perspective on how I wanted
to portray those parents. I think that we're living in this
really confusing age where we really want our kids to be
special and different, and then when they are special and
different, it's also really painful. Like, I have a
daughter who is very introspective…a little bit reticent and
kind of shy. She's not the kid who, like, goes in on the first
day of school and wows everybody. I really value and I'm in
love with that sort of quiet, introspective quality that she
has, but then it's hard when you go to the class and
you're like, 'Why don't you go up and show off for
everybody too?' So I think it's very interesting how,
as parents, there's this sort of conundrum that faces
us.

Tags: film

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