“Some people will of course accuse me of misanthropy and cynicism. I can’t celebrate humanity, but I’m not out to indict it either. I just want to expose certain truths.” Todd Solondz
Indie filmmaker Todd Solondz is known for his thought-provoking, socially conscious pictures, including Happiness (1998), a drama comedy about a dysfunctional family, which reaped a Cannes Film Festival’s FIPRESCI Prize, a Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival’s Critics’ Choice Award, a Toronto International Film Festival’s Metro Media Award, a São Paulo International Film Festival’s International Jury Award, a Fantasporto’s Directors’ Week Award and a Chlotrudis Award. Several years earlier, Solondz became a cinematic phenomenon for the low budget feature Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), which was about the struggle of an unattractive girl coping with a discouraging environment. The Dollhouse soon collected a Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, a São Paulo International Film Festival’s International Jury Award and a Berlin International Film Festival’s C.I.C.A.E. award for Forum of New Cinema.
Solondz also mulled over the social criticism theme through his Storytelling (2001) and Palindromes (2004). The former Writers Guild staff member and ESL teacher for immigrants began to feel disappointed with major industries after shooting his first major movie, Fear, Anxiety and Depression (1989, also acted in), over which he did not possess creative control.
Childhood and Family:
The second child of Gaby and Philip Solondz, Todd Solondz was born on October 15, 1959, in Newark, New Jersey. He has a sister named Lori Solondz (born in 1955). In the 1960s, the whole family moved to suburban Livingston, in New Jersey.
Eight-year old Todd considered being a rabbi and attended several religious, public and private schools. However, he later dismissed the idea and studied English at Yale University, where he began a growing interest in cinema. After briefly working as a messenger at the Hollywood’s Writers Guild while writing screenplays, he honed in on his cinematic skill at the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Todd, who then went to NYC to join the Peace Corps, was rejected by the organization and finally taught English as a Second Language to newly arrived Russian immigrants. Todd retried filmmaking after his lawyer friend gave him financial support.
Welcome to the Dollhouse
While studying at Tisch, Todd Solondz wrote and directed the short movie Feelings (1984) before making his notable 12-minute short film Schatt’s Last Shot (1985), in which he also starred as the titular reckless high school student trying to prove himself. The compelling project won Solondz a deal with Creative Management Inc. and later, a three-picture contract with Columbia and 20th-Century Fox.
Solondz was then seen taking a minor role in the short comedy In Transit (1986, played a musician, also served as production manager) and the Michelle Pfeiffer-starring Married to the Mob (1988, as the zany reporter). He also shot his first major movie, the flopped comedy Fear, Anxiety and Depression (1989, also acted). Disappointed with Hollywood, Solondz decided to seek social jobs in New York, where he met a lawyer who agreed to provide financial support for his screen project.
“In American films, this period of life is not treated seriously. You have either the cute and cuddly Disney kid or the evil devil monster. For me, it’s fertile territory: middle class kids growing up in the suburbs.” Todd Solondz
His next movie, the satirical Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), was released and had a screening at the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival. Chronicling the struggle of an unattractive girl, the indie film won a Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic, a São Paulo International Film Festival’s International Jury award and a Berlin International Film Festival’s C.I.C.A.E. award for Forum of New Cinema. The low-budgeted movie, which boosted the career of actors Heather Matarazzo and Brendan Sexton III, also received two Independent Spirit, a Deauville Film Festival’s and a Valladolid International Film Festival nomination.
Todd impressed the film industry with his controversial movie about the twisted life of a dysfunctional family titled Happiness (1998). Starring Jane Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle and Dylan Baker, the movie soon swept up such awards as a Cannes Film Festival’s FIPRESCI Prize, a Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival’s Critics’ Choice award, a Toronto International Film Festival’s Metro Media award, a São Paulo International Film Festival’s International Jury award, a Fantasporto’s Directors’ Week award and a Chlotrudis award for Best Screenplay. Additionally, Happiness also brought in a Golden Globe nomination. Initially distributed by October Films (a subsidiary of Seagram), the movie was later overseen by indie distribution Good Machine Releasing.
In 2001, Solondz premiered his fourth feature, Storytelling, at the Cannes Film Festival. The drama comedy raised some hubbub for its two separate stories, “Fiction” and “Non-fiction,” which explored the issues of sex, race, celebrities and exploitation. It was ensued by Palindromes (2004), an adventure focusing on a pre-teen’s desire to have her own baby. Besides provoking the audiences with such social issues as abortion, child abuse, Christian fundamentalism and teenage pregnancy, Solondz also cast eight different actors, with different races, ages, physical appearances and genders, to play the main character Aviva.
- Fantasporto: Directors’ Week Award, Happiness, 1999
- Chlotrudis: Best Screenplay, Happiness, 1999
- Cannes Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize - Parallel Sections, Happiness, 1998
- Toronto International Film Festival: Metro Media Award, Happiness, 1998
- Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival: Critics’ Choice Award for Best Film, Happiness, 1998
- São Paulo International Film Festival: International Jury Award, Happiness, 1998
- Sundance Film Festival: Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic, Welcome to the Dollhouse, 1996
- Berlin International Film Festival: C.I.C.A.E. Award - Forum of New Cinema, Welcome to the Dollhouse, 1996