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Niki Caro wants to 'kick the door open' for other women directors

Director Niki Caro (left) and Jessica Chastain attend the SAG-AFTRA Foundation talk about
Director Niki Caro (left) and Jessica Chastain attend the SAG-AFTRA Foundation talk about "The Zookeepers Wife" in New York City.
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Director Niki Caro will soon be part of a very small club of women directors.

She's been selected to direct the live-action remake of “Mulan” for Disney, making her only the fourth woman to helm a non-animated movie with a budget of more than $100 million.

What does Caro think of the distinction?

"[It] feels really good, actually. I'm really excited to flex the filmmaking muscle at a budget of that size and movie of that scale," Caro says. "I want to kick that door open so hard so that legions of other female directors can race through it. And we can only do that by making these movies really successful."

Caro first attracted international attention with her 2002 independent film, “Whale Rider," which was set in her homeland of New Zealand. That led to the 2005 film, “North Country,” which garnered Oscar nominations for Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand.

But it took another decade for Caro to get her chance at another big film. Her latest is “The Zookeeper’s Wife” with Jessica Chastain, which opens March 31st:

The film tells the real-life story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, a Polish Christian couple who sheltered hundreds of Jews in their zoo in  Warsaw during World War II.

Interview highlights:

On what it was about the story that inspired her to make the film:

Ultimately it was the radical humanity of the Zabinskis — and the fact that they were zookeepers. For Antonina Zabinski, her instinct to nurture and protect animals transferred just seamlessly to the human species, and I found that really inspiring. They did what they did for pretty much no other reason than it was the right thing to do. And that decency and radical humanity really spoke to me.

On the relevance of the story today:

This story needs to be told and retold. It's a profound example of what can happen when we don't learn from the mistakes of history. The interesting thing about "The Zookeeper's Wife" is, I started working on it seven years ago. Then, I thought that I was making a historical drama. But the world's changed so profoundly in the last seven years — and certainly in the last seven months — that it seems as if we've made a very contemporary film, because the circumstances in Poland in the late '30s are not very different from what we're starting to observe now in 2017.

On whether she made a conscious decision to hire women to work on 'The Zookeeper's Wife.' (Jessica Chastain noted that she'd never worked with so many women on a film before):

Not at all. That was just the best person for the job in any given department. But then, it's natural for me to have other women around. I like it. As Jessica says [in the article], the balance is really good to have both men and women on a movie set. It's very natural, it's very organic. The surprising thing for me is how rarely she has experienced this. That's quite sobering.

On what it's like to not be treated the same as men in the industry:

I feel that those hiring still consider it a risk to hire a woman, which to me is absurd. For those of us who do it, there is no opportunity to fail. That's the difference. I was doing press in Italy when I had finished "North Country," and I was told by an Italian journalist that females were not as good at directing as men. I challenged him on that and I said, "Why do you say this?" He said, "If women were as good as men at directing, there would be more of them." I said, "It's not that we're not as good, it's that we have to be better just to hold on to the position that we have and just to get that next job."

On what she has planned for "Mulan," her next film:

It's slightly premature in that I haven't actually begun on "Mulan" yet, but I love her. I love her spirit and I love her strength. I love what she represents and I love that girls love her. It's incredibly important to me, and to the studio as well, that the movie is very authentic culturally. It's exciting for me to explore and represent the Chinese culture very specifically and joyously.

To hear the full interview click the blue player above.

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