“Diane,” his narrative film debut, revolves around a selfless widow (Mary Kay Place) struggling to help her drug-addicted son (Jake Lacy). The film debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it earned the top prize for narrative film and picked up screenplay and cinematography awards. In August, IFC Films acquired the U.S. rights to “Diane,” which it will release theatrically in early 2019.
Jones, who has directed several documentaries including “Hitchcock/Truffaut” (2015), got the idea for “Diane” long before he took over as director of NYFF in 2012.
“Since I was very young I’ve been moved to make a movie set in the world of my aunts and uncles and cousins,” Jones says. “Then I saw Mary Kay in ‘The Rainmaker’ and I decided that it really had to be for her.”
In the 1997 Francis Ford Coppola film, Place plays Dot Black, a woman whose son is dying of cancer. It was Place’s approach to the role and the humor she brought to it that appealed to Jones. “That and the way that her character carried sadness,” he says.
It took Jones decades and plenty of drafts to complete the screenplay for “Diane,” but it took just 20 days in early 2017 to shoot the drama.
When making the movie, Jones called upon the knowledge he had gathered from watching and writing about films as well as interviewing and being friends with seasoned directors including Martin Scorsese, who executive produced “Diane.”
“Olivier Assayas once told me that directing is constantly answering questions,” Jones says. “He said, ‘you are responding to everything. Is the response always right? It doesn’t matter, you just respond.’ That was really important to me to hear him say that.”
Jones has known Scorsese for 27 years. The two met when Jones worked as the director’s video archivist in the early ’90s. From 2009 to 2012, Jones served as executive director of the World Cinema Foundation, founded by Scorsese. Together, in 2010, the pair co-directed the documentary “A Letter to Elia.”
“Marty has always been supportive of me making a narrative,” says Jones. “My friendship with him is something that’s at the core of my life, and inevitably it’s reflected in ‘Diane.’”
In his role as fest director, Jones is unusual for making a narrative film on the side. “They are two very different jobs,” he says. “They stand in contrast.”
Now that he’s made “Diane,” Jones has even more respect for filmmakers and the filmmaking process, invoking Frank Capra’s comment: “nobody starts out to make a bad film.”
That said, Jones points his finger at filmmakers for those movies that do turn out badly. “Generally when a movie doesn’t turn out well, the filmmaker is lying to themselves about something on some level,” Jones says.
“Diane” won’t be at NYFF, but Jones will be. He won’t be leaving New York City for the festival circuit for at least a month. In addition to NYFF, he is getting married in October.
“I’ve always been comfortable doing a lot of different things,” he says. “I like it that way.”