A Los Angeles native who preferred European art cinema to Hollywood studio fare, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko made her mark on the independent film scene with her moody examination of sexuality, ambition, and heroin chic in High Art (1998).
Raised in the San Fernando Valley, Cholodenko had no thoughts of becoming a filmmaker when she headed to college at San Francisco State. She had changed her mind, however, by her mid-twenties. After working as an assistant editor on Boyz 'N the Hood (1991) and Used People (1992), Cholodenko enrolled in Columbia University's graduate film program in 1992. Mentored by Milos Forman, Cholodenko made two highly regarded short films, Souvenir and Dinner Party. After earning her M.F.A., Cholodenko served as an assistant editor on Gus Van Sant's To Die For (1995) while working on the screenplay for her first feature, High Art.
Taking off from Cholodenko's firsthand observations of the 1990s New York art world and her interest in such photographers as Nan Goldin and Larry Clark, High Art centered on a reclusive photographer-turned-junkie and the aspiring young art magazine editor who becomes infatuated with her. Starring Ally Sheedy in a career-resurrecting performance as the doomed artist, Radha Mitchell as her naively ambitious admirer, and Patricia Clarkson as Sheedy's Teutonic lover, High Art earned raves for the performances and a Sundance Film Festival prize for Cholodenko's astute, complex screenplay. Despite High Art's success, Cholodenko's second feature, Laurel Canyon (2002), languished in development hell for several years. Her interest in the darker reaches of character psychology, however, served Cholodenko well as a TV director, helming episodes of NBC's lauded Homicide: Life on the Street before it went off the air in 1999 and HBO's blackly comic family drama Six Feet Under in 2001. Cholodenko finally got to return to features when one of High Art's producers plucked Laurel Canyon out of turnaround purgatory. Focusing on the temptations of Southern California, Laurel Canyon starred Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale as an uptight young couple seduced off the straight and narrow by Bale's hedonistic record producer mother Frances McDormand.