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Book Excerpt: Roads to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt's broken American Dreams

The below is an excerpt from the new book Roads to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt's broken American dreams, which is being released by Seventh Row Publishing on July 7. Reichardt's latest film, "First Cow," is now available on all digital platforms. 

Find out more about the ebook at, visit

When I saw Kelly Reichardt’s second feature, Old Joy (2006), for the first time some years ago, I was amazed at a sequence where the camera holds on the landscape rolling past a car window for minutes on end. I wasn’t bored; Reichardt’s films have the uncanny ability of calming the speed of my thoughts down to their own pace. She’s a minimalist filmmaker: characters rarely speak in Reichardt films, and when they do, every word and every trick of phrasing means something. But her films also give you room to breathe. They take their time to build detailed cinematic worlds that are dense with meaning. 

We started writing Roads to nowhere a year before we even saw Reichardt’s latest film, First Cow (2019). While this book has a significant focus on First Cow, as it’s one of Reichardt’s richest films to date, she has long been a filmmaker in full bloom. No other working filmmaker can say so much with so little. I was struck by stories I’d heard about Reichardt’s precision with dialogue: she carefully hones her screenplays and then insists the actors speak the lines as written, without missing a word. On the surface, hers are simple films telling simple stories, but there’s so much bubbling underneath that’s revealed through delicate wording or carefully composed frames. 

Roads to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt’s broken American dreams is the most expansive book the Seventh Row team has written to date, because of the depth of Reichardt’s filmography, and because of the unprecedented access we had to her and her generous collaborators. Ours is certainly not the first book about Reichardt’s work, but it’s the first to offer a 360° look at how she works from the perspective of all her key collaborators. Existing books on Reichardt are generally academic collections with a narrowly auteurist lense. We wanted to create something different. Recognizing the collaborative nature of film production, Roads to nowhere is both the first book to dissect First Cow, and the first to explore Reichardt as a leader as well as an auteur.

In Roads to nowhere, you will read a number of talented writers’ takes on each of Reichardt’s films, and then we will take you behind the scenes with the people who made those films and uncover exactly how they did it. The book’s centrepiece is a meditative interview with Reichardt herself, looking back on her career and her process. But more than that, this book is a visual feast, full of behind-the-scenes diagrams and polaroids provided by Blauvelt, first assistant director Chris Carroll, and camera assistant Jordan Green.

A key part of the writing process was interviewing Reichardt’s collaborators — cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, costume designer April Napier, screenwriter Jon Raymond, and many more, from pre- to post-production. As we’ve found with our previous books about filmmakers, such as Tour of memories: The creative process behind Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir or Peterloo in process: A Mike Leigh collaboration, you can only truly understand how a director works by talking to the people who work around them. That’s especially true with Reichardt, who’s so heavily involved with every aspect of production: she writes or co-writes her screenplays, and she edits her own films. But her collaborators also highlight the invigorating, familial energy she cultivates on set and off. They describe working on a Reichardt film as a special experience, one that comes along rarely in a film career, because everyone is so committed to doing right by her vision.

When I got to speak with the woman herself, it was under strange circumstances. We started prep for this book before the SARS CoV-2 pandemic sent the world into lockdown and prompted the release of First Cow to be postponed. While I briefly spoke with Reichardt a few times during the film’s hectic press tour, my final and longest chat with her was over Skype, from the comfort of our respective homes, in the odd calm after the whole world seemingly shut its doors. I asked her to reflect on her career and “the whole weird road” that led her to where she is today, making the movies she wants to make in the way she wants to make them. It was a pleasure to hear a seasoned, masterful filmmaker look back on the myriad ways she honed her skills and the many people who helped her along the way. It’s the kind of conversation that could have only happened during lockdown, when Reichardt had the time and space to reflect on past experiences, away from the all consuming mania of a press tour. That interview features as chapter 1 in this book.

Together, these interviews and essays illuminate a filmography of intimate, personal stories about huge concepts and social structures. Reichardt’s films are predominantly set in the American West, particularly Oregon, despite the fact that she herself is from Miami. She’s not interested in telling stories about extraordinary people who defy all limits; her films are about normal Americans with everyday struggles who don’t get a triumphant ending. They are people who live in the shadow of the larger-than-life myths — of cowboys, colonisation, and masculine heroism — that the American West is built on. We called this book Roads to nowhere because Reichardt’s characters are often on a journey, either literal or emotional or both, to a “better place” that they never reach. She refuses to give her characters conclusive happy endings in a world where such things don’t really exist, especially for the marginalised Americans her films so often centre.

Roads to nowhere will take you on a journey through Reichardt’s career and illuminate her singular filmography, whether you’re new to her work or already a fan The first two parts of the book will introduce or reintroduce you to her work and place it into context, before parts three and four delve into each of her films individually, with case studies devoted to analysing Certain Women (2016) and First Cow in depth. The last three parts are interview-focused. Through interviews with the production and post-production collaborators, as well as the actors, who worked with Reichardt on First Cow and past projects, we walk you through the making of a Kelly Reichardt film step by step. Get ready to gain a new appreciation of the work of one of America’s foremost auteurs through the words of writers who fell in love with her films and the filmmakers who created them.

Orla Smith, Executive Editor of Seventh Row

Find out more about the ebook at:
Read an excerpt from the book here.
Listen to the podcasts on Reichardt here.
Get a Kelly Reichardt mug here.
Read Seventh Row here. 

About Seventh Row:

Seventh Row is an online Canadian Non-Profit publication that releases four highly-focused ebooks a year, each focusing on a film, director, or theme in cinema we’re passionate about. Through in-depth interviews and well-researched essays, we demystify the myriad technical choices behind films we love. Seventh Row is supported entirely by ebook sales, merchandise, book club memberships, and donations

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