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Lena Dunham and the Second Wave of Mumblecore

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Lena Dunham, then - you know the story. 26-year-old New Yorker, looking at you from every magazine and blog in the UK, saviour of television, icon of femininity. You know why she's the story too - her TV series Girls starts on British television on the 22nd October, though let's stop pretending that you and I haven't already seen it all and, even if you didn't love it like me, we both know you have a strong opinion on it.

It doesn't matter whether you like Girls or not - the bigger story is that new people are taking over your screens. Dunham is an exciting high point in the slow emergence in the mainstream film and TV world of Mumblecore, the mid-2000s low-budget movie phenomenon that fascinated indie film world lovers like me but barely made it to UK screens. It's a silly name for a movement that never existed - ironically given to a loose collection of films by 20-something hipsters in which very little happens, sex is realistic, strange and funny, isolated individuals negotiate their urban environment embarrassingly badly, and the part-improvised dialogue is often mumbled.

Even the directors who've since taken a small step towards more conventional films - Joe Swanberg, the Duplass brothers and Andrew Bujalski for example - won't appear on Oscar nominations shortlists or be featured in Gala opening screenings at film festivals.

These films were obscure and wonderful experiments. Lena Dunham doesn't make "Mumblecore Films" because no-one does (it doesn't exist, remember) but her first two features, Creative Nonfiction and Tiny Furniture have all the marks of what excited me about the 'glory days' of Mumblecore - the joy in banality, the ironic recognition of young self-obsession, the realism about love and sex, the sparse dialogue, the way that when dialogue does come it's funny and quick, the reveling in the weakness of men and the power of women, the commitment to making real stories about the present day, the ensemble cast of co-dependent creative people in front of and behind the screen.

Dunham does this better than most before her, adding a New York neurosis that's familiar from a thousand tales on our screens of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Even though I live in a trendy part of East London, young life in New York still feels exotic, mysterious, dangerous.

Dunham draws references from Desperately Seeking Susan, Smithereens, Breaking Glass, Party Girl, Slaves of New York - all those tales of flawed young people (especially women) dancing and struggling for footholds. Dunham is often referred to as the new-and-female Woody Allen, and though the comparison is frustrating, it's true that she shares his ability to fill a city with melancholy and nostalgia, a sense that the best has already been and we're all ironically living out our days, so let's make good jokes and talk about it endlessly. This is all very Mumblecore in subject, even if the style and production methods owe more to John Cassavetes and Rainer Werner Fassbinder - but that's another story.

There's another aspect of Dunham and Mumblecore that conjures up Woody Allen, and that's the Jewishness of it all. The Jewish Community Centre for London has chosen to screen Tiny Furniture followed by a Q&A on Mumblecore http://www.jcclondon.org.uk/our-events/arts-culture/tiny-furniture not as a random act, but because Mumblecore feels like a very Jewish movement.

Dunham is half-Jewish and many Mumblecorists are/were too, but that's not why I say this. It's the anxiety, the kvetching, the recourse to friends and food if there's an issue, the wandering, the self-doubt, the weirdness about bodies. It's also the fastness of the speaking, the culturedness, the irony, the urbanity, the piercing of ego. Woody did this alone for decades, now he has his filmmaking children. It may not make a difference just yet to where international Jewish communities go next - I don't want to load Dunham with even more responsibility - but I do take great joy in these public expressions of urban Jewish realism that aren't clichéd shtetl tales, and I think it's potentially revolutionary if alternative young narratives of Jewishness emerge.

Will we see more Mumblecore hit the mainstream now? We will if more people like Dunham want to make honest stories about their lives without respect for convention. So it's up to you - pick up a camera now and make a Mumblecore film that you feel is 100% honest, and you might end up with an HBO series too.

The JCC for London will be screening Tiny Furniture at 7.30pm on October 22 at the Charlotte Street Hotel, 15-17 Charlotte Street, London W1T 1RJ, followed by a Q&A with Charlie Phillips and Kate Taylor from the Independent Cinema Office. Tickets £10 from www.jcclondon.org.uk