Lena Dunham’s Creative Nonfiction


Creative Nonfiction is a student film directed, written and edited by Lena Dunham, creator of GIRLs and overall ‘talent of the moment’. I stumbled upon Creative Nonfiction while doing some late night stalking (YouTube is an infinite treasure trove of information).

The student film was obviously very low budget and it seems to have been filmed exclusively at Oberlin College, Ohio. Despite shaky hand held cameras and actors looking directly into the camera, it sustained my attention for its one hour running time, a real feat for such a low budget film.

The film shows an endearing naivety and rawness. Creative Nonfiction could be called cinéma vérité as much of the dialogue seems improvised and most of the actors are less than professional. The characters and situations ring true. The script was probably, like much of her other work, based off her real experiences.

We see the beginning of Hannah Hovak (from Girls) in Ella. Similar situations and themes become apparent: unrequited love, awkward sex and panache for integrating nudity. The interweaved screenplay is interesting. It’s more experimental than shown in Girls. The screenplay illustrates that Dunham has an art house edge, which she has not shown before. After watching the film I feel more confident in Dunham’s talent as a filmmaker.

But see what you think for yourself…



The story follows college student Ella, who begins allowing her friend Chris to sleep in her bed. Chris has mold growing in his room and doesn’t want to sleep there. Ella is confused about the situation and confides in her friend Carly who suggests that he probably likes her.

Ella makes a move, after drinking at a study session, only to be rejected by Chris. He tells her that he doesn’t want a girlfriend. He does, however, agree to make out with her. Chris and Ella continue to share a bed. One night Ella tells Chris she doesn’t mind if they have sex. Chris declines, explaining that Ella once drunkenly told him that she was a virgin.

Ella goes to a music gig and sees Tyi from her psychology class. She goes home early because she realizes she hasn’t left a key out for Chris and is concerned that he will have no place to sleep. That night, Carly asks if she can sleep in Ella’s room because she has been feeling unattractive and lonely, lately. Ella confides in Carly that she is beginning to feel dismissed by Chris. Carly consoles her and tells her she doesn’t like Chris’ attitude towards women. Later, Ella goes to return nail clippers to Carly, only to find Chris and Carly in bed together.

Ella cuts up a picture of Carly and leaves a threatening message under her door, all with strong encouragement from her friend Edie. Ella emails Tyi and asks if she can borrow a psychology textbook off him. Tyi and Ella have a conversation about families that eventually leads them to have sex. Tyi begins to talk as if he and Ella are in a relationship. Ella is put off and leaves. Ella goes to confront Chris and asks him if she has done anything wrong. He tells her that she hasn’t, but that she can be very ‘motherly’.

The entire story is interweaved with footage from Ella’s screenplay that she is writing to qualify for a screenwriting class. In the screenplay, a high school student is having an affair with her English teacher. The affair begins because he loves her poetry. He abducts the student and traps her in a cabin in the woods for three years. The teacher never has sex with her, but ties her up to a typewriter so she must constantly write. She is not unhappy but under a ‘spell of creative happiness’.

When she escapes, she meets a militant feminist who tells her not to tell the police. The militant feminist drops the girl off in a town in army fatigues.  She explains her situation to a young punk runaway. The runaway lets her stay at her squat and dyes her hair blue. But the teacher finds the pair. The punk girl tells her to hide and she’ll get her after he’s gone. The teacher offers the punk drugs to tell her where the girl is. She eventually reveals the girls whereabouts, but the girl has already hitched a ride with a trucker.

The girl gets dropped off at a diner and a fisherman buys her a coffee. They have a conversation and he offers to let her stay with him. The fisherman is very sweet and they fall in love. The girl loses her virginity to him. When the teacher again finds her, the fisherman is sad but knows that she must flee.

Creative Nonfiction ends with Ella waiting to go home for vacation. She tells Edie that she has finished her screenplay and can’t wait to get home. Ella explains that at the end of the screenplay the girl cuts off all her hair and dyes it black. The girl takes a bus to the desert but the teacher shows up in the desert. The girl pulls a gun out from her handbag and shoots him. He dies and she walks away, ‘moving forever into the horizon walking for miles becoming a spec’. The movie ends with a long take of Ella, as the girl, walking expressionlessly ‘into the horizon’.

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image – YouTube