At a Harvard reunion one year, Whit Stillman heard about a group of young women who set out to make college better. "They would dress up and be stylish and have parties, and that was all sort of part of their mission," he says. "It's easy to get into a mediocre, depressive, unnhhh, college-student thing. These girls really cheered people up."
After a 13-year break, Stillman – whose awesomely talky, semiautobiographical field guides to preppy-dom (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco) – is going back to school. In his new college comedy, Damsels in Distress – which scored raves at the Venice and Toronto film festivals and is out this spring – a group of in-girls led by mumblecore beauty Greta Gerwig (the cast also includes Adam Brody and Analeigh Tipton) engage their unstylish, boorish and even suicidal classmates in a cheerful program of self-improvement and dance parties. "Having places people can go for fun dancing is one of the great things about civilization," says Stillman, who re-created his own 1970s spin through New York's nightlife in Last Days of Disco. "Suddenly everybody was dancing like it's the big thing. It lasted four years."
This story is from the November 10, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.