Lisa Cholodenko truly discovered film while working as an assistant editor on "Boyz N the Hood" with the film's writer/director, double Academy Award nominee John Singleton; and on "Used People" with director Beeban Kidron. These projects spurred her to pursue a film career. She soon enrolled at Columbia University's School of the Arts, where she received her M.F.A. in screenwriting and directing. There, under the auspices of her mentor
Also at Columbia, Focus Features CEO James Schamus was one of her professors. She made her feature directorial debut with "High Art," starring Ally Sheedy and Radha Mitchell, from her own original screenplay. The intimate NYC-set drama world-premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where it brought her the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Following the film's theatrical release later that year, Ally Sheedy was cited as Best Actress by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics, and won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead. "High Art" received four more Independent Spirit Award nominations, including Best First Screenplay and Best Supporting Female (Patricia Clarkson). Additional honors for the picture included the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film [Limited Release] and the Deauville Film Festival's Jury Special Prize.
During editing sessions for "High Art," she would listen to a great deal of music. One morning, her editor, Amy Duddleston, brought in the Joni Mitchell record "Ladies of the Canyon." Cholodenko became inspired, and so Joni Mitchell would be the catalyst for her second feature, "Laurel Canyon," set and filmed in the heart of the Hollywood Hills. The film, starring Kate Beckinsale and Christian Bale, world-premiered at the 2002 Cannes International Film Festival. "Laurel Canyon" subsequently brought the writer/director the Director's View Film Festival's Dorothy Arzner Prize in 2003; the film also earned Independent Spirit Award nominations for actors Frances McDormand and Alessandro Nivola.
Cholodenko's third feature was "Cavedweller," adapted by Anne Meredith from the Dorothy Allison novel about reconciling past and future. "Cavedweller" starred Kyra Sedgwick and Aidan Quinn, both of whom earned Independent Spirit Award nominations for their performances. In 2004, "Cavedweller" brought Cholodenko the Seattle International Film Festival's New American Cinema Award and the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival's Award of Ecumenical Jury.
She has also directed episodes of such television programs as "Homicide: Life on the Street," "Six Feet Under," "Hung," and "The L Word."