From family videos of grade-school-aged Hilton playing with a bunny to brisk marketing meetings at which she and advisers discuss the "Paris" brand, the documentary offers a lively, sympathetic glimpse into the business of being a manufactured celebrity adored by many and despised by many more.
"I really wanted to make a film about her that was not negative but that wasn't stupid, that really explored the voyeurism inherent in her creation as a new media star," said Petty, the 33-year-old daughter of rocker Tom Petty, in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday, a day after "Paris, Not France" premiered.
"But at the same time, I didn't in any way want to kind of hate on her or do anything that's already been done. When you think about how much has been done about her and how many different vantage points she's been shot from and how many different ways she's been discussed, the only options left were to actually get a little bit more intellectual about it and think a little more about: Why do we watch?"
Petty met Hilton while working as a marketing consultant at Warner Bros. Records, which released Hilton's 2006 pop album. For the film, Hilton agreed to let Petty tag along for a year, sitting in on business and promotional trips, sessions with reporters and photographers, even routine errands.
Hilton already had seen the film but attended the premiere Tuesday night, later having dinner with Petty.
"I think she was really proud of it. She likes the filmmaking and she likes seeing herself in this kind of new way I've shot her.She was stoked with it," Petty said.
The documentary features candid interviews with Hilton, her parents and sister, gossip columnists and cultural observers examining her celebrity and offering insights on the dumb-blonde facade that fronts it. Hilton notes that the airhead image was heavily due to the persona she copped on her reality show "The Simple Life," saying network executives wanted it to be a cross between "`Legally Blonde' and `Green Acres.' They wanted me to be really dumb."
"Paris, Not France" shows a much more self-possessed and well-spoken Hilton. While driving her car, Hilton delivers a long, anguished monologue, discussing her horror over the sex tape with a former boyfriend that found its way on to the Internet. She states that she did not remember filming it, then concludes with her characteristic humor: "I looked gross in that video."
Among the other nuggets revealed in "Paris, Not France": - Hilton reads a gossip magazine, sharing a laugh about an item over Britney Spears' supposed fears that Hilton might try to steal Kevin Federline away from her.
- A TV interviewer asks Hilton what superpower she would want.Hilton replies, "To fly and be invisible and to disappear."
- Hilton states that she loves to sleep as much as she can, continuing to snooze in bed in the morning while her hair and makeup are done.
- She reveals some of her scary dreams, including one where her teeth fall out and one where her brakes fail while she's driving the steep hills of San Francisco.
- While strolling with her cell phone pressed to her ear, Hilton confesses to the camera, "I pretend to be on the phone all the time so people don't talk to me."
Petty initially found it tough to draw Hilton out. Then she discovered that for Hilton, getting behind the wheel of her car was like entering a confessional.
"It took me a long time to figure it out, because I was like, I can't get a good interview out of this chick. I don't know what to do," Petty said. "Then in the car, it was like this magic moment where here was this articulate, feeling, thinking person who could convey what was on her mind.
"I was like, why is it that it's only in the car? And then I realized, the most-photographed, famous woman in the world is shy.
She doesn't feel comfortable speaking in public, where everything she says she's insulted for. So when we're in a private space like her closet with the door closed or the car, she feels comfortable. She just became herself when she got some privacy."