Thursday, May 17, 2007

Director Joachim Trier on Citation, Skateboarding, and "Reprise"

-Interview by Jon Robbins

Is it true you were the skateboard champion of

Many, many years ago, yes. I started skateboarding during a period when skateboarding was banned in Norway, from 1979-1989. The only place in the world where skateboarding was not allowed! Either you had to smuggle the boards or build them yourself. So I grew up in this sort of underground skating punk scene where we had to run from the cops and make our own [skateboarding] ramps in the forest. I made skateboard videos.

In fact, I had started making videos as a child. My grandfather, Erik Lochen had a film called The Hunt (that has screened at Lincoln Center), and my parents were involved with film. Since film had always been something I just did, it took me some time to get that I could make a living with film. I started making fictional shorts in 16 mm, and it began to occur to me that through film I might devise a language of my own. Then, when I was 23, I went to the National Film and TV School in London, where I had the fortune of studying with professors like Stephen Frears.

Skating and punk both involve so much self-expression. Do you refer to these experiences when you make films?

I found these to be helpful in the sense that directing entails dealing with pressure and trying to inspire those around you. In skateboarding you can hone a sort of style, but you cannot thematically deal with anything as you can in cinema. I was never good at writing in the literary sense of the word, and was never a musician, so I yearned for something else. In fact I did co-write the script for Reprise, but always aiming for the image.

Would you talk about your connection to Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, which several critics have brought up in conjunction with Reprise.

It has been brought up a lot, and I do like Truffaut, but I also like a lot of the French New Wave, and particularly Alan Resnais. Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad were more what we were inspired by for Reprise than Jules and Jim, although that’s been the one to come up with the critics. Of course it is a huge compliment to be associated with a director like Truffaut. I love the French New Wave in general, Goddard, the writer Alain Robbe-Grillet. And while the opening scene in Reprise does allude directly to the New Wave, ‘inspired by’ would be a more accurate way to characterize the relationship.

Oh I was so convinced…

It’s great that different people have different reactions to the film. One Norwegian critic, and I took this as a huge compliment, said that Reprise was ‘Antonioni on amphetamines!’ So a lot of stuff has come up. All in all I’m a big film buff, I grew up watching these films. For Reprise I was inspired by films like Diner by Barry Levinson, or Annie Hall, or Before The Revolution by Bertolucci. Many, many things, although Truffaut is relevant.

Did you watch any of these while shooting Reprise?

No, it was more subconscious. I never watch a film and then consciously try to make a pastiche of it. But our minds are made up of the iconography of cinema in a way. And I want to let the audience be a part of this discourse. In Reprise, I think the pastiche is in the more humorous parts. Like the beginning, what we always call the overture of the film, which introduces the story, presents the themes of the movie, which will then proceed very differently. I guess that is rather New Wave.

In Reprise you embrace the iconography, as you put it, of these early postmodern filmmakers in a wholly postmodern way…

Well, as a student, I named two films after Jean Baudrillard books. I’m not an academic but I’m hugely inspired by theory, especially French Poststructuralist theory, but all kinds of theory, really. That’s not to say I want to illustrate theories in my films, but I do find it inspiring to ask questions about perception of reality and identity.

And just a little note on your notion of postmodernism: I’ve always asked myself if there ever really was a modernism in cinema, or was it just automatically postmodern from the get-go because of the nature of the medium. Film was already a mixture of high and low culture, it was already dealing with representational identity, it was very often an conglomerate of many means of cultural expression, and very early on film engaged with the notion of identity, and the fluidity of identity and point of view. So I often find words like modernism and postmodernism to be empty when it comes to cinema, which lacks a clear art historical development.

But it seems to me that modernism is ingrained in cinema somehow, that cinema is a form that comes from modernism…

Peter Schepelern, the Danish theoretician, tried to find that break, when modernity as such became postmodernity. Where can we find it? There is always something postmodern there at play in the language of cinema.

May I suggest that your film iterates this break…

Oh yes?

In the sense that it is much more difficult for you or any other contemporary filmmaker not to cite, that the filmic vocabulary, as it were, has grown so much since 1960, never mind 1895.

But if you look at Goddard, he was constantly citing. I mean, look at the Claire references, the American references in his early work. Truffaut as well, was playing with gangster and film noir. You see, I think it was already there, postmodernity, the break was already there, whether one likes it or not.

With all this talk of French filmmakers, I’d like to ask you about the role Paris plays in Reprise. Philip takes Kari back to Paris, specifically to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. And to a tower from which one can see the cleaving of Paris, from city to banlieu…

Yes, yes! Buttes-Chaumont is a special park, and my co-screenwriter, Eskil Vogt, lives nearby. He is also a director, in fact. And I spend a lot of time in Paris, just to get away from things. In fact, Buttes-Chaumont was very popular with the Surrealists. It is a highly constructed place: in the middle of the park, they constructed a mountain and a pastiche Greek temple. So it was perfect for the love that Philip was trying to recreate with Kari. That mise-en-scene really matches the sense of fakery. As for the cleaving of Paris, I think it’s a beautiful idea, but I didn’t think in those terms at the time.

And Philip, too, is split. Try as he might, he cannot resummon his love for Kari.

Eskil and I have a very close friend who was schizoaffective. So we knew about this disorder, which is a combination of a sort of psychosis and bipolar disorder. And we were interested in dealing with mental illness but did not in any way want to do a sociological study. Instead, we aimed for the metaphor of ambiguous identity. In reality, the myth of the mad artist is very sad: Van Gogh was not productive when he was in a psychotic state, it is a terrible tragedy for these people. And then we paired Philip with Erik, a character almost out of Henry James, the kind of person who longs for catastrophe, and feels the unbearable lightness of things. At its core, Reprise is the story of friendship.

And then, in terms of identity, I’d like to say something about Norway, the suburbs of Europe, where one often grows up watching American movies, reading French novels, listening to British music, and reading Japanese comic books. Your identity becomes your taste. Even now, I try not to separate the intellectual from the emotional, nor form and content in cinema. If a scene works on a formal level, it can then have an emotional resonance and an intellectual one. At least this is the gap we were trying to bridge with Reprise. This richness is important to me.

Reprise is also rich in its portrayal of male relationships…

Well, I was very interested in that. I wanted to make a complex film about male interaction. I think people are quite mixed, and I wanted to show these guys who talk roughly but are fragile. And the moment they stop being so close, this sort of talk stops. I really tried to capture that particular way guys have of communicating.

Notions of identity and autobiography are constantly in play in Reprise. Manohla Darghis, for one, wrote about the title of Erik’s book, “Prosopopeia,” citing the theorist Paul de Man on autobiography. Come to think of it, how autobiographical is Reprise?

It is and it isn’t. Both [co-screenwriter] Eskil Vogt and I used a lot of ourselves, and I did find many parts of Philip and Erik that I could relate to. It’s a very personal film, in language and form, because the characters and I come from same milieu. You see, process is incredibly important to me. For me, the most important thing is to express feeling and mood with my films. It’s so difficult to do, but it’s what we all aim for. So when people talk about a film being ‘personal,’ they often only mean autobiography. Yet, there are other ways a film can be very personal. As a director, your mise-en-scene combined with your approach to time are what make your films your films.

As to Prosopopeia, it’s a Greek term meaning ‘to give voice to.’ “The voice of the woods,” for instance would be Prosopopeia. I understand what she’s referring to in talking about Paul de Man, and we’ve never had anyone spot that, so I really appreciated it. Also, Erik gives his book that impossible title, which I find very endearing.

Is it true that most of the actors were amateurs?

I had lived seven years in London and was going back to Norway just to make a film. We worked from a group of about a thousand people, and the leads are mostly nonprofessional actors. The actor who plays Philip will soon be a doctor, in fact. (He was also just voted Norway’s sexiest man by Elle magazine!) We did a redraft of the script after the cast was set, just to make sure everything would fit. This mixture of amateurs and more experienced actors I found rather scary but it’s also one of things I’m most pleased with. I’m very proud of the performances in this film. The actors really gave of themselves. “Every day on the set is also just a day in the actors’ lives,” to quote Goddard. And even though I myself don’t improvise, I shoot a lot of extra material. I think the ratio is 25:1. I like that, I like to go a bit further each time.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

Monday, April 9, 2007

Director Rodrigo Moreno on Actor Julio Chávez, Storytelling, and "El Custodio"

The remarkable character actor Julio Chavez ("A Red Bear," ND/NF 2002) disappears into the nearly silent role of a middle-aged bodyguard. The cleverly paced, slow-burning tale is a mesmerizing portrait of a man whose all-consuming job is to be an invisible human shield.

Director and screenwriter Rodrigo Moreno spoke with me about his film, "El Custodio." Prohibited from smoking by a stern cafe-owner, Moreno banged the table to emphasize each point. I trembled with the table.

Interview by Jon Robbins

Why a movie about a bodyguard?
I used to tell an official story, but I’ll tell you the inside story, Jon. In reality, my ex-girlfriend’s father was appointed to a government position five or six years ago. He was not involved in politics, and was in no danger, but protocol dictated that he have a bodyguard. So the family’s life was transformed with these silent, armed guys following them everywhere they went. One time we were gong to a restaurant, and there was no place in the family's car, so I rode with the bodyguards, and it was during that short period that I decided I had a film. As we ate I was overwhelmed by the idea that these armed men were waiting for us outside.

Was there one bodyguard who was like Reuben?
No, Reuben is my invention. What interested me was how vicariously Ruben lived, and moreover how people can experience life so vicariously. This isn’t just the case for bodyguards, but for husbands, bosses, wives, parents, whatever. So I created this very silent character called Ruben.

The actor who plays Ruben, Julio Chávez, is fantastic.
He’s not a famous actor, but he’s well-known and very well respected. In fact he just won a Silver Bear in Berlin for another film a few weeks ago. Yes, he’s a very good actor, and I’ve known him since I was a kid because he’s a friend of my mother's. That made it easy for me to get the script to him.

Julio Chávez played the main role in an Argentinean film from the 80s called La Pellicula del Rey, about a filmmaker trying to make a movie in Patagonia. It’s a fantastic comedy that won big awards at Venice, and a very good film. I was eleven when I saw it, and it was a kind of revelation for me. I don’t know quite how it happened, this symmetry, but that film, when I was eleven, made me want to study film. And now Julio is the protagonist in my first feature film.

Was there a lot of discussion between the two of you on what form the film would take?
We spent a year preparing, reading the script, discussing how we would approach it. Julio asks such precise questions that it makes you a better filmmaker, you learn from him. He made me a better director.

Rodrigo Moreno and Julio Chávez between takes

Is he a director as well?
In a sense. He is one of the most important professors of theater in Argentina. Everybody in Buenos Aires wants to study acting with him. And he’s also directed a few plays. Mostly he is very intelligent and excellent to work with.

One really impressive aspect of "El Custodio" is how you were about to blend comedy with serious moral examination. It was a marriage, not a juxtaposition.
For me it is very important that everything should have a sense of humor. My previous films were all comedies.

At the same time, I needed to say in my film that a bodyguard is not a doorman, although he can be treated that way. Ruben is a soldier, a policeman, he has a loaded gun under his jacket, and he thinks in those terms. The way Ruben knows how to live, the rules he knows, all lead to the end.

And what a challenging role he had to play. I was particulraly interested in how you constructed Ruben's sexuality. Sex for him wasn’t erotic, but humiliating...
Ruben spends his time guarding the family. On a rare day off, he finishes his birthday with a decadent prostitute in Buenos Aires. I wrote Ruben as someone who is contained, who needs to keep everything inside. Sex fits into this theme. That scene shows how alone he is in life, how folded into himself he is.

I have to say that everything in this film is a preparation for the ending, everything goes to that point. It is a a big boiling pot that is always ready to overflow its container. Every level of the film works in this way, leading you to the end. In formal terms, it is a film about point of view. That is how I did the sound, the framing, everything from Ruben’s point of view.

The ending is risky...
It’s nice to able to take risks in life, and in film, as well. When I was writing the script I was invited to many workshops in France, in Spain, and even then I knew that some people would love it and some hate it. So I was prepared for the reaction it’s gotten. But this is the film I imagined. Indeed, the day the film came to me, I wrote an outline, and have stuck to it.

Film is an exception, different from real life, for me. The reason Ruben ends as he does explains my need in making the film. I made it because I wanted to see this choice, it is my view of the life Ruben has to lead. The minister is hardly the Latin American villain, and the film is not a sociological exploration. I say this without meaning to be pretentious, but I mean the film to be an existential film, a universal film, not a sociological treatment.

Interview by Jon Robbins

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Director Peter Schønau Fog on "The Art of Crying"

11-year-old Allan’s life is dictated by his father’s tears. Mom oversleeps, so the only one who can truly comfort dad is Allan’s sister Sanne. Director Peter Schønau Fog ably strafes the horror/humor divide, and with irony and ample respect brings to the forefront the tabooed horror of child abuse. The Art of Crying is a beautifully shot film by a very capable new filmmaker.

I spoke with director Peter Schønau Fog about The Art of Crying. Composer Karsten Fundal and Irene Meltzer Richard of the Film Society of Lincoln Center joined us.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

How closely did you follow the novel in making your film?

Not at first. I maintained the intention of the story and the tone from the novel, but overall, not everything is similar. One big challenge was getting the boy to be the emotional center of the film, while making it clear that he cannot be responsible for all the things he faults himself for. Luckily the author is very happy with the film.

Did you write the screenplay?

In Denmark, films are supported with government money, especially in the case of The Art of Crying, which is in a particular dialect that few Danes speak. There are essentially two people who determine funding, and the first one told me she didn’t think child abuse could be successfully treated in a film. The second one wanted a different actor for the part of the father but he did fund us for a sort of pilot. So we went to the area where the boy is from, and shot a funeral. It was a short.

But he didn’t choose to support the film. Then, two years later we found a third man and he liked my directing and the book. But he didn’t like out script. You see, the book is quite episodic, whereas we tried for one straight story line with big emotional impact. He thought we should redo the script and adopt the episodic approach. So we got a completely new screenwriter and he worked on it for a year, and then he and I worked on it together for another eight months.

Peter Schonau Fog. Photo: GODLIS

So there are only a handful of these state funding agents?

Yes, basically there are two people who decide if your film will be funded in Denmark. And if they say no, then no studio will fund it and no production company either. But the upside is that once you’re funded you have a lot of freedom to do what you want.

What sort of background do you have in film? Is “The Art of Crying” your first feature?

Yes it’s my first. My two brothers and I grew up on a small island off the west coast of Denmark. Despite this not being a place with any connection to film, my brothers and I all got into computers and film when computers were Commodore 64 and the cameras were huge. From there it’s been a long struggle to get into a position where I could make my first feature. I’ve been doing a lot of local television, I studied theater at the university in Denmark, and spent a year at the Czech Film School in Prague, and four years at the national Danish Film School. My thesis short film there won a lot of prizes and was shortlisted for an academy award there. That was seven years ago.

Was it about a similar subject?

No, but it also was in a local dialect. It takes place in the small island we’re from. It was much more realistic, whereas in The Art of Crying the film is colored by the boy. It tells the story of a young man who, driving drunk, killed the son of a local patriarch. He returns to the island and suffers unbearably, but in the end it is a story about forgiveness.

For me the real evil in the world lies in simplifying things and simplifying human beings. As long as we keep relating to each other as human beings we are on the right path. And that even goes for people like the father in the story. I mean, the reason why these evils circle from generation to generation is that the people are not treated as human beings. We too often see them as monsters and no one dares deal with a monster. For me to understand the father and the reasons why he does what he does was a way to deal with it. I had to find a human understanding for this character, however difficult it may have been

I was impressed by how confident and nuanced your visual style is, especially since this is your first feature…

Irene Meltzer Richard (to Peter): You seem to have a very strong directorial vision. You’re somebody who knows what kind of film he wants to make. The film really exudes an incredible amount of directorial confidence. I was wondering what you’ve done before, where that came from. It’s really remarkable

Peter: Well, thank you. I’ve been doing projects since I was fourteen. So in a way I’ve spent the last twenty years in film. As a director, I try to aim for a combination of precision and real life. If you want precision, you cut away life, the two are opposites. If you only want life, you’ll be chasing the actors around with a handheld camera. Or if you want precision, you’ll put the camera on a tripod and arrange the set. And this kind of approach, aiming for precision in forming an image leads to a kind of style. My approach involves fewer cuts than most films these days. You’re not being thrown around quite as much. I was working with young actors and I wanted them to come out in the film. Does that make sense?

One film I talked about with my cinematographer was Badlands. It is a very beautiful film and there is also the element of a main character who doesn’t entirely get what’s going on around her. In this case it’s Sissy Spacek in the voiceover. But of course The Art of Crying is not as beautiful as Badlands and the two are different.

Irene: Have you [and composer Karsten Fundal] worked together before?

Peter: No.

Irene: So how did you find each other?

Peter: It was one of those ads in the paper. Male seeking…

Karsten: A mutual contact liked my music and suggested me to you.

Peter: I really liked his music.

Was it a unique challenge composing for a film with such sinister elements?

Karsten: I think the unique challenge was not so much the subject but the depth of the film. How it mixes humor with the extremely serious. That was really a challenge, and you really have to push yourself.

Peter: It was a very emotional process and I think that goes for everything in this film. We had to be very intuitive and to see how it felt. It was a very difficult film to calculate beforehand. We had to be emotionally there.

Karsten: Up until the very end, we had a lot of back and forth of finding the right tone.

There was German opera, or were they lieder?

Karsten: It was Schubert.

Peter: The idea came from the book. The author’s father had the complete works of a Danish singer called Axel Schultz, who was quite famous in the 20s, 30s, and 40s. He also had a career in New York. He was the most famous Danish musician at the time. There’s a lot of feeling in that music, and it is heartfelt. We listed to the music and thought it might become too ironic, but then we tried it and it felt right. I always enjoyed The Last Picture Show, how Hank Williams is used. Maybe this was a sort of inspiration for me.

I’ve seen films from the Netherlands and Denmark that use German as a language of transgression, and I was wondering if there was an element of that here...

Peter: Well, German plays a very specific role in this part of Denmark, which had actually been German. The film was shot one kilometer from the German border, a border that has switched hands many times. The patriotism and relationship with Germany I didn’t stress in the film but it’s in the book. For instance the mother is into German Slager music and the father hates it.

There are a couple of Danish flags in the film, because the flag is more important to Danes in this part of the country than elsewhere in Denmark, and they are more patriotic. But I don’t think it is the language of transgression.

Karsten Fundal, you made particular use of counterpoint in the film music…

Karsten: I tried to create a kind of thematic tension. I really thought in terms of this process in composing for the Art of Crying. For instance, in the funeral scenes, which are so grotesque, with the father crying, I couldn’t make the music too ironic, or sarcastic, that would have killed it. For me to make the music, I thought a lot about the children and that scene with the angel, that scene of discovery. For me music describes all those things you cannot otherwise describe.

Do you find that you faced particular any difficulty making a movie about child molestation being a man…?

Peter: I actually haven’t thought about it. Of course it is an unpleasant subject matter to attach yourself to, but on the other hand, it’s too important not to address it. Maybe it’s because people know me from another film which is also quite sincere, and quite serious. My reasons for making The Art of Crying are also serious, even though there’s humor in it.

Would you talk about the actor who plays the father…

Perhaps you know him from a Dogme film called Mifune. He’s a well-known Danish actor who usually plays humorous, likeable characters. He was very happy to get this part but it was also quite tough on him, all the crying.

And the children are not professional actors, is that right? The boy is the son of a local pig farmer?

The film is done in the local dialect of this area and so we had to find children from the area who spoke the language. (Incredibly, the father learned the dialect for the film)

The daughter was able to cry on cue, and the son was quite incredible. By the end they were professionals. I really enjoyed working with those kids. They were so strong, so good, so grounded in a way.

How did you approach the subject of the film with the children?

We talked about it.

With a psychologist around, or with their parents…?

Well, actually, the girl who plays Sanna, when she found out she would be acting out an incestuous relationship, she felt she had to share this with her schoolmates. And when she announced this in class, most of her classmates didn’t really know what she was talking about, which shocked her. From this experience, her need to tell the story grew.

As for the boy, I didn’t know exactly to what extent he understood it, but he clearly understood it well enough to do what he needed to do in the film, which I think shows a clear understanding. He is also a very clever kid who is in a very different place in life from the character he portrays.

What’s your next project?

I plan to work on a film about religion.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

Friday, March 30, 2007

New Directors, New Faces Gather at Gabriel's

On Thursday evening we all enjoyed a delicious buffet and cocktail reception at Gabriel's. The party was full of new faces from the second half of New Directors/New Films. Director Philippe Falardeau showed off his "Congorama" totebag (above). And at one point, we even had a very special guest photographer: the director of "Meanwhile," Diego Lerman!

The reception at Gabriel's was made possible by the generous support of Cineric.

Diego Lerman ("Meanwhile") and Antonio Campos ("The Last 15")

Francine and Balazs Nyari (President of Cineric)
From right to left: Director Ying Liang ("The Other Half") with Marian Masone, FSLC

Director Geoffrey Enthoven ("The Only One")

Joanna Ney, FSLC, with Julia Loktev ("Day Night Day Night")

Francine Nyari with Atsushi Ogata ("Eternally Yours")

Director Diego Lerman ("Meanwhile") and friend

Genevieve Villaflor and Marian Masone, FSLC, with Balazs & Francine Nyari
Liza Johnson (Director of the Opening Night short at last year's New York Film Festival, "South of Ten") enjoys some red with Francine and Balazs Nyari

At the end of the evening, guest photographer (and Director of "Meanwhile") Diego Lerman snuck a group photo -Jon Robbins

"Cowboy Angels" Ride The Elevator to the Top of MoMA: Director Kim Massee With Actors Noelie Giraud and Thierry Levaret

Noelie Giraud and Kim Massee

Young Pablo lives with his emotionally disconnected mother in a cheap Paris hotel. She takes off whenever she pleases, leaving her 11-year-old son to fend for himself among the cafés where mother and son are known only too well. When she deserts him once again, Pablo decides he’s had it. He convinces Louis, a down-on-his-luck poker player, to drive him to Spain to search for the man who could be his father. Kim Massee, an American raised in France, explores this relationship between two males searching for someone to belong to.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

Why the subject, why the project?
Kim Massee: About seven years ago, I directed a workshop in Paris with several actors, and Thierry was one of the participants. It took place in a Pigalle bar, and there were all these night owls at the bar. I wanted to develop a script from the improvised action, but in the end, I needed to make a film from it. And here I was, a new mother to a boy, writing a script about seedy men in Paris, it just seemed strange. So I eventually changed the project but kept Thierry’s character, because he had developed this character that was so real. I wanted to talk about what you learned when you had a child in your life, so I put Thierry’s character with a child.

Before you have kids, you think the transmission is from adult to child, that you’ll form the young person. But in fact it goes the other way. I kept learning things about myself from my son. And I wanted to talk about that and about a character so cut off from his feelings, going through life as this outcast trying to survive and not doing it well. He’s emotionally dead, and the child is suddenly thrown in his face, and reluctantly he travels with the kid, and it puts him back in touch with who he is. They’re mirror images of each other: the child is very much what this guy was like as a kid before life did to him whatever it did. And the child would become this man if not for that very man’s intervention. They’re both seeking something to look up to, and recognition, and they find it in each other in this odd way.

Is it true that the young actor in the film is your son?
Yes! I was very fortunate because I don’t believe in casting at all, I hate the whole process. Luckily, I know a lot of actors, but for a child it would have been more difficult had I not had one at home. The challenge was to get the production fast enough before my son became an adolescent. And I always write with actors in mind, so I wrote the lines according to how my son speaks.

And he was great! He spoke like a little gangster from the early Truffaut films.
I wanted him to be this weird kid who was brought up by all the mothers’ boyfriends, who was bringing himself up, really. He had these very out-of-date references, like his fantasy of having a pompadour. He likes cowboys and those Bob Dylan-ish songs! No French kid like that stuff.

Is the title from that Bob Dylan song that mentions ‘Cowboy Angels?’ [“The Gates of Eden”]
No, but I’d had even more references to Dylan in the film. In my dreams, I would have sent Bob Dylan the script and had him write a song for it, but I couldn’t afford a Bob Dylan song, so we wrote our own, "Blessing in Disguise," which is in the film. Laurent Petitgand composed the music and I did the lyrics. For the scene on the beach, Elliott Murphy performed it.

Did you know the young actor before doing the film?
Thierry: Yes.

Were you close?
Thierry: Not at first. As the film was shot in chronological order, we got to know each other a bit like our characters, over time.

And you had to throw him around a bit, didn’t you? Did his being the young son of the director make that more difficult?
Thierry: Not really, I mean, above all we were there to make a film. But in the beginning I was afraid because he was not acting out as his part required. And I told him ‘Who cares if your mom is the director,’ don’t think about it like that.’ That changed things.

Your character is emotionally dead to the world. Was it especially difficult, as someone whose job is so linked to emotional awareness, to play such a character?
Thierry: No.

Kim (to Thierry): In any case, you have them inside you. How you act them out, be it with gestures or words, it makes no difference.

Thierry: I’d love to make a film without dialogue. That thing I’d find most difficult to do, I would like to do.

Noelie and Thierry, in the film you two meet in a bar, and become for a short time, a couple, a mother and father for the boy…
Noelie: Kim and I are very close, and I think this allowed me to be close to Thierry and Diego in the film. And Kim was able to direct me so precisely because of our closeness. That’s what I think.

Kim: Noelie and Diego did know each other before the film, and they met in a special way, like children.

Noelie: When Diego learned he was going to be in the film with me, he started trying to bond with me. I would have dinner at their house, he would see me often, and there arose something warm between us. But Thierry and I didn’t know each other at all.

Thierry: We just slept together.

That helps.

Noelie: The love scene was the first we shot together.

Kim: And her boyfriend was there watching! And the 85-year-old proprietor of the hotel, who adored cinema, was watching as well, cane in tow. And we had to tell her, excuse us, but the actors would prefer some intimacy.

There is a special, ineffable, natural quality to the film…
Kim: This is always what you’re looking for, this special quality, at least I am always after it. This was one of the reasons we fell into making the film in chronological order, especially for my son, Diego.

Thierry: More for him, than us. We were able to live the film this way, and it’s better for a kid, than to have to shoot the ending first.

Kim: And by the end, there is a real rapport between Diego and Thierry. This really happened; even we took it as fact.

Noelie: For instance the scene on the beach.

Kim: I loved the beach. No need for words, everything is in how the boy is thrown into the water, how they hug one another, how they interact. The sea without words. We shot it in Les Landes. I’d taken Diego out of school a bit early, and the weather wasn’t so good, which made the scene even better.

What’s your next project?
Kim: I’m writing my next film with Thierry and Noelie in mind. It takes place in Brooklyn. It’s a story with three couples and they’re one of the couples. It’s about people and relationships.

It’s very new, this whole festival thing. I always push myself to expand my boundaries, to dare to look at new things. And I expect the same of my actors. When I get feedback like "oh, we’ve seen road films before,” I always think they’re missing the point. It’s not about that, but about how you explore the uniqueness of things, how you show them in a new light. It has to do with going to the core of things. When things are sort of naked, that, to me, is where you see the beauty.

(Interview translated from the French by Jon Robbins)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Director Alexis Dos Santos on Imagemaking, Scriptwriting, and "Glue"

Two boys, Lucas and Nacho, and their sidekick, Andrea, are growing up in a small, remote town in Patagonia. Lucas contends with his parents’ imminent divorce. Nacho obsesses over music and sex, while Andrea is preoccupied with her too-slowly developing body.

"Glue" is Alexis Dos Santos' gorgeous paean to memory and adolescence. With its soundtrack by the Violent Femmes and engaging performances, "Glue" is a dreamscape of the negative space of memory and desire, rendered in video by a director whose every shot bespeaks a painterly sense of
proportion and rupture.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

Where are you living these days?
I was in Paris, but now I’m back in London. Before that I was moving between London and Barcelona.

What brought you to make a film about adolescents?
Well, I wanted to make a film about teenagers in the way that I experienced that age. A film very close to that emotion and confusions and boiling hormones and thinking about your body changing every day. I like teenage films usually, but I’ve never seen one that expressed what it was like for me at that age. So I tried to transport myself back, and then to write something that would be truthful. And that’s how it all started, that and a few Violent Femmes songs, which I think really express that age. Their first album, that is. Because they recorded the album when they were that age, it comes from that emotional place. They really captured it.

Funny, I was listening to Blister in the Sun the other day. Such good music and so powerful. As a soundtrack, that album would overwhelm most films, but for “Glue” it fit right in.
It was so easy, it was included in the story somehow. And I only use music that the characters listen to, no extra-diagetic stuff, except for one place at the very end. And the energy is just the right energy for the film.

When the music is so out of control, with that careening bass, your movie is so poised…
Yeah, but what’s going on inside the characters is not so poised. It’s like the bass, as you say. And there’s so much going on inside them, but it’s not expressed, just building up inside them, vibrating.
Watching “Glue,” I thought it really captured the formative nature of adolescence, and in this sense I found it to be a very filmic film.
Yeah, you can see all that in the Super 8, even hair on the film, the dirt of the place.

Which gave it such incredible texture. The negative space often defined the positive space, giving it this sense of absence as presence.
Yes, it’s like this idea of the past that is always present. As soon I say something, it belongs to the past, however ‘present’ it may be. In the film it’s not so articulated as that, but yes, it is a sort of memory-texture, a record of thought process. Especially with the Super 8 with the voice-over, when the kids are going back, I wanted to have a filmic way of portraying the subjective experience of remembering.

Why two boys and two girls? Any reason?
That’s how the story started.

One scene I really like is when the girl has the boys up to her bedroom. She asks what they want to drink, and they say chocolate milk. I thought she might have wanted to serve them liquor...
Oh! I don’t think so. In Argentina, at 5 o’clock, you “have your milk.” This could be caffe latte or chocolate milk. When the boys are outside, I translated their conversation as “Have you eaten yet” but they really ask one another “have you had your milk?”

So no liquor?

Alexis Dos Santos and Jon Robbins (me)

Did you study art history or painting?
I studied architecture for five years.

For "Glue," I had a very good DP, Natasha Braier. We tried to devise a palate that would express the characters’ emotions. This comes through a combination of takes and choices and the feeling that Natasha and I have for colors and textures. We were in tune, reading the same books, seeing the same movies. We have an excellent working relationship.

How long did “Glue”take to shoot?
Three and a half weeks. And the process of making this film was very particular.
Everything was very alive in the moment in front of the camera. It was all based on improvisation. I only had a ten-page script. Well, I had a story, and the structure of the film was there, but everything was a few lines or a paragraph as opposed to the three, four, five pages of a script. A lot of the camerawork and the editing came from this process, how free we were at the time of making it. Instead of establishing set scenes, we would just follow the actors as if it were a documentary. And like in a documentary you don’t know what’s coming next. And we were never sure what was going to happen in front of the camera.

This was the case with all the kids’ voiceovers. I had asked the kids to record their own thoughts just to help them work out their characters: 'what do you thnk of your family, your friends, life and death, what do you want in life?' And then I found these three kids had recorded this amazing stuff. Especially the stuff from the girl, it was just heartbreaking and really beautiful. I would like to do an art installation with voiceovers and the Super 8: there’s so much there. So, yeah, the process of how the film was made was organic.

We shot it in video. This was the best way to use digital. I found you could make more out of it this way than to try to make it look like film. That you can record forever and it doesn’t cost any money alleviates a lot of pressure. There is a smaller crew, less lighting. If there is something special about this film, it comes from the way it was made.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

ND/NF on the Blogs...

[LOOK] Cinematographer Benoit Debie's showreel
With Julia Loktev's gorgeously restrained Day Night Day Night showing at New Directors/New Directions, cinematographer Benoit Debie's showreel is worth a peek, as well as this excerpt from Loktev's film. [Debie's main page is here; ...
Movie City Indie -

...Offers a Festival of New Surprises
One of the chief pleasures of New Directors/New Films ? perhaps the main reason to return to this program ? is surprise.
Entertainment News Channel -

Director Julia Loktev on New York, Terror, and "Day Night Day Night"

I spoke with Director Julia Loktev about her new film "Day Night Day Night."

A 19-year old girl of unknown origin and ethnicity makes contact with her handlers in a drab motel room: she is being prepared to become a suicide bomber. The location will be Times Square. Director Julia Loktev ("Moment of Impact," ND/NF 1998) strips her narrative of motivations, and instead concentrating on mood and gesture. The simple eloquence of novice actress Luisa Williams’ performance recalls the work of Robert Bresson. Loktev’s first dramatic feature is both audacious and quietly spectacular.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

Would you talk about how you constructed the film, what you wanted it to look like?
From the very beginning I wanted a film in two parts with different aesthetic approaches, both visually and in the sound. It’s divided into two parts: planning and action. The first part is like a plan for a building. It’s very monochromatic, blue and white, grey and white, and the sound is mono. And the once she goes out into Times Square it goes into stereo. You can’t compose in the middle of Times Square, it’s catch as catch can. I wanted to get the sense of a girl who’s Times Square for the first time, how she sees it and hears it. So the image is saturated and overwhelmed.

You watch the news a lot, is that right?

I read the news a lot. I obsessively check various news feeds online. I always notice the strange details in the middle of stories. I’m always forwarding my friends stories about weird details. The film was initially based on one girl’s story that took place in Russia, but it has taken on other stories as well. Some of most incongruous details in the film come from real newspaper stories.

For example?
At one point they give the girl clothes to blend in for her mission, something that I’ve read about in many accounts of female suicide bombers. They try to transform her into a New York girl, but they’re guys shopping for women’s clothing, so I tried to imagine what they’d bring. I read a story about a female Palestinian suicide bomber who backed out when the organizers asked her to wear a shirt that exposed her belly. She reasoned that they could not be so pious after all. Or another who backed out after she realized she was doing it for the wrong reasons, because of a boyfriend. She started to worry that if she went through with it, Allah would know. These details worked their way into the film.

Or for instance, in the film, they ask her to repeat instructions back three times, and it seems very theatrical. But I’d actually read that in an Al-Qaeda handbook. But also there was stuff like “pay your post office fees on time, make sure you watch the parking signs,” and it had other info too, like how to poison someone with bean soup.

The girl is strange...
She’s constantly thanking people, very meek, but also very determined in her meekness, which is very interesting to me. I didn’t want to depict her as an innocent victim: her meekness comes from belief. So she throws herself at this cause.

The way I was seeing the girl framed was in a submissive way. It easily could have gone on to the porny side of things, but despite the ambiguous aesthetics, you managed to efface any erotic sense in the film. Were you conscious of this?
It’s funny because we thought about this, and were careful to avoid it. You have all the props of S&M: you have blindfolds, you have handcuffs, you have masks. But what I really wanted to show going on here is a power dynamic. Rarely do those who plan suicide bombings carry them out.

And here it’s a gendered power…
The dynamic exists even when it's all men, but I think it is heightened with female suicide bombers. For us, masks really highlighted that. And we were careful even when they pat her down for them to have as little physical contact with her as possible.

It’s an awkward working relationship, isn’t it?
In a way it’s like the relationship between an actor and a director. And we talked about this, Luisa Williams and I, about how an actor comes to submit to a director. In a sense, the act the girl sets out to do is about a performance. It’s not about the act itself but about its reverberations in the media.

You were able to maintain a prolific level of tension in the film.
The funny thing is that as I was making the film, I had no idea people would be calling it a thriller. We never thought that way in the editing room. I always saw "Day Night Day Night" as very concerned with the girl’s thought process, as an almost existential film. So it was very surprising for me to hear that people would think of it as a thriller.

And you’ve spoken of Day Night Day Night as a sort of love letter to New York
The last forty minutes of the film are all about her interaction with the city. I’ve always found New York to be special in that there is this fragile thread of social interaction that connects us. And in this sense, Day Night Day Night is my love letter to the city of New York.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Directors/New Films in the Blogosphere

DISPATCH FROM NEW YORK | Michael Moore, "Air Guitar," David Lynch ...
Indie Wire - USA
The 36th Annual New Directors/New Films Series opened at the Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday night, with a reception in the lobby museum's education ...

New Directors/New Films 2007: Audience of One
By Keith Uhlich(Matt Zoller Seitz)
By Keith Uhlich In the press notes for his documentary Audience of One, director Michael Jacobs says of his subject, Pentecostal Pastor Richard Gazowsky, "[I] truly admire him for his creative vision, his spiritual mentoring and his ...

The House Next Door -

Reeler Roundtable: The New Yorkers of New Directors/New Films

Part Two: Loktev, Zalla and Zobel on the festival, distribution challenges and dealing with critics.
The Reeler -

Monday, March 26, 2007

Two Parties in One Night? No Problem!

Irene Meltzer Richard of the Film Society of Lincoln Center reported the following:

”After partaking of Café Ronda’s paella & Sagatiba tropical cocktails at Cinema Tropical’s salute to the Latin American directors & films featured in ND/NF,

Photo: Irene Meltzer Richard

We headed over to Josephina’s for the ND/NF Directors Party. Spirits were high even though the place was as packed as a subway car at rush hour. Nevertheless, everyone managed to indulge themselves in the copious food & drink and to have a rollicking good time.”

HBO Films and Stella Artois generously sponsored the New Directors/New Films Directors' Party. Special thanks also to the staff at Josephina who helped make the evening so special.

Photographer David Godlis caught the partygoers in action.

Marian Masone, FSLC, enjoys some laughs with the Director of "7 Years," Jean-Pascal Hattu

Sylvia Miles, Celia Weston, & Director Kim Massee ("Cowboy Angels")

Director Karim Ainouz, "Love For Sale"

Director Michael Rosa, "What The Sun Has Seen"

Jonathan Caouette, "Tarnation," with Alexis Dos Santos, Director of "Glue"

Directors Craig Zobel ("The Great World of Sound") and Christopher Zalla ("Padre Nuestro"), with Anne Hubbell of Kodak

Director Peter Schønau Fog and Composer Karsten Fundal, “The Art of Crying,” with Peter's brother Henrik

Steve Grenyo, FSLC, with Directors Michael Jacobs ("Audience of One") and Marco Simon Puccioni ("Shelter")
Filmmaker Emily Hubley

Richard Lorber, Koch Lorber Films; Anne Hubbell, Kodak; Irene Newman, Renew Media

Atsushi Ogata ("Eternally Yours") with Directors Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine ("War/Dance")

Directors Joachim Trier, "Reprise," Marco Simon Puccioni, "Shelter," Julia Loktev, "Day Night Day Night," Andrea Arnold, "Red Road," and Kim Massee, "Cowboy Agnels"

Some "Cowboy Angels" at table: Actors Noelie Giraud and Thierry Leveret, with Noelie's Sister

At the end of the night, Directors Rodrigo Moreno ("El Custodio") and Alexis Dos Santos ("Glue") get punk

-Jon Robbins

Friday, March 23, 2007

Michael Jacobs on His Documentary, "Audience of One"

Photo by GODLIS

Ten years ago, Richard Gazowsky, pastor of the Voice of Pentecost Church in San Francisco, received a ‘prophetic whisper’ from God to make movies. Michael Jacobs’ unique documentary shows Pastor Gazowsky and his congregation as they gear up to make “Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph,” a $50 million Biblical sci-fi epic. “Audience of One” is a fascinating study of magical thinking, an example of the “faith-based reality” sometimes alluded to in discussions of contemporary politics, and also a testament to those who sacrifice it all to be in the movies.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

How did you get into filmmaking?
I’m a self-taught filmmaker. I started during my senior year at the University of Vermont with a documentary about the homeless men who lived behind our building. It was an incredible experience of relating to people, communicating with them, and empathizing with them, and not being judgmental. I wanted to continue with it, but after graduation I went to work for a production company. When I left that job I committed myself to the craft of documentary filmmaking.

Did being an English major help the transition?
Writing proposals and treatments, the ability to see narrative arcs and devise stories, all that is made easier by my background. And in “Audience of One,” I wanted to make the narrative as strong as possible.

How did you get access to this project?
I read about the church in a San Francisco publication, and when I called the editor, he told me that the people were serious, making costumes, and doing stunt practice for their epic movie. So I went to a church service, and I’d never been to a Pentecostal church service: there was singing, and dancing, and a Christian rock band and people falling down, drunk in the Holy Spirit. At the end of the rock music, the pastor comes out and gives a sermon on the trials and tribulations of making his film, and gets everyone fired up. So I said to myself ‘Wow what an incredible character, what an opportunity.’ I told him that I wanted to make an observational film about him, that I’d be a fly on the wall, and he was hesitant at first. I was honest, and told him I didn’t want to join the church or be part of his film, and I told him they were funny and really interesting, and I kept showing up to church. I didn’t know at the time how little money they really had, because Richard pitches a big game, and he’s so magnetic.

They were very open and we developed a close relationship. Over two years, I think I penetrated a good deal and got the truest reality I could.

What about you as a spectator? Are you an adherent to Pentecostalism yourself?
No, no. I was raised Jewish in Boulder, Colorado and skew towards the agnostic side of the spiritual curve. I don’t believe in their god but I respect their god and their beliefs. The pastor says he gets his ideas from god but I don’t believe anyone can communicate with god so directly. Still, he has a spiritual connection with god and with the congregation. So in the film, I would never mock their god or their beliefs, but I could allow myself, to a certain extent, to mock their film. To have fun with some of the mistakes they were making. But when it came to their god, as ridiculous and absurd as their beliefs are in certain ways, I showed only respect. I didn’t think it would be right to make jabs at it.

Did you really follow them to Italy?
Yes. I threw down a bunch of frequent flyer miles and followed them. And I’d been watching them for months, with all their questionable prepping tactics. In such an epic endeavor, something was bound to go wrong, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. But when they said they had to go to Italy, I knew there would be great footage for my film. I had one person helping me, and we went scrambling around to capture all that great footage. Footage of a preacher making an epic film in a small Italian town doesn’t come around a lot.

Was it hard was it to toe the line between cinéma vérité and mockumentary?
Oh yes, it was a constant struggle during the editing process. Kyle Henry, my Austin, Texas based editor, came to San Francisco after he saw the trailer. We worked hard to keep the movie entertaining without becoming disrespectful towards its subjects. So much of religious faith is absurd anyways, so I thought I could get away with a good amount. Also, a lot of people see the film and don’t realize that the church members have a sense of humor about themselves and their film.

I was worried that I’d be attacked for just ridiculing these people, and some people may feel that way. But I feel secure that I did right by my subjects. Really, they made a mockery of themselves, if anything, and I just got that on tape. I never cut the film to accentuate it.

How much cutting did you do?
We had 130 hours and it’s an 88-minute film. There’s a lot of strong personal character development that I had to cut to retain the vérité and to let the narrative be driven by it.. Maybe I could have done a better job of giving a stronger voice to other people in the church. Slowly but surely the film became about Richard. At first, I though it was a film about filmmaking and faith but by the end it was a film about this one man and his vision.

His mother makes fun of him a lot.
She’s his harshest critic. She’s a really strong woman. She’s an incredible character, and she became an incredible character device, and that provided a necessary element of reality in the film.

What are the church members up to these days?
They’ve been kicked off Treasure Island, and have returned all their belongings to the church. There is no quit in these people, neither in Richard nor in his staff. So they’re regrouping, getting ready for the next project. The setbacks feed them. The church is healthy outlet for these people to organize their lives around. That’s one mantra that you hear at church all the time: “I’m just gonna keep showin’ up,” and that worked for me sometimes, when Richard would encourage me just to show up. I admire their positivity a lot, even though we have a lot of fun with them in the film. Maybe this doesn’t come through enough, but the pastor and I have great mutual respect, even if we don’t subscribe to the same god or the same filmmaking practices.

What do they think of the film?
They love it. We had a screening at the church the other night, and they cheered. They prayed for me, gave me hugs and a standing ovation, and then they took up an offering for me. Last Sunday, they gave me this bag of money which I could not refuse. It makes me feel good that they found the film fair and honest, and even ‘godly,’ they called it. They’re getting a lot of mileage out of this as well. The pastor was on NPR.

So he’s getting these opportunities to speak to much greater audiences. In fact he told me on Sunday night that my film is the only thing he’s got right now. He calls me every day. In fact, he called me as the plane to NY was about to take off to tell me that we were in the New York Times. And it’s a little much to be so close to the subject of your film, but it’s sweet, too. And then I still don’t really know who Richard is. After two years of observing him I’m farther than ever from knowing him.

-Interview by Jon Robbins

Last Saturday, the pastor was invited back to NPR.