Asides

The Art of Change – THE RIAHI BROTHERS invite us to EVERYDAY REBELLION

Everyday Rebellion poster

EVERYDAY REBELLION, a documentary and cross-media project on non-violence protest methods and modern forms of civil disobedience, could have been easily called “Creative Rebellion”. Not only are the ideas and strategies for “civil unrest” very different and much more imaginative than what you’d expect, as well as being backed up by hard science, but the style of the documentary is so surprisingly cinematic, I often had the impression I was watching a fiction film. Which made it all the more powerful and moving for it.

The Iranian-born Austrian filmmakers ARASH & ARMAN RIAHI started this ambitious project in 2009 and travelled the world over to document various forms of social protest and find out what, if anything, they had in common. The film imaginatively takes us to Madrid  where we spend time with the Indignados;  with the Green revolutionaries in Tehran; with members of FEMEN in Kiev, Paris and Stockholm; with Occupy Wall Street in New York; and with Syrian activists devoted to nonviolent resistance against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The result: a very sensitive, intimate and astute documentary painting so many memorable portraits of the often anonymous “protagonists” involved in the myriad forms of everyday rebellions taking place everywhere in the world.

This interview with ARMAN RIAHI was taken on November 10, 2013, at the Danish Cinemateket, Copenhagen, a few days ahead of the film’s world premiere at CPH:DOX where it also won the Audience Award.

(This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and length)

Dana: When and where did Everyday Rebellion start?

Arman:It started in 2009, after the presidential and political elections in Iran, when the Green movement took place. We were watching the videos of protesters who recorded human rights violations. As a refugee family living in Austria in exile, we were very touched by this and we suggested to make a film about this uprising. So when we started developing the project it was only about Iran. Then history happened: there was  the Arab spring and then 15-M,  the Spanish Indignados movement, then Occupy Wall Street, so we constantly changed the focus and we constantly developed and found new things that are interesting and important. And at some point we realised the focus should be on non-violence protests because this is a very useful tool and a very important, true and wise idea about how to confront dictatorships and oppressive powers, economic systems which oppress you and so on. It’s really about non-violent rebellion and what it can do for ordinary citizens…

Dana: Was it you who went to Iran to film and develop this project?

Arman:  No, in Iran somebody filmed secretly for us. In Iran part of the story is some kind of video diary of an Iranian girl, she can be everybody, she stays anonymous and she’s telling her side of the situation in Iran now.

Dana: So where did you first set up shop and started filming?

Arman:We started with Srdja Popovic, one of the founders of the Serbian resistance movement that overthrew Milošević in the 90s .He is now a non-violent consultant and he is a great guy, a great strategist. He has been invited by non-violence movements to help them develop their ideas, because you cannot really export a movement, each non-violent movement has to be really authentic from the country itself. So we started with him and he was the tip of the iceberg, then we started talking to other activists and veterans, which is how the project spread. Then we came here, to Copenhagen, to take part in a non-violent activist conference.

Dana: Was this in 2011?

Arman:Yes, 2 years ago. Then we went to film in Egypt with the activists we got to meet here at the conference in Copenhagen, then we went to film in Madrid, we went there three times with the 15-M movement.

.-Photo-2013-Everyday-Rebellion

The Riahi Brothers, Arash T.Riahi and Arman T.Riahi

Dana: Did you go to Ukraine as well, you mentioned Femen.

Arman: Yes, Femen is a big part of the film.

Dana: Have you met Kitty Green, have you seen Ukraine is Not a Brothel?

Arman:Yes I saw the film, it’s not really my type of thing to be honest…

Dana: Why?

Arman:For me it’s a little bit too speculative, it’s very much focused on one point, the film is very much only focusing on this guy in the background who has something to do with the organisation but he’s not the only founder, there is another founder of Femen and nobody talks about her. And because the story about this guy was the most sensational factor, what I find is that Kitty Green, whom I respect for her work, only focused on this, but there are a lot of other things that you can talk about when you talk about Femen, for example the background of these girls and the situation in Ukraine. But this is talked about for five minutes at the beginning of the film and then it’s over.

Dana: I think she chose to focus more on the contradictions within this organisation and tried to bring those to light…

Arman:Yes, which is also interesting, but that was not the only thing. We have spent a lot of time with Inna Shevchenko…

Dana: At the same time that Kitty Green was making her film there?

Arman:No, actually our film starts where Kitty Green’s film stops. The film starts when Inna Shevchenko leaves Ukraine to go to Paris and starts Femen International in Paris. And she won’t go back now because the Secret Services are after her, so our film really starts when she leaves Ukraine and builds up Femen International in France. Now there are a lot of Femen franchises set up all over the world.

Everyday rebellion still London

Anonymous “MillionMaskMarch” in London and around the world

Dana: So what did you focus on in this part of the film?And how many parts are there to the film? It sounds like a huge project.How long is the film?

Arman:Yes it’s a huge project. The film is 110 minutes. We have Femen, the 15-M movement in Madrid, Occupy Wall Street, Egypt a little bit, Copenhagen a little bit, Iran, the Syrian non-violent movement. It’s more than 7-8 countries, it’s Ukraine, France, Aman, the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, then there’s New York, Madrid, Copenhagen, it’s a really big project.

Dana: And how do the different parts connect and resonate with each other?I suppose the common theme is the non-violent type of protests.

Arman:Yes. On paper you would think: what do all these movements have to do with each other?What has Occupy have to do with the Syrian non-violent movement?or the famous fight for women’s rights or against the church?

Dana: Well, they are all protests against something…

Arman:Yes and they have a lot to do with each other because they are all about what ordinary citizens can do against injustice. Some of the activists don’t even fight for their own rights, they come from good backgrounds, they could do a good job and live happily. But what motivates them is the injustice that’s going on in the world. They want to change something and it is not a hippy dream that you can change a lot with non-violent protests, it’s scientifically proven and this is one of the points of the film, this is why we came to the conference in Copenhagen, it is scientifically proven that non-violent resistance is much more effective.

Dana: Is this the conclusion of the film?

Arman:Yes, and the film has other conclusions. You learn a lot I think.

Question What You Know still

At Foley Square, Lower Manhattan, NYC

Dana: Was your life ever in danger when you were filming all these protests?I’m thinking more of Syria, Egypt. Or do you have any insider tales, anecdotes you could share?

Arman:There were some moments which were a little bit close calls. Funnily, the most close call was actually in New York, the police there was really brutal and at some point, you can see it in the movie a little bit, on the day of action, it was the 17th of September 2012, which was the 1st year anniversary of the movement. The Occupy movement took over the financial district of NYC with its non-violent protests, like sit-ins in bank lobbies, walks on the intersection, on the intercity highway in NYC. So the police was at some point driving with the motorcycles, driving towards us and trying to kick us, to run us over, to get us off the street. Or in Aman, at some point one of the Syrian protesters tried to do a protest method which I don’t want to tell you about and spoil your surprise because it is very creative. People say about Jordan that 3/4 of the Jordanian population works for the Secret Service!Which is a funny thing because right before he wanted to do the action, we were there with 2 or 3 cameras and our location manager said “maybe this is not so good to do this now”, and I said “why?this is the last day and we have to do it, it’s great”, “oh yeah, because you know in Jordan half of the population or more works for the Secret Service” and I said “Okay, thanks for telling us only now!” But compared to the life of the “protagonists”, our lives were never really in danger. Now when the film comes out, I’m sure some governments won’t like it very much, Iran will not like it very much but it’s okay, that’s why we do it. The important thing is the political statement, civil disobedience is very important for each nation.

Dana: How was this project funded?

Arman:The film is produced by Golden Girls, which is an Austrian-Viennese production company where my brother is one of the 2 or 3 partners. The film was financed in a very classical way, by the Austrian Film Funding body, by the state. But the films also has German TV funds, […] actually the funding is not very unconventional.

Dana: And this is not your first film, is it?

Arman:No, I made my first film two years ago, it was called Dark Head, about young teenagers in Austria, young adults, rappers, who have an immigrant background and are using hip-hop as their tool to act and to have something to do and get off the street. So this film was premiered at Sarajevo as Opening Film two years ago. But this one is our first film together, that we directed together. My brother has made three documentaries already and a feature film also.

Dana: So documentary is your thing, you want to continue making documentaries.

Arman:Actually I’m writing two or three fiction films now. So next year I want to start the production for my first fiction film.

Dana: Is it about social issues?

Arman:Yes.

Dana: We have a theme here, a common thread here running through all your films.

Arman:Some people tell me that as a young director, I’m 32,  people tell me “choose a style, you have to have a style”. Because Austria is very much a film country, we have Michel Haneke, Ulrich Seidl, the legends, so they say “Ulrich Seidl has this style, his films are like this”.

Dana: They became almost like a “genre”.

Arman:Yes. And it’s great, I respect them very much, I think they are amazing filmmakers but…

Dana: You don’t want to be limited to just one style…

Arman:[…] When you see the film, you’ll see that it has a style, it’s well-crafted and we are filmmakers, we’re not activists. But with this film we became activists somehow […].

Dana: Did you go to film school by the way?

Arman:No, I never went to film school, I refused to apply, I knew I wanted to make films but I didn’t want anybody to tell me how to do it or if I can do it. But apply? Every year they accept only 5 to 10 people in the Austrian University for Film, where Haneke is a teacher for example, in the directing class. And I was very interested in design and art direction and graphic design. So I went to the University for Applied Sciences and in my internship I did graphic design in London, I lived in London for a year and did my internship there. Which is something that helps me design the posters for the films. So I thought I should do design, it’s another skill and you can earn money with it also. And forget about learning film because you’ll do it anyway!

Intrigued? Explore the cross-media platform for Everyday Rebellion, take part, donate, become a Facebook fan, download manuals, books, unconventional rebellion tactics by experts and check out their app here.

Bare-breasted Feminism & Tough Girl Activism – Filmmaker KITTY GREEN Explains Why UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL

Ukraine is not a Brothel poster

No doubt, everyone has heard of FEMEN by now, the Ukrainian female activist movement famous for its unconventional and controversial protest tactics. But while we’re all familiar with its gutsy members and their very daring topless public appearances, fighting patriarchy and oppression in all its forms, from Putin to the Pope, we know very little about the private stories and histories of the individuals who created this organisation back in 2008 and its most ardent campaigners.

And because a good story is never straightforward or devoid of ambiguities, Australian filmmaker KITTY GREEN spent fours years trying to get to grips with this awe-inspiring movement and getting to know the people behind it. The documentary UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL is the result and fascinating account of her time with the FEMEN group.

This interview was taken on October 16, 2013 at Filmmakers Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel, London, as part of LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013.

Dana: You spent four years with the members of Femen, filming them and getting to know them…

Kitty: Four years yes more or less. I spent a year then I went back to Australia to find some more money then I came back. It was a long process.

Kitty+Green

Filmmaker Kitty Green

Dana: So tell me a little bit about your experience living with them, you must know this movement inside out.

Kitty: They are very popular in Europe and there was a lot of media coverage of them, whatever they were doing, I knew they were getting a lot of press, CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and everybody there every day. So I wanted to make a film that was more intimate and show the different sides to the girls, and more about why they are doing it, where they come from and the country they come from, which is very patriarchal, a really terrible place for women to live. They don’t have many rights there and they don’t have a cultural life often.So I lived with them and I really tried to get that intimate experience, and get to know them really well, and get them to trust me, and I did that by living in a two-bedroom apartment with five Femen activists on the outskirts of Kiev. A very ghetto Soviet apartment but we loved it and it was really good, they are like my sisters now, I’m really close to them. People often said “don’t get too close to them because if you want to be a documentary filmmaker you need to be objective”…

Dana: Being objective is probably an unattainable goal but I suppose you do need a bit of distance…

Kitty: Yeah but I think I managed to find a way to have a bit of distance. Because I’m coming from a Western background, I grew up in Australia, I could see the contradictions within the group, they were more clear and apparent to me than they were to them. So I was able to sit back and question them and ask “What’s going on here?

For a taster of what is going on, watch the trailer here:

Dana: Because there’s a lot going on, the movement is quite paradoxical.

Kitty: Yes, it’s a strange story. So it was nice to be part of them but also to be able to question them. And from my questioning I think they learnt a lot about themselves, it forced them to look at themselves, it gave them some introspection. It really changed them, they became a much stronger organisation as a result and I was really amazed to see that change.

Kitty-Green Femen VeniseDana: How much footage have you accumulated?

Kitty: About 700 hours.

Dana: That is a lot. What was the editing process like?Did you have any help?

Kitty: No, I kind of did everything myself. Most of it was in Ukrainian and Russian and I didn’t want to translate it all, I couldn’t afford to do that. So I had to get it down before I could even start.

Dana: So you speak the language.

Kitty: Yes, I speak Ukrainian. I kind of learnt, my grandma speaks a bit of Ukrainian and I learnt more in order to make the film. In order to speak about politics, gender, inequality, you need to know more.

Dana: Out of 700 hours of footage, what went in, what did you leave out?

Kitty: They wanted me to make a propaganda film basically and I was more interested in making a film that really showed the contradictions in the movement, something a bit more controversial.

Dana: How early on did you become aware of the contradictions?

Kitty: Pretty early,  if you see an image of them, that is contradictory immediately. They protest topless to get attention and that is a contradiction in itself. But the more I observed them, the more contradictory it became, and it upset me a lot, the way they were being treated by certain people, and used by men in that country.

femen inside femen

Dana: Could you give me an example of that?

Kitty: The idea of the film is that it reveals that it was actually men that were running this organisation. I was the only one who had access to that guy [Victor Svyatski]. Because I was their videographer shooting the protests […], I saw the way the movement was being run, and the press doesn’t get to see that, they only see the glossy Femen machine whereas I got to see exactly what was going on behind the curtains. They wanted me to shoot something about Femen and explain who they were but I wasn’t prepared to shoot that. So I had to pretend that I was shooting a propaganda film. So a lot of those 700 hours is me shooting things that they wanted me to shoot, ’cause I knew ultimately that that footage was not going to end up in the film, I was only interested in the things that were contradictory and the things that were honest…

Dana: Is this a project that you initiated or they commissioned you to make this film?How did this project come about in the first place?

Kitty: I wanted to make this film, they wanted me to be their videographer, they needed someone to shoot protests and I could do it well and I fit in, I’m a blonde girl, I could travel with them easily.

femen member

Alexandra Shevchenko, one of the founders of FEMEN

Dana: Did you have to bare your breasts too?

Kitty: (laughing) No way, no. I would go with them often, like they get flown to a certain country and they would bring me along and I would get there and be the videographer. So it was kind of good because I got to go places for free. But what they needed from me was to give them access to videos to put on their website, to get the videos out there and in exchange I made a film out of it. So if  I gave them videos and they gave me their time, I got to sit down with them and do proper interviews and get the footage I needed. So it was a nice exchange.

Inna Shevchenko, one of FEMEN’s most well-known campaigners

Dana: Are they happy with the film? Were they okay with you revealing all these contradictions and paradoxes?

Kitty: Happy is not the word I would use to describe it but I think they were relieved to get a story like that off their chest, they know it is the truth, and they knew it wasn’t right and they knew there were a lot of problems with their organisation. And I think they are really happy that finally someone could speak honestly about what was going on, especially someone they trusted and who knew exactly what was going on. But the fallout was kind of hard because the press really latched on to this idea of these sex-crazed men running this organisation. And he talks about sex in the film and what were his motivations but he’s politically-driven, he’s got his own agenda, so yes they got quite a lot of negative press. And since, they were happy at the screening and they were crying and we were relieved to have that story out but since the press latched on to it, it’s become a whole other thing entirely. And I want more people to see the film because I think it really explains it properly, and there are nuances to it, it’s not just this evil man…

Dana: It never is…

Kitty: Exactly…

Femen pro gay campaignDana:  And now, what has changed in the Femen group?

Kitty: Everything! At the end of my film, one of the girls leaves for Paris to start her own independent Femen headquarter, and four others moved there with her. And they opened a branch in the Netherlands, they sort of escaped Ukraine in a lot of ways and they are opening branches all over Europe. He is no longer a part of it, we don’t know where he is exactly, we think he is somewhere in Switzerland, he’s hard to track down, all the press try to contact him to speak with him.

Dana: Is this as a consequence of the documentary?

Kitty: No, it’s actually a consequence of problems in Ukraine with the Secret Service. So they were hunting down Femen over the last year. He left Ukraine in order to escape, he was beaten up really badly by them actually. It was really horrific, the photos were horrible. He left Ukraine for his own reasons and the girls left Ukraine independently and they are living in other countries and they are finally free of control. Which is lovely for me to see. When I arrived, after opening the film in Paris, I was so so proud of the girls.

Dana: This sounds like a better life for them but I’m thinking Ukraine is more in need of a movement like this than either France or Netherlands is.

Kitty:  That’s true and I think they will go back, it’s just a matter of finding a safe place for them to base themselves. They are not going to leave Ukraine for good, there are so many things going on there.And that’s their homeland. They will always go back to protest.

Dana: Did you have time to experience life in Ukraine outside the Femen group?What is life really like for women there?

Kitty: It was shocking for me when I first arrived, ’cause I grew up in a fairly progressive area in Melbourne and my mother worked and my friends’ mothers worked, so I never saw this kind of gap or gender inequality, I wasn’t exposed to that at all. So arriving in Ukraine where the men worked and women stayed at home and cooked their breakfast and had to look pretty, it was all very shocking to me. So I was really taken aback by that and provided me with a motivation to make the film because I was really overwhelmed by all that.

femen in Paris

Dana: But do you think this is purely as a result of patriarchal pressure or are there economical reasons for this, like lack of jobs for women?

Kitty: I guess it’s both cultural and economical, it’s everything, it’s a very poor country so yes, there aren’t enough jobs. But they would always pick a man over a woman in a country like that because it is a very patriarchal country. So it’s a lot of different factors at play, but right now there aren’t many opportunities for young Ukrainian women who are graduating from university, a few of them in the film were formerly strippers, one of them has a college degree but she couldn’t find work. So she had to become a stripper then she became a Femen activist. Even in the film, all of the girls have different stories of why they became involved with the movement, it’s either to do with how they were brought up, it’s often due to poverty, or an abusive father, or being a stripper. They’ve all experienced patriarchal dominance and wanted to be free of it so they joined Femen.

Dana: What about your future projects, have you got anything lined up?

Kitty: I really want to keep making films about women’s rights, this is where my interest lies, but once you say “I want to make  films about women’s rights” people say “oh that’s so boring” so you gotta find a way to make it attractive, make it sexy. So I’m now looking towards the Middle East, thinking of doing something there, right now it’s interesting for women there but it’s still very early days.

Find out more/Donate/Become a member of  FEMEN here.

CPH:DOX – A Darling of a Documentary Film Festival

cph dox long bannerVELKOMMENN! This is CPH:DOX, the most exciting documentary film festival in the world!

As the most glamorous and talked-about event in Copenhagen  in the month of November, CPH:DOX attracts industry professionals and media worldwide and, most interestingly, regular Danish folk from all over the country who take time off work  to enjoy the 10-day festival. With so many intriguing screenings and original events, such as the impressive Opening Gala at the surreal Koncerthuset, a trip to a Swedish nuclear power plant, and gourmet film debates in the very popular category FOOD ON FILM, it is no wonder!

And because 2013 marked a new record attendance,  the festival team had to extend the festival by three days due to public demand, which is rather unique and  unheard of!Well done, CPH:DOX!

Every year the festival screens over 200 documentaries, all of which represent the most current and interesting trends in the documentary arena. But CPH:DOX stands for much more than just the film festival. Festival Programmer Mads Mikkelsen tells us what makes CPH:DOX so special.

Inside CPH:DOX with Festival Programmer MADS MIKKELSEN. 

This interview was taken on November 8, 2013 at the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen.

Dana: What is your role within the festival and what does it entail?

Mads-Mikkelsen cph dox

CPH:DOX Festival Programmer MADS MIKKELSEN

Mads: I’m a programmer for CPH:DOX and this is my 6th festival, the festival started in 2003, this year is the 11th edition. We have two programmers for the festival and also our Festival Director, Tina, who is our artistic director as well. She is very involved in the selection process. We see loads and loads of films, this year we got 2,700 films, not all of them are feature length, some are shorts but it’s still 15 times more films than we could show here so selections are the core of what we do. We also discuss how to create a festival where the films are placed in a meaningful context. Of course the films are singular works but they are also in dialogue with the context they are placed in. We have a structure at the festival where we can place films in a way where they communicate with each other, where there is a chemistry in the selection, not just a line-up of singular films.

Dana: Could you tell me more about the various categories, you have TOP DOX for instance…

Mads: We have four international competitions, we have the International Main Competition, we have a new section for Journalistic Films, which we launched this year, we have a competition for Nordic Films from the Scandinavian countries. And something that is special for a documentary film festival, we have a competition for Artists’ Films, which is not the same as experimental films. Experimental film has a long and well-documented history. The kind of films that we show are commissions from art galleries, biennales, art institutions. We find these films in these places, it’s not work that is produced with the cinema as such as the space for these types of films, which makes it very interesting to import them into a film context. These films are made by contemporary visual artists, and a lot of them work with other media, which makes it very interesting when they move to film.

Dana: Are there films that you actively seek to attract into the festival or are you just looking at submissions?

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film

Mads: We do a lot of research, a lot of scouting. We have a rather large network of friends and contacts around the world and they recommend us things and vice-versa. We are interested not only in films that are already finished but also films that are coming. We try to map out what is new each year, the most exciting and innovative films.

Dana: Out of all the films you are screening this year, what percentage is constituted by films that you tried to attract into the festival as opposed to those that were submitted?

Mads: Maybe half and half, I’m not entirely sure because it also depends on which section you look at. If you look at competitions, it’s almost 100% stuff that we find, whereas for the sections that are more of a survey of this year’s best and more popular films, a lot of those are films that are simply out there and we look at them and we discuss how we could create a better, more diverse selection that represents the best films made this year. And we also have a thematic context, zeitgeist films, for instance this year we invited the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei and the American artist duo The Yes Men to curate a programme of 20 films, some of them are from the 1920s, 30s, all historical films…

Dana: Do you work very closely with the festival producer?

Mads: Yes, we are 10 to 12 regular full-time people working here, a lot of invaluable interns and 200 volunteers. So there’s a lot of people involved, we put a lot of effort into logistics and managing the festival and making sure that everything is planned in detail. For this purpose we work very closely with our festival producer and her team but they are very self-going, self-sustaining…

cph dox team

Dana: Do all films have a Q&A, do you invite all the filmmakers to attend?

Mads: We invite a lot of filmmakers to attend, we don’t have the means to invite everyone, we try to find funding for as many as we can but because our budget is limited we made it a priority to invite those filmmakers whose films are premiering at the festival. Yesterday was the first day of the festival but a lot of filmmakers are coming for the industry days, which is from Tuesday next week until Friday-Saturday. We want them to not only be present for the screenings but also to engage with the whole international community that is here during the festival.

Dana: You’re referring to CPH:Forum which has a programme that looks very interesting. Will you tell me more about it?

Mads: This is a finance and coproduction forum that was launched in 2007.  It’s a platform where we invite film professionals to come, filmmakers with new film projects. We select around 25 projects and they pitch their new ideas to producers and financiers. And also we create a lot of seminars and other activities around the Forum and around the festival as such, to create a platform whereby people can engage in dialogue and talk about films, exchange ideas and contacts. It is unusual for a documentary film festival to have a Forum where one third of the selection are art projects and one third are films that are a hybrid form between documentary and narrative, fiction and visual art and other art forms. So it’s something that we built up, all the different departments of the festival are not like satellites orbiting around the same planet but it’s more connected and the different departments support each other.

Dana: The filmmakers who are invited to participate in the Forum, are they filmmakers who screened their films at CPH:DOX in previous years or can anyone apply? 

Mads: Not all of them, yes anyone can apply, there’s an open call for entries. The final line-up is made up of young filmmakers, up and coming filmmakers but also established filmmakers.

Dana: What are the objectives for the festival in the future, do you plan to develop and diversify it further?

Mads: We are diversifying very much all the time, not only in content but in the way that we do the festival. What we want to do is play around with the concept of what a film festival is and what it could be. This year we launched the Transmedia Platform, we launched the two-day conference where we invite artists, politicians, tech people, scholars, normal people as well. The idea is based on exchange between people with different professional backgrounds, different perspectives.We also want people to be inspired to take some chances on the types of films that they see. Speaking as a programmer, one of the most exciting things about a film festival is to discover new films, new artists, new work, things that you just didn’t expect…

Tim's Vermeer

Tim’s Vermeer

Dana: How does CPH:DOX compare to other documentary film festivals, with IDFA for instance?

Mads: The festival that we created is based around the idea of the filmmaker as an artist, we like films with a personal signature and vision, and films that are not limited to a traditional concept of what a documentary film is. What I mean by traditional is a film that is observing events from a distance without intervening into them. The type of films that we have been supporting and promoting since day one are the films that expand on the notion of the documentary, they work in the hybrid field between documentary and fiction and visual art and other art forms. And this is what built up the profile of the festival, people expect this from CPH:DOX now, documentaries that challenge the ways that film can engage with the real as well as films that constitute a quality selection of the year’s bigger and more immediately appealing films. But I think it is important to take chances, to simply go and see something that you never heard about…

Dana: A film festival obviously reflects the taste of the festival programmers and the artistic director, you can’t help selecting the films that appeal to you. Do you agree?

Mads: Yes and I think it should. Sometimes it is debated if programmers are the gate-keepers, excluding work and so on. I’d personally much rather go to a film festival that reflects a sort of conscious selection process, clear curatorial criteria, a sort of well thought-out selection of films, rather than a bunch of films that are simply lined-up, one next to the other.[…] It’s also a matter of building up a festival where the actual selection of a film is supportive of the film, where we know that we have a meaningful context or frame that we can put the film in, instead of simply inviting a film and letting it stand alone.The selection process does not stop the minute that you select a film, there’s an after where you work with the film, you try to promote it and explain it to an audience and to build up a space where you can have a discourse.

suitcase of love and shame

Suitcase of Love and Shame

Dana: The films need to resonate with each other, yes, but maybe you could have a weird category where you include all kinds of weird films…

Mads: Oh we have a lot of those!(laughing)…If you look in the New Vision section and in the Artists Competition, a lot of people would think this is way out, it’s not documentary. But it is a place to go and see what contemporary cinema can be. We really try to be a contemporary festival, of course we have a strong historical line in the festival. The films that we show also reflect on past achievements in cinema. But we try to create a space where we screen as many contemporary pieces, where the artists are autonomous and independent voices.

nan goldin

Nan Goldin – I Remember Your Face

Dana: Before working for this festival, did you work for other film festivals, or in terms of education…

Mads: I was arranging film clubs, a lot of them in Copenhagen. I was studying film at university, here and in Stockholm and working…And on the side arranging various film clubs, one for underground films, one strictly for celluloid films, one where we had lectures, one where we screened documentaries.

Dana: So these were your personal projects…

Mads: Yes, personal stuff. Some I did alone and some with friends. And then when the festival was launched in 2003, I was following it […] I didn’t travel to festivals back then but it was still my favourite festival, and this was for a reason, because this is where I discovered the most exciting films, this is where I first saw the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul…

Dana: Congratulations on pronouncing his name, I never get it right…

Mads:(laughing)…And that sense of excitement and discovery was something I wasn’t really used to at that time, I think it made me realise how a festival works. A film club is an ideal way to screen films but a film festival has something of the magic and excitement of so many people that are coming and having these experiences together […]. Then I  started to work as an associate programmer in 2008 and writing a lot of the programme notes, and in 2009 I was hired as a programmer full-time. But I sometimes programme for other festivals and institutions and I curate a monthly night in the Cinemateket where we screen underground, cult films, everything from 16mm to 35mm. So I didn’t move in the direction of wanting to work for a film festival.You don’t end up working for a film festival unless you participate in the local film culture and try to add something to it.

Dana: What are your favourite documentaries in the festival this year?

Mads: Every time people ask me that I say Bloody Beans, an Algerian film in our main competition, which I’m so excited about! I’m really looking forward to meet the director. The films that excite me the most are the ones that suggest a new path or a fresh idea. The best films are the ones that when you leave the cinema you’re a little changed, the power to change you…

Bloody Beans still

Bloody Beans

Dana: Change us for the better I hope!

Mads: Probably most films change us for the worse!(laughing)But this one hopefully will change people for the better. At least for something different and new.

Dana: Any other recommendations?Your Top 5 Festival Films

Mads: It’s a tough question. Another film that felt like a discovery to me is a Chillian film called Naomi Campbel, it follows a transexual woman in Santiago, it’s a narrative film but it integrates real characters in their own surroundings, reenacting their own everyday lives. And reenactments are one of the most interesting tendencies in cinema right now.

Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbel

Last year we had a focus on reenactments with the film The Act of Killing, and a number of other films, and we had a seminar about them. And this year we have a whole thematic side bar dedicated to the idea of films that work with reenactments and reconstructions as their basic premise. An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is also an example because it’s with real life characters that are reenacting something that they lived through in their own surroundings. A Norwegian film called Love Me is also an example. I’m very excited about the thematic programme based on this idea, it is called Everything is Under Control, which is an ironic statement because authorial control is a tabu in documentary, but in this case it is films that work as a reference to something real but the films work around it in very creative ways. One example is a Canadian film called The Dirties, it is a fiction film, a narrative film but the way it intervenes in and interacts with real situations is totally like an interventionist documentary strategy and it’s about a young burgeoning filmmaker played by the director himself, again this troubling link between the real and the artificial…

Dana: This was a dilemma in documentary since the very beginning…

Mads: Yes and I think it became even more of a dilemma later. When Flaherty made Nanook of the North, nobody was complaining that this wasn’t a real family but later when observational cinema really took off in the 60s and 70s and sort of claimed a monopoly in cinematic truth, all these things became problematic. But adding layers of staging, these layers can add something to the truth value of the film, they are more than pure effects.

Dana: What would you say a documentary film offers an audience that a fiction film perhaps doesn’t?

Mads: Documentary is not as canonised as feature filmmaking, you don’t have an A level, B level, C level, documentaries are much more independent and things come out of the blue. Many of the films in our international competition this year, we just didn’t see them coming. And suddenly it was just “boom”, there were all these amazing films…

 Top 10 most popular films at CPH:DOX 2013

1. The Reunion (dir. Anna Odell)
2. Days of Hope (dir. Ditte Haarløv Johnsen)
3. Mistaken for Strangers (dir. Tom Berninger)
4. Generation Iron (dir. Vlad Yudin)
5. Pandora’s Promise (dir. Robert Stone)
6. Mademoiselle C (dir. Fabien Constant)
7. The Armstrong Lie (dir. Alex Gibney)
8. 12 O’ Clock Boys (dir. Nathan Lotfy)
9. Narco Cultura (dir. Shaul Schwarz)
10. Everyday Rebellion (dir. The Riahi Brothers)

And the award goes to…To find out who were the winners of CPH:DOX 2013, click here.

CREATIVE CORNER

If you’re a creative or producer within the media field, you might be interested in some of the initiatives supported by CPH:DOX:

SWIM LAB  – Scandianavian World of Innovative Media, a transmedia initiative launched by CPH:DOX to stimulate innovation and new ways of thinking within media  – Call for entries now open, find out more here.

CPH:FORUM –  CPH:DOX’s international financing and co-production event, dedicated to supporting creative, visual and auteur-driven films. This was the first pitching venue for many great projects such as “Searching For Sugarman”, “Armadillo” and “The Act of Killing”, the latter now competing for a Best Documentary Academy Award.

DOX:LAB – a commissioned MEDIA-supported program for invited filmmakers from EU and non-EU countries. This program was established in 2009 by CPH:DOX International Documentary Film Festival and  is focused on training / project development, pitching events at international co-production markets and subsequent production.

DOC ALLIANCE –  a creative partnership of seven key European documentary film festivals whose is to support the diverse nature of documentary film and to increase audience awareness of the fascinating possibilities of this genre.

Should Truth Always Prevail? Acclaimed Documentarian ALEX GIBNEY about THE ARMSTRONG LIE

Known for his gripping, deeply insightful documentaries, Academy Award winner ALEX GIBNEY is one of the most accomplished non-fiction filmmakers working today. His 2008 film, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, received an Oscar for Best Feature-Length Documentary, a Best Director nomination from the Director’s Guild of America, as well as a Writer’s Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay. He also received another Academy Award nomination in 2006 for ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, which also won the Independent Spirit Award and the WGA Award, and he served as an Executive Producer on the Academy Award-nominated NO END IN SIGHT (2007).

Alex-Gibney

Alex Gibney

His new documentary, THE ARMSTRONG LIE, follows one of the most fascinating stories in the history of sports, the extraordinary rise and  fall of former cycling champion, Lance Armstrong. Embarking on what he believed would prove the ultimate comeback story, Gibney started by turning his cameras on the sports hero, his teammates and trainers in 2008-2009.  But once Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs in early 2013, the film emerged as a riveting insider’s view chronicling the collapse of one of the greatest legends of our time.

The following interview was taken on October 16 at Filmmakers Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel as part of LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013.

Dana: Why Armstrong in the first place?

Alex: Well, I had an opportunity, a famous producer Frank Marshall and a guy from Sony, Matt Tolmach, were developing a fiction film on Lance Armstrong and they couldn’t get the script rights so when Lance wanted to come back they thought of making a documentary and asked me if I would direct it. And I thought that that would be a pretty interesting film, following a champion as he came back, and what interested me about Armstrong, even with the rumours of doping that we all knew even back then, was his will. So I was interested in making that film.

Dana: When you found out everything that happened suddenly, what was your first thought, that you had been lied to or that the film was a lie?

Alex: I was pissed off, not so much that I’ve been lied to, I’d certainly been lied to before, but I felt that I’ve been used. That I was used as kind of a prop and promo campaign, and that did piss me off. But remember this happened over a period of time, it wasn’t like there was a lightening bolt that came down and suddenly it was like: “Oh my God, everything’s changed”. Bit by bit by bit stuff came out and Lance for a long time responded as he always had, which was: “bullshit”, denial, so I had time to work it out. And was I pissed off?Yes I was pissed off but I wasn’t shocked.

the-armstrong-lie-posterDana: What do you think of him?

Alex: On a day to day basis, I like him. I like hanging out with him, I’m interested in talking to him but I also recognise that I can’t always trust him.

Dana: How challenging was it to change the initial film into the final version?

Alex: It was hugely challenging. I think the only way it was going to work was for me to became a character in the film. I had to become the person to whom this had happened. So that I could explain it all in its many levels. And also I stood in for the fan or for the cancer survivor who felt that they invested so much in this myth that Lance had created and now they were disappointed. From a filmmaking standpoint it was hugely complicated because it involved fracturing the narrative, going back and forth in time, in 1999, before that, 2009, the present, pre-Oprah, post-Oprah. It was a very complicated story in that sense. And the only way possible to make it I think was telling it through the first person.

Dana: Michele Ferrari was quite a cue, how did that interview come about, was it just a question of building trust?

Alex: He wouldn’t do the interview unless Armstrong gave his permission and Armstrong did. And I think that was all part of a campaign at the time which was: 2009 – I have nothing to hide, come take a look. So I was surprised that I got the interview with Ferrari but I was pleased.

Dana: How do you think Armstrong felt when the truth came out?

Alex: Well it came out over time. I think Armstrong was probably surprised that the old tactics didn’t work. Let’s remember, he’d already accused his critics? many times in the past, he always defeated his enemies by attacking them or sometimes slandering them and he tried to do the same thing here but it didn’t work this time. Why?Because the level of details was so enormous that his story was no longer believable and I think that was a blow to Armstrong and suddenly, while he always had enemies and critics he also had millions of fans and suddenly his fans started to run for the hills.

Dana: Has he seen the film?

Alex: No. He sent his representatives to see it and so far he hasn’t seen the film, I hope he will. We gave him the opportunity to.

Dana: Have you spoken to him since making the film?

Alex: The last time I spoke to him was when, there were some bits that I went to him with while making the film, because he had some interesting information about UCI and sponsors but the last time I contacted Lance was when I told him it was going to be called the Armstrong Lie.

Dana: And what was his response to that?

Alex: I don’t think he liked it but he accepted it. I heard from other people that he said: “I’m ok with it. I did lie”. In some ways Lance is honest, in some ways he’s not so honest.

Dana: As a filmmaker, are you glad about everything that happened, because you now have a much more interesting film than the original one…

Alex: That was a different film. This one is much more layered and frankly much more like the themes of all my other films. So in that sense while I was hoping to do something different, I ended up being back at base camp for me as a filmmaker.

Dana: What has been the biggest challenge in making this film?

Alex: The biggest challenge in making the final film was to find the structure for it because it was so intricate and complicated in terms of understanding what had gone on before and how to present to the viewer a sense of going back in my experience in 2009 and seeing with the eyes of today what I’d seen in the past. And at the same time recreating my feeling in the past so you could see how I would become excited and enthusiastic about Armstrong only to realise I’d been deceived.

Dana: Where did you stand with him at the beginning anyway?Were you a fan?

Alex: I didn’t know that much about him, or about cycling. I told him the first time I met him: “I know you ride a bicycle and that you’re good at it. That’s about all I know”. But I’ve come to a lot of subjects that way, I was interested in him because of his will. And I assumed from the beginning that will was both an inspirational thing and something that was also quite dark.

Dana: Does he come from a position of arrogance, he can sometimes strike viewers in that way.

Alex: He certainly does and he rubs a lot of people the wrong way as a result.

Dana: What did you learn from this film and would you do it differently if you had to do it again?

Alex: I hope I wouldn’t have to do it again. I guess what I learnt from this film was one of the most amazing things about this story, I talk about the Armstrong lie as if it was a big secret that was suddenly exposed.  But it wasn’t really like that. It was a secret hiding in plain sight. Hundreds of people knew that Lance had doped, not just a small number, and a lot of critics had come forward with the evidence. But it was the power of the myth that Lance created that was so enormous that no one wanted to believe any of that stuff. And in fact everyone realised that they could make so much money, and the cancer survivors realised that they can have so much hope from this story that no one wanted to believe that it wasn’t true. That was the most amazing thing to me.

Dana: On this note, do you think truth should always prevail, considering how powerful and beautiful this story was, and important for some people?Is truth more important than anything?

Alex: Almost.  Truth is very important and I can think of times where a little truth is not necessary to tell within a certain context but in an essential way, truth is very important.

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Got Burnt but Enjoyed It – CATHERINE BREILLAT about ABUSE OF WEAKNESS

Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat

The “provocatrice” of French cinema, CATHERINE BREILLAT is someone who likes playing with fire. Known for her unusual casting choices (e.g. casting porn actor Rocco Siffredi in the film Romance) and controversial films with a strong autobiographical slant, Breillat is always fierce at investigating human nature and her own often contradictory impulses, motivations and desires.

Abuse of Weakness is the consequence of a failed attempt at making another film, Bad Love, which was supposed to depict the strange, abusive relationship between a celebrity (to be played by Naomi Campbell) and her secret lover. Not able to resist her penchant for taking huge casting risks, Breillat chooses real-life con-man Christophe Rocancourt to play the role of the abusive lover. This led to the director becoming the victim of this ruthless perpetrator who swindled her of almost €1million even before starting to make the movie.

The film’s title, a reference to the legal charge Breillat levied against Rocancourt, depicts the relationship between the director and this notorious con-man in its most puzzling complexity. The reaction of the audience at its premiere at the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013 was one of total bafflement: people did not understand how such a clever woman as Breillat could have been so naive to allow for this “abuse” to take place. Catherine herself vows that she doesn’t understand how that came to be either, hence her desire to make a film about it.

Below is an interview with the filmmaker Catherine Breillat taken on 16 October 2013 at Mayfair Hotel, London as part of LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013 .

Dana:My reading of the film is that, despite the title, Maud is a very strong woman who likes playing with fire, and she actually enjoys the abuse.What is your reading of your own film?

Catherine: Yes but it is because she abuses her strength, which makes possible an abuse of her weakness, because you have the two. First, she is emotionally fragile like every artist in fact, and also physically very fragile.And she doesn’t want to accept that she is physically fragile. From the first time she says :”I want to love” and I think the desire to love is part of the story, because she is in love with him. Every time they behave like adolescents, it’s part of the relationship, that’s why an abuse of weakness is pleasant, when you live that, it’s delicious, the life of someone who is handicapped becomes delicious. When I’m alone in my flat and I have to wake up and first to stand up and find my equilibrium[…]. It’s very very complicated and dangerous for me, I need concentration. I never got used to suddenly not being able to take off a book from the shelf. If I want to understand really, I just sit and cry.

Dana: But she doesn’t come across as a victim at all, and the impression of strength she gives is stronger than the impression of weakness.

Catherine: Because in my case and of course in the case of the film, to be victim is for the law and also for the reason (?). The reason is that she was a victim, but her character is to refuse to consider herself a victim, either of the stoke, or of him.

Dana: She’s very dignified.

Catherine: Yes, I think so.

Dana: If you could tell us something about the nature of this fascination she has with him.

Catherine: It was very important that he was my actor, because every director of a movie has to be fascinated with the actor. It’s even the reason why I don’t want to see them more than the first or second time. Even Isabelle, I know her very very well, but when I asked her to play the role, I just gave her the script, I had dinner with her and my producer and I never talked with her and her with me. We had no such desire.

66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)

Isabelle Huppert

Dana: How did you work with Isabelle Huppert and Kool Shen during the shoot?

[When we started filming] the first time I saw Isabelle was for the costume and the second day we shot the photo which is on her book. It’s so fascinating to see Isabelle and Kool Shen together. And the reason I wanted to cast him, it’s because I wanted to transform him in the phantasm of the character I need for my movie. It’s the same for me, for instance a violonist needs Stradivarius but you don’t talk to your Stradivarius. In this case you can have a rehearsal, [but it is important that] actors are not considered as related to anyone but as material to make the movie. It’s a very strange relationship, it’s not because you deny them as human beings, but this is not what you need for your movie. You need the phantasm, not what they are, that’s why I don’t want to see them before, because I want to dream, and not to have too much material life with them. On the set they say my word and not their word, I don’t want to hear them with their word before. The only things that passionate me is to hear my word, to put them in my costume and in this situation, and in this place, and in front of the camera, with the anxiety, and for them and for me to succeed.

It’s also why it’s so fascinating and exhilarating to make a movie, it’s a sort of creative empathy with actors and me and my movie…The movie is mine, it’s theirs, and in fact it is abstract, it’s something […] which has its own existence, it is not a biopic but I direct my actors very strongly, […] but at the same time I choreograph all the time my scenes, in very long shot, so they have to learn the choreography very well because of the focus. If they play beautifully but I don’t have the focus there’s no film. And after, when some shot is incredible, never rehearse the scene, in my opinion. I never never never repeat the scene with the sentiment, the feeling and the emotion with them. Just the place. When I film for the first time, sometimes the first time is so beautiful, so surprising, I want my actors to surprise me and I become emerveillee by them!That is my way of making a film.

Kool Shen small

Kool Shen

Dana: The film is quite a tough watch in places. How was it for you to relive those moments on the screen, and how did you feel watching and making this film?

Catherine: I cried many many times and it’s still very difficult for me to speak on this subject and the character of Maud. So yes sometimes I cry. But I can say “Maud is a transposition, in a sense it’s me but it’s not me”. I don’t know, I can’t speak of Maud, I can direct Maud but my feelings are impossible, and I cry. But on the set I don’t cry. For the actors it was much more emotional than if it was just fiction because Isabelle interprets a character very very close to the director, she knows me very very well, we have been friends for more than 20 years. So yes, there was a lot of emotion  but the most important emotion is the emotion of the film. That’s why Isabelle can be an actress and not a transposition of me. She’ll never accept to interpret me, never.

Dana: Why would she never accept to interpret you?

Catherine: Because it would be “miserable”, “mesquin”, with interest… Just to become somebody in front of the same person. And I don’t like biopics, I hate biopics, it’s easier to make a biopic than to play the person who is filming you.

Dana: So when you were on set and you were directing, were you able to have some objectivity towards the character of Maud?Were you able to see her as a separate character?

Catherine: If I have emotion as a spectator, I don’t care if it is really my emotion when I was in this situation or not, because in fact I cannot remember and understand what was my real emotion in this situation. Yes for me it is also a surprise to see that and is it really true? Or just the interpretation of the script?I don’t care. If the emotion is there, if the movie is good, it’s just that. After all, yes, I am a director and my only only thought is for my film, and more for this one, because everybody knows that it’s very close to me because it is also a story for the tabloids. So it will be more shame for the director if this movie becomes a vulgar pretext to attract an audience. […]And I want to not be ridiculous. In life yes I was ridiculous to live this story. But I don’t want to be ridiculous making this movie, nor a fool of my ego.

MORE…

“All true artists are hated” – an interesting interview with Catherine Breillat in The Telegraph

Taking Sex Seriously – a very to the point article by John Hoyles in MovieMail 

“I cast my actors for their imagination” – Director JAMES PONSOLDT about THE SPECTACULAR NOW

spectacular_now BIG                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The third feature film from US indie filmmaker JAMES PONSOLDT, THE SPECTACULAR NOW  is a bitter sweet comedy drama that captures the confusion and insecurity of adolescence in a way that no other teen movie has ever done before. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.

Spectacularly fresh and original, the film was released in the US in August 2013 and we are excitedly waiting for its release in the UK.

Below is an interview with the director taken on 11 October 2013 at Filmmakers Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel, as part of the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013.

Dana: How are you enjoying the festival?

James: I love it, I’ve always wanted to come to this festival, I grew up with those wonderful BFI books, like the best movies ever, I was always aware of the BFI, so it’s always been a dream.

Dana: Is it your first time at the festival?

James: Yes, yes.

Dana: But you made other films…

james ponsoldt pic

JAMES PONSOLDT

James: I have made other films and they played internationally, I had one last year that played in Toronto, in Zurich, but never at the London Film Festival, no…

Dana(cheekily): Why, they didn’t accept your films in the festival before? 

James: No, I don’t know, a lot of times it was just scheduling, Smashed, the film I had last year, it was a Sony Pictures Classic release worldwide and it came out in the US in October last year so timewise it didn’t quite work out. In this case there is an American distributor, it already came out in the US and Disney is releasing it internationally so they were fine with it, a lot of it is just scheduling.

Dana: Your film is the sweetest teen film I ever saw and it goes against all the stereotypes of the genre. How did you come up with such lovely and complex characters? I know the film is based on a book but does it all come from the book?

shailene woodley

Shailene Woodley

James: Oh, thank you. Well, Tim Tharp wrote the novel, he wrote a beautiful book, but a lot of it comes from the collaboration with the actors. The book was the inspiration and that’s the spirit of it but the way I work with actors, I cast them for their imagination,  because I find them to be very interesting people, not only because they look the way I imagine the characters look. So when I cast Shailene Woodley or Miles Teller, I’m casting them because I believe they would make the characters more interesting than I would. And that they will disagree with me, I mean Shailene Woodley knows more about what it is to be an 18-year old girl than I do. So we had many many conversations long before we shot, sitting with the script, talking about the characters, talking about them and who they are, what they found compelling, what they found that needed work, or that they would never say. So the script evolved and changed. Before we shot I even had the actors have conversations with the production designer, or the costume designer, and even the characters’ bedrooms reflected in some ways the taste and vision of the actors, in addition to me. So it was really a collaboration of all of us, everybody’s fingerprints are on it. But it got better because the script is just a pile of paper, you know, but actors are what makes something human, and you can either micromanage actors and make them do exactly what you want, in which case you’ll get something, but if you cast brilliant actors and allow them to be free, because they are artists in the same way that a cinematographer or composer is an artist. So it was really the actors, and a great book and a great script that…did the trick.

Dana: This is your third feature, what challenges have you encountered this time and how did things go on the set?

James: Ultimately we had a small budget and not a lot of time so it was a sprint. We planned a lot because we knew that when we are actually shooting, we’d have to go through this many pages every day and if we didn’t get a scene we wouldn’t be able to go back…And the goal ultimately is to plan and plan and plan so that on the day you can be spontaneous and free and throw all that out of the window, you don’t want to be aware of your watch but you have to be. But I think everybody goes through that. Otherwise we shot in my home town of Athens in Georgia, which was wonderful. And we also shot in August in Georgia, which meant that it was over 100 degrees each day and humid, and thunderstorms, and the weather was crazy, and everybody’s sweating and hot, it was pretty brutal as far as the weather, but it was really a lovely set though.The crew worked together very well, the actors were all wonderful and we were all on the same page.So it was a real pleasure.

Miles_Teller

Miles Teller

Dana: If you were to go back and shoot this film all over again, would you do something different?I’m trying to get to what lessons you have learnt this time, I imagine you learn something new all the time…

James:Yeah, I do[…].I used to beat myself up over things, it’s very hard for me to watch a film that I’ve made and enjoy it, all I’m thinking about is the things I would change and the mistakes, so I can’t take a lot of pleasure in watching my own movies[…]. I love watching other people’s movies and I can admire the performances but it’s very hard for me to watch my films. On my first film, I’d beat myself up endlessly watching the film and thinking about what I would do differently. Now my perspective has changed, now I believe in preparing a lot as I mentioned but throwing it all out on the day, and realising that if I made the movie one week before or one week later it would be very different, it might be raining on one day, the actor might have just broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, whatever it is, and you can either fight those things or you can embrace them. Now I see it as the universe giving me those gifts, and fiction films and scripts are entirely fabricated, there’s all these elements, there’s lights and camera and you are trying to create honesty so I’m trying to be better by letting go of my preconceived notions of what it’s going to be and just embracing whatever it is in the moment, like if this is a scene between two people and I spill tea on you, that’s ok, maybe now you have tea on…but just embrace it because that happens in life.

Dana: This reminds me of Godard’s method of working…

James: Oh I love Godard, I love Truffaut…

Dana: And they loved American filmmakers, they loved Hollywood films…

James: Yes they did, they were great critics. I learnt so much just from watching specifically Truffaut, his Antoine Doinel films and his criticism and all the Cahiers du cinéma writing, and his interviews with Hitchcock. That’s probably my favourite time in filmmaking. And filmmakers like Agnes Varda, I just adore.

Dana: By the way, talking about film magazines, which one is your favourite?

James: I write for a film magazine in the US called Filmmaker.

Dana: I’ve read your interview in Filmmaker, you were interviewed by Craig Zobel, interestingly enough I interviewed Craig last year.

James: Oh fantastic. Craig is a very good friend, he’s from Georgia as well, you saw Compliance, I love Compliance. So I write for that magazine as well, and I’ve done interviews with everyone from Kelly Reichardt, to Paul Thomas Anderson, Francis Ford Coppola and Charlie Kaufman. So I love that one. I also love Film Comment, there’s a lot that I love, I read them all. I’m partial to Filmmaker because I write for it.

Dana: Do they pay you?

James: Yes they do, symbolically. For me, the editor, Scott Macaulay, he’s a very good friend and a great champion of films…I have such a fierce respect for film criticism, and for filmmakers that started as critics…I think of myself as part of a community that I want to engender and so when someone like Craig, who is an amazing filmmaker, interviews me, it’s him being part of a community and supporting me and it’s what I hope to do as well. I try to not have a sense of competition with other filmmakers because I believe the success of an independent filmmaker with a very personal vision is a success for everyone, it’s important to not tear apart other people but to really support them, because the moment you tear apart someone else, it makes it all the harder for you to get your movie made, so the community as a whole when it thrives it’s good for everyone, that’s how I see it.

Dana: And this was exactly the spirit of the French New Wave…One last tricky question: why do you make films?

James: Because I don’t know any other way to express myself, I would think I would go insane if I didn’t, I mean it’s like an addiction, a compulsion, I’ve always needed to tell stories. When I was a child I did cartoons, I wrote short stories, I acted in plays, I played music, all these different ways that I wanted to express myself through story, and then when I made my first short film, I realised it synthesised my love of photography and acting and music and just everything into one. It is an universal art that combines everything. For me growing up sitting in a movie theatre was like going to church, it was the most cathartic experience, it was the way I better understood myself and had very private emotional experiences but it was also the way I communicated and felt connected to other people. Sitting in a dark room with five hundred people crying together is an amazing thing. And because when I was young certain movies and certain books made me feel less alone in the world, when I was angry and confused and I found the right book and the right movie, when I met Antoine Doinel for the first time, I could see myself and I knew that someone else felt that…And I guess my hope is to make films that at least one other person would have a connection to, so that’s my hope.

MORE…

Shailene Woodley on why the sex scene in The Spectacular Now is her favourite…find out more here.

James Ponsoldt shares the call sheet for the first day of the shoot of The Spectacular Now with the Filmmaker magazine…read more here.

LOVE, MARILYN – Interview with LIZ GARBUS

blonde-diva-love-marilyn-monroe-simle-Favim.com-302754 IF…If somebody asked you what Marilyn Monroe was really like, how would you answer them? And if you’re lost for words and can’t imagine what her inner world looked like, this film will help with shedding some light on that.

One of my favourite documentaries at London Film Festival 2012, LOVE, MARILYN is showing in UK cinemas until Wednesday 27 November, only one week left so don’t miss out…

Based on a bunch of recently-discovered personal documents that Marilyn left behind and drawing on a wealth of well-chosen film clips, archive footage and recent interviews with people who knew or worked with Marilyn, this is a truly mesmerising film in which the voices of a stellar cast – Glenn Close, Lindsay Lohan, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, Viola Davis – mix to recreate one of cinema’s most fascinating movie stars.

Below is an interview with  LIZ GARBUS, the Oscar-nominated documentarist who put the many pieces of the mysterious puzzle together.

Dana: Where did this project start for you and what did you think of those documents when you saw and read them for the fist time?

Liz: The project started for me with the documents that were found. I made a film called Bobby Fisher Against the World and the producer of that film was an advisor to the Monroe estate which was entrusted to the Strasberg family. And much of it had been catalogued and archived and filmed but there were two boxes that were discovered in a storage closet, letters, notes, poems, and finally they decided that they should bring them out to the world. And my producer was helping them figure out what to do with them. And so when I heard about them I said: “Oh, I’d be interested in making a film”. And I wasn’t someone who was so interested in Marilyn Monroe but I wanted, you know, you hear about these documents and they started telling me about them and the kinds of things she was saying, and I found them irresistible, I found them really interesting.

Dana: How do you explain the phenomenon that was Marilyn Monroe?

The filmmaker Liz Garbus

Liz: I explain it in terms of female sexuality and femininity at a time in the US of the great repression, it was the gray flannel suit of the1950s, when sexuality was bursting, it was trying to come out, and what happened is that it came out in the form of Marilyn Monroe. If you look at Marilyn next to Jane Russell, her co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, at Grauman’s Chinese theatre when they are doing their entrance, Jane is wearing this big 1950 poodle skirt, with a big collar and Marilyn, every contour in her body is showing, which I think is a metaphor for the generational shift that was happening at the time, but I think it’s naive or overly simplistic to say Marilyn was an early feminist. But what she did do was discuss sexuality…you know there were these nude photos that emerge of her, we are all familiar with nude photos today, then it was less frequent, but instead of doing what the studios wanted her to do and deny them and say it was somebody else, she decided to go out there and give an entry and say “Yeah it was me, and I did it because I needed the money”. She dealt with sexuality in a very frank way, that I think had an indelible mark on the culture and I think dying young and beautiful and that mythology around that tragic life story, the little girl who achieves everything and then at the height of it all dies, I think that is our modern myth, that’s our Cinderella story that has endured in our culture. And because she created it at this very particular moment, it was incredibly powerful.

love_marilyn_filmposterDana: As you say, she’s got a very iconic image and we’ve all got a perception of her, how does this film go about changing that perception?     

Liz: The perception I had of Marilyn before making this film was not incredibly deep, she was an image, a subject of still photography, I didn’t even think of her as an actress in her movie roles, I think I thought of the types of roles she played, the dumb blonde who was maybe a little wise but I didn’t think of her necessarily as a human being or as an actress, I thought of her as more of a model and an image, and with this film, in using the documentary letters that she left behind, provides the flesh of that person, and the viewers will judge for themselves whether it’s something new and different. For me it was, for me looking at her as a working woman who was having trouble balancing the demands of family and work, that’s a struggle that is relatable to modern women. That was the way I related to her that I didn’t expect to. So I think that there are things that are in the documents that I found that were different than what I expected, maybe it will be for viewers as well.

Dana: There seems to be a great focus on Marilyn this year. How would you say your film compares to or complements My Week with Marilyn in terms of the portrayal that they put forward?

Liz: Well, it’s very different, that film is based on a week, one moment in her life whereas this film deals with a much longer span of time, not her whole life but really the period that the documents come from, which is her adult life, pretty much, and they talk a lot about acting and her fears, they talk a lot about love and her struggles to balance that, include men in the life she had that was so complex and busy and public, […] and of course they are overlapping because they are about the same person. But I think one thing that happens when an actress plays Marilyn, even as superbly as Michelle Williams has done, you are always comparing her to the real person, so you’re watching Michelle in which ways she is and isn’t Marilyn. And whilst she is superb, she is not Marilyn, nobody is 100% somebody else. So the approach I took in the film is, we had a cast of actresses but none of them were playing Marilyn, what they were doing was using their own experiences as actresses working today to bring to life Marilyn’s experiences. They had insights into them that even I would rather document twenty times, they would understand that this was a note about an acting technique that to me it seemed like maybe it could have been from a dream or nightmare but it was about technique, they could understand these notes in a way that was unique and profound, so I think in the reading of them you do feel something more of Marilyn’s experience. And because they are not playing her, you’re not looking at them and saying “Oh, how was Uma Thurman like Marilyn, how was she not like Marilyn”, you’re just listening to the words and maybe feeling them more because you’re not constantly comparing.

Dana: Why do you think contemporary actresses relate so much to her, for instance Lindsey Lohan among others, is it to do with putting on the sexual character aspects of it?

Liz:  Yes I think it has to do with who Marilyn was sexually in our culture and that she was vulnerable yet powerful at the same time, things that are an incredibly powerful cocktail, that combination, and I think people like Lindsey have embraced that. And Marilyn died young and beautiful and she is the subject of much gossip and social speculation that never goes away, and the fact that people think there’s no definitive answer there which I don’t think is as as mysterious as everybody does, but it keeps the myth going. And she really is about the myth of celebrity, she really is about that eternal feminine vision and people wanted to buy into that.

Dana: What do you think of the way the industry relegated her to the category of “sex pot”/“dumb blonde” during her acting career?

Liz: I think that’s very unfair, you don’t create a figure that is so enduring if you’re stupid, she was very carefully crafted, there’s a biographer who talked about how she read the Times magazine, like she knew that in Italy there was this kind of busty, sexual female figure that was being embraced. So she adapted things from other cultures and she very deliberately created a new type of American figure. And that was quite brilliant. Maybe that’s giving her more credit, maybe some of it was quite instinctive but you don’t create that by accident, something very new and very different…And in the film we include a lot of her press conferences, and you see the way she talks to the press, she’s so clever, she handles the press so well, they are all trying to ask her these little zingers  and she deflects them very gracefully like a great politician. Her public persona was incredibly well calibrated and she was a master at it.

Marilyn with bookDana: I read somewhere that she really liked to be photographed around books, is it true?

Liz: Well, I think that’s a bit of a cliché around actresses, they all like to be photographed with books but she was quite a reader, I mean everybody says she was, and I think that was part of the image she wanted to project.

Dana: What were some of the challenges involved in the making of this film?

Liz: Stylistically it’s very different than anything I’ve made before, and I haven’t seen a film like it, which is fine, we’re all filmmakers and are creating films, I was doing something that was risky, I had a whole bunch of different actors reading fragments, thoughts and ideas, and you had to edit them to become cohesive, yet still relish their fragmentary nature. I mean they are not meant to be a narrative, they are meant to illuminate moments in time and brief thoughts, some of them pleading, so the goal was to respect that as well as providing the viewer with a cohesive narrative, that’s a balancing act.

Dana: As far as editing is concerned, you’re pulling so many different cuts for this film, the letters, the performances, home videos, how difficult an editing process was it?

Liz: It was difficult, there’s always a time in editing, especially with a documentary because you don’t have a script, where you’re like deep in the woods and it’s very dark and you don’t know how you’ll find your way out, and because I’ve made some films, I’ve now come to embrace that period of like “okay, this is when it’s all happening, I know this feels like I’ll never find a way out but this is what has to happen” so I was there and I knew I would get through it and you have to constantly tell yourself that, sometimes all of a sudden there is a break and you find that things that won’t work, they work.