Seen at Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, Montreal (Canada) Format: Cinema Release date: 27 September 2017 (France) Distributor: Océan Films Distribution Director: Géla Babluani Writers: Géla Babluani Cast: George Babluani, Vincent Rottiers, Charlotte Van Bervesseles, Benoît Magimel
On the release of his tense new thriller, the French-Georgian director best known for 13 (Tzameti) talks about unlikely bungled burglaries, fragile criminals and the prisons we build for ourselves.
Over 10 years ago, French-Georgian director Géla Babluani made a memorable directorial debut with 13 (Tzameti), a stylised black and white tale of greed, desperation and dangerous games. He is back with a taut crime thriller that recombines the main ingredients of his debut, namely money and suicide, into a mature, tense study of human nature punctuated by flashes of absurdist dark humour. Set in the grim port city of Le Havre, the story revolves around three friends who break into a politician’s mansion to steal a suitcase full of money. But from the moment they enter the house, things go wildly off plan. As the characters are faced with a situation they could not have foreseen, each decision they make leads them inexorably down an increasingly perilous path.
Format: Cinema Director: Ryan Prows Writers: Ryan Prows, Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Maxwell Michael Towson Cast: Nicki Micheaux, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Jon Oswald, Mark Burnham, Santana Dempsey
A highlight at this year’s Fantasia Festival, this fun, warm and brutal chronicle of LA’s underbelly comes to Horror Channel FrightFest on 28 August 2017.
The 2017 edition of the Fantasia Festival was rich in beautifully crafted, unusual gems, and Lowlife ranked high among them, deservedly drawing a warmly enthusiastic response from the Montreal crowd. Category-defying, genre-mixing and cliché-blasting, its intricate narrative follows the interconnected stories of a luchador, a pregnant drug addict, a motel owner with a past, an ex-con with an unfortunate facial tattoo, and a chicken shack organ-trafficker in the midst of LA. Fresh, funny, violent, sordid, unsentimental and heart-breaking, it tells about the brutality of life on the margins and redefines heroism with a light touch and a lot of soul.
We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale
Edited by Neil Snowdon PS Publishing 491pp.
Publishing date: June 2017
The Gremlins director talks about the ground-breaking British screenwriter best known for the Quatermass serials and films. This is an edited version of Neil Snowdon’s interview with Joe Dante on Nigel Kneale, which is published in the newly released book We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale.
Joe Dante is one of the great heroes of American cinema. His highly subversive, wildly entertaining movies are unique in the landscape of Hollywood cinema. Cine-literate, politically aware and scathingly satirical, his extraordinary filmography from The Howling and Gremlins to The Burbs and The Hole will make you laugh, feel and think. Dante is also one of Hollywood’s great advocates for cinema history. His encyclopaedic knowledge is on display in all his movies, and at his website, trailersfromhell.com.
Format: DVD + Blu-ray Release date: 5 June 2017 Distributor: Kaleidoscope Entertainment Director: Alice Lowe Writer: Alice Lowe Cast: Alice Lowe, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Tom Davis
The multi-talented British writer-director-performer talks about exploring disturbing territory, filming while pregnant and catching the magic of the moment.
Known for her work in Sightseers and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Alice Lowe made her widely acclaimed directorial debut with the warped, hilarious and bloody black comedy Prevenge, which she also wrote and starred in while heavily pregnant. Filmed in 11 days, the story focuses on an expecting mother who goes on a vengeful killing spree, spurred on by her unborn baby. Although it is a dark, uncomfortable and surreal tale, Lowe has managed to create a character that audiences find themselves rooting for. A film that confuses the moral compass, it stays on the mind long after it ends.
The writer, editor, film critic and leading expert on Jean Rollin talks about his fascination with the unique French director.
Writer, editor and film critic Jeremy Richey – founder and editor of the quarterly print journal Art Decades and writer of numerous well-known film blogs, such as Moon in the Gutter among others – is a leading expert on Jean Rollin. With his comprehensive blog Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience, Richey has devoted many years to researching and writing about Rollin’s filmography.
The Australian filmmaker talks about working with Nick Cave, directorial tactics and his favourite song from the new Bad Seeds album.
For one night only, on 8 September 2016, Andrew Dominik’s beautifully moving and sad documentary will give audiences around the world a special opportunity to hear songs from Skeleton Tree, the latest album from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and see a glimpse of how it got made. The project originally started off purely as a promotional film to support the album release, but ultimately turned into something bigger, much bolder and undeniably richer, mainly driven by the emotional trauma Nick Cave found himself in after the death of his 15-year-old son Arthur in July 2015.
Like Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s recent documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, which offered an intriguing and highly original look at Cave’s life, One More Time with Feeling is anything but a standard take on the great artist and his irresistibly captivating music. From experimenting with mixing 2D and 3D black-and-white cinematography, to the shrewd staging of the songs, and Cave’s magnetising voiceover, Dominik (Killing Them Softly) manages to not only capture the artist at work but encourages him to gradually open up about his emotions and the sheer bewilderment and haunting grief that surrounds him and his family since the terrible ‘accident’ (a word that Cave himself doesn’t use easily). The result is illuminating and as deeply affecting as the music itself: fragile, fragmented, powerful and utterly poignant to its hauntingly dark core.
Pamela Jahn talked to Andrew Dominik at the Venice Film Festival earlier this week, where the film had its world premiere.
Pamela Jahn: The original brief for this documentary was quite different to the final film. How did it come about?
Andrew Dominik: Basically, the original idea was to just do some sort of live event that would be shown in a bunch of theatres, but Nick didn’t want to do it, maybe because he thought it was too much pressure, and so they decided to make a film instead. And he originally just asked me if I’d shoot the songs from the record, like a performance or something. But that would have only added up to 35 minutes, so we had to put other stuff into this, and what that other stuff would be we didn’t really know. It all happened quite organically. I knew obviously that the film had to deal with the trauma, because that was really the only thing that was happening, or that was the thing that was under everything. It was just a question of how directly we would deal with it, because as a friend, you don’t want to go too much into it, but as a filmmaker you’ve got to try to get to the subject matter at hand, and I kind of felt that that’s what he wanted me to do, that that’s my job, and so that’s what I did. And then the film took shape little by little. I came up with the idea of the voiceover, because Nick’s life is this swirl of activity, but at the centre of that he disappears into whatever goes on inside him, and I felt like we needed that to be expressed. But I didn’t want it to be polished. Nick is always controlling and I wanted to get in the way of that, so he could reveal himself.
Did you have any arguments?
Yes, all the time.
Nick doesn’t like to wait around, and he didn’t. For example, when we were going [to the studio] to shoot overdubs, he wouldn’t tell me when exactly he’s going in to do a take, because they’re trying to fool themselves that they are not working. It’s more like, they’re going to do something that happens to be recorded. Because he doesn’t want to deliver anything, he just wants something to happen. But you can imagine from an organisational point of you that’s a fucking nightmare, when the guys are not even going to tell you when it’s happening. And especially with 3D, everything is difficult. Even if you just want to change a lens, it takes an hour. So all I wanted from him was some indication about what’s going to happen during the day, and he wouldn’t give it to me.
At some point early on in the film Nick asks you, ‘Is this some sort of directorial tactic?’ – Was that true, did you actually have a tactic when it came to directing him?
I do believe in difficulty, I believe in making things difficult for people, because they reveal themselves when you do that. But it’s not malicious or deliberate. I don’t try to manipulate people but I am naturally manipulative, depending on the person. You have to basically adapt yourself to every person that you deal with. Nick, for example, is very suspicious, he’s not trusting necessarily, and he’s a very impatient person and he sees all sides of things. He’s actually a relief to deal with because he’s really bright and he understands what you’re doing structurally. But at the same time, Nick is anxious because he wants to get to the studio to start working on the record, and he’s got to wait around because we’re fucking working out this camera in the car, so at that point you mentioned there, he was serious. He thought I was trying to slow him down to provoke a reaction from him, although I wasn’t.
The title is part of a song from the new album. Whose idea was that?
It was my idea. It’s just a superstition really. I looked at all the music documentaries and all the ones that were good, the title was an action: Don’t Look Back, Shut Up and Play the Hits. So we just went through the songs and this one seemed to make sense.
How do you perceive Nick Cave has changed since what happened?
He’s like Nick, but more so. He says himself that he’s a lot more compassionate. I think he always was compassionate, but he used to be a very armed person, he was never afraid of making things difficult for other people and I think he’s a lot less like that now. And he’s a very ambivalent person, but I am not sure that’s changed, but he’s certainly much more patient with people than he used to be.
It’s said in the film that women are more 3D. Do you agree?
Yes. There is much more depth to women than men. And also, when you are dealing with actresses, they have a lot more speed. If they were like a bike, men have got three speeds and women have got like 15 speeds.
Was it clear from the beginning that Nick’s wife Susie would talk to you as well, and be in the film?
No, and it took a little bit of convincing. But I thought, his family is his life, I mean he goes on tour but at the end of the day he’s a family man, and every time you talk to Nick half of what he says is about Susie and the kids. So it didn’t really seem possible to make a film about Nick without including Susie. Also because what happened didn’t only affect Nick and it didn’t just affect Susie and Earl, it affected everyone. So to not hear from them would have been weird, I think, because it happened to them.
Which track from the new album is your favourite?
I think I like Jesus Alone the most, the first one. Because it’s real, I mean, they’re actually recording it as we shoot it, and the other songs are performed. So purely the one I think I captured the best was that one, probably. But I do like them all really, because ultimately they all mean different things to me.
Interview by Pamela Jahn
Skeleton Tree is released worldwide on 9 September 2016.
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Peter Stormare, Michael Chiklis, Kerry Bishé
USA, Canada 2016
Secretary director Steven Shainberg talks about female leads, arachnophobia and Peter Dinklage on the occasion of his latest film, which marks his first foray into genre.
It has been 14 years since Steven Shainberg’s brilliant indie breakout hit Secretary and 10 since his last directorial effort, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. Always following his own individual path, Shainberg returns with a horror/SF tale that feels like a cross between X-Files and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Noomi Rapace as Renee, an arachnophobic single mum kidnapped by a group of sinister strangers with mysterious aims.
Rupture premiered at Fantasia in Montreal in July 2016 where Virginie Sélavy met Steven Shainberg to talk about his interest in female leads, his adoration for Peter Dinklage, and the spider metaphor.
Virginie Sélavy: It’s been 10 years since Fur, why has it taken so long for you to make another film?
Steven Shainberg: It’s all about money. I had my children, whom I adore and try and spend as much time with as I can possibly can, but the answer is, it has been impossible to get my other movies made. In the time that it took me to get Rupture made I’ve had seven other movies projects. Some of them are cast partially, two of them got very close to getting made, and every single time the money was not there. That’s the reason it’s been that long.
This is your first foray into horror and SF. What led you to make a genre film?
It is a genre film in certain ways, but in other ways it’s exactly the same movie as the other seven movies that I haven’t made and the movies that I have made, in that it’s the story of a person who is confronted with an unusual situation and has to discover who they are. For whatever reason, all the things I’m interested in are always about that kind of personal discovery within yourself, about who you really are and identity. When I started, I had this idea for this movie and I started talking to this producer about it. Originally it wasn’t a movie I thought I’d be interested to make, and then as I started working on the story and as we developed the screenplay I realised, ‘this is that movie, I’m making that movie again’. And I thought it would be interesting to see if that kind of story could be told in a different context. It is a movie about somebody who has to confront their fear in order to transform into who they really are. That’s the story of Secretary and that’s the story of Fur. And that’s the story of the other movies as well. So in that sense it is really no different.
In the films you’ve made, self-discovery also comes through pain, is that fair to say?
There’s pain, which is also part of self-discovery and change, and there’s confusion, and fear. Those I think are the doors through which we have to pass in order to get anywhere and in order to have any kind of truth about ourselves. And girls are more fun to look at than boys.
Yes, you clearly like female characters.
When Kieslowski made Red, White and Blue, he was asked why all his heroes are women, and I think his answer was something along the line of ‘they’re great to look at’. And you do have to look through the lens at them for a long time, and then you have to be in the cutting room with them for a long time, and then you have to go out into the world with them for a long time, and I think I’m inclined to love them, and adore them, so that’s what leads me in that direction. But then, most of the movies I’m trying to get made have very strong male characters and I think to some extent that’s a desire to change that. But that’s pretty much been my inclination.
Do you have to be in love with your main character?
You have to be in love with all your characters for sure, even the ones that are horrible, at least understand them and want to connect with them in some way. But the protagonist of the movie, yes, you got to love that person. That’s what’s hard about making a movie. I’ll just give you an example. I have a movie that the rather fabulous Peter Dinklage is going to play the lead in and I totally adore him. So because of that feeling that I have for him it’s exciting to think that we can make that movie. He’s a guy.
Despite the similarities between Secretary and Rupture the big difference is that in Secretary there is some kind of resolution, whereas Rupture is open-ended – it seems made for a sequel.
From your mouth to God’s ears. There were various endings for this movie, the intention and the hope were that the movie would make a shitload of money and that we would get to make another one. That’s why the ending is open-ended. Because this tells a very simple first-beat story of Renee becoming part of them. And the thing that happens between her and them, and then between her, them and her kid and then the world, is not part of this movie. It’s supposed to be part of other movies. So that’s the reason.
Why did you decide to focus on a single mum? Did that have special significance for you?
This is the reason why they take her when they take her. She’s primed for the ‘rupture’. This means that there are periods in your life when you are vulnerable and when you’re more fragile and you’re not as strong as you might have been a couple of years ago or you will be in the future. But at that moment some real change can occur for you. And that’s why she’s a person who is saying to her friend on the phone and to her kid, ‘I’m going sky-diving’. Who goes sky-diving for the first time? It’s a person who is looking for a new feeling, they are looking for something in themselves that they can release, for a kind of transformation. So she has this fragile relationship with her ex-husband who is insensitive to her, and she’s vulnerable and she’s tender and she’s looking for a change and that’s the moment when things can happen for you.
You always seem interested in marginalised characters, people who are different for one reason or another.
Yeah. The thing is, problems are what’s interesting. The movie has to have somebody in a problem, and I’m not drawn to the ordinary guy who is angst-ridden about his suburban life unless he’s nuts and really on the edge. I guess I grew up as an unusual person in various ways and so I feel connected. My wife says, ‘you’re much more Peter Dinklage than Bradley Cooper’, [laughs] and it’s true! I would rather cast Peter Dinklage than Bradley Cooper!
The actors are all terrific. How did you cast the film?
It’s one of the ironies of low-budget filmmaking that for most supporting parts you can’t afford another big name. And my translation of that is, ‘oh, we get to cast people who are great and right for the movie’. If Renee goes to that facility and all those people are faces that you know, people you recognize, you will not be scared because you know who they are. But if you don’t know who they are it’s much more unnerving. So we had to cast certain people out of Toronto because of our Toronto deal, but we could also bring some people. So for instance we brought Lesley Manville, who from my point of view is one of the greatest actresses of the world. I never thought she would do it, but she was free, in between two movies, so it was amazing to have her, I love her. And the same thing was true with Michael Chiklis and Kerry Bishé and everybody else, and certainly with Peter Stormare. It needed to be a group that had a certain coherent internal vibe. And the criterion was, is this a person who feels like they’ve ‘ruptured’ in their own lives? That’s what Andrew Lazar the producer and I would assess during casting. ‘That guy is awesome but he’s wrong for the movie. He hasn’t ruptured yet.’ [laughs] I’ve ruptured many times… [laughs]
What inspired that idea of transformation coming out of terror?
It’s something I understand, what you have to move through and be capable of working with in your life in order to arrive at something new for yourself. The spiders in the film are merely a metaphor, and we all have those things crawling all over us all of the time. Most of the time most people can’t transcend that. One of the things that I like about the movie is that everyone else is saying, ‘what do you want from me?’, all the people who are in the facility, and they never answer the question, except to say, ‘it’s entirely up to you’. And that’s the truth, it’s entirely up to you.
What’s great is that you never know if they’re good or bad guys, their ultimate aim is never made clear.
That’s absolutely true. That’s the experience we have in our own lives with people who are working on us. Whoever is saying to you or to me, ‘this is where you’re failing’, or ‘this is your problem’, or ‘you need to…’, or ‘how come you can’t ?’, ‘what’s stopping you?’, we’re suspicious of them. We don’t know if they’re good or bad. They might be loving and gentle but they might be insisting that we do something hard. Or they might be threatening and suggesting that we might be doing something easy and good for us. So we are confused about it. Our experience of it is confusion.
And this goes with the fact that in the movie you show two people transform, the two most beautiful women in the cast, and the transformation looks disturbingly ugly, so you have this contrast between beauty and monstrosity.
Yes, but that’s also about one of the things that we are terrified of: if we make that transformation we will become something horrible to ourselves and to others. Or not necessarily something horrible, but something unknown, and unknown and horrible are right next to each other. You can’t have them transform into something beautiful and lovely because that’s not how we experience the fear of transformation, that’s not how we experience the challenge of all these things. We’re afraid that there’s something ugly in us. Otherwise we wouldn’t be afraid of it. If it was just something beautiful that was going to be revealed it’d be very easy. We’re ashamed and terrified and disinclined. This is precisely the metaphor of the movie and how it operates throughout the whole film. And that’s what made me want to make it. Yes, it’s a genre movie, but it’s really a movie about spiritual existence.
Cast: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier
Lucile Hadžihalilovic explains how she created her oneiric exploration of birth and matter in an elusive, disquieting female world.
Evolution, Lucile Hadžihalilovic’s masterful follow-up to her 2004 debut Innocence revolves around a little boy living on an island peopled only by women and other young boys. After a disturbing discovery while swimming in the sea, the boy becomes suspicious of the women’s behaviour. He soon falls mysteriously ill and is sent to the hospital, where he is subjected to a no less mysterious treatment.
Virginie Sélavy met Lucile Hadžihalilovic at the London Film Festival in October 2015 where the director explained how she created her oneiric exploration of birth and matter in an elusive, disquieting female world.
Virginie Sélavy: You made Innocence 10 years ago. Why did it take you so long to make another film?
Lucile Hadžihalilovic: What took so long was the financing of the film. It wasn’t quick to write, and it went through many drafts, but that wasn’t the reason. It was really difficult for people to understand the project on paper. I thought it’d be easier, because unlike Innocence, Evolution is more narrative and more of a genre film. But even though it is connected to horror, science fiction and the fantastique, it’s not completely a genre film, it’s also an auteur film. People who finance auteur films in France are not used to dealing with the fantastique, it’s a little too close to exploitation and not serious enough for them maybe. The other problem, even if no one said it explicitly but it seems obvious to me, is the fact that it is about children who are subjected to unpleasant things, and on paper people could imagine things that were even more terrible than what I intended to show.
To straddle art and genre film is very difficult for filmmakers, and maybe especially for French filmmakers. A clear example of that was Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day.
That’s true, and when she made Trouble Every Day she had already made a number of films, she was a name. The theatrical release of Innocence was more successful in countries like Britain and the USA than it was in France. It wasn’t a big release but we got press and people understood the film. I think there is a cultural problem with what is imaginary, metaphorical, people don’t get it in France. I think that people here understand it better because there’s a literature and a cinema that are closer to it, and they don’t look down on the fantastique so much, as though it were only for children or teenagers.
What’s your relationship to horror?
I saw a lot of horror films when I was 20. When I started going to the cinema on my own around the age of 13, it was a time when there were a lot of Italian horror films coming out, Argento, etc. It was fascinating because at the same time they were very seductive, very beautiful, and at the same time rather horrible, and I didn’t understand that combination or the adult world they depicted very well. Until I was about 25 I watched a lot of those films and then I stopped. Now I’m not focused on horror film, but it was important to me at a certain age, and I think it’s something that remains with you. It seems natural to me to watch horror on the screen even though I’m easily scared in real life. It’s like a catharsis and it evokes a lot of things for me.
Despite the fact that nearly 10 years elapsed between the two projects, Innocence and Evolution are very close in terms of theme and atmosphere.
I’d started working on Evolution before Innocence but I wasn’t aware that they were so close. Obviously Evolution was about children again but I wanted to get away from Innocence in the sense that I wanted to make something more narrative, more within genre, whereas in Innocence that was more in the background, it was more abstract. But I didn’t think, ‘right now I’m going to make a film with boys’, rather I thought that for this story it wasn’t interesting if it was a little girl.
Yes, even though the story seems to be about a little boy, the film seems to really be about the feminine again, but from a different angle compared to Innocence.
Yes, it’s a feminine world once more, seen from a more disquieting, more threatening angle. But it’s also about a boy who is not separated from his mother, who is still in his mother’s belly and cannot come out, and what it would be like to give birth. It’s the nightmare of maternity or pregnancy, which is a girl’s anxiety. The relationship to society was also stronger in Innocence, the fact that it’s set in a school means that it’s about a certain form of education with specific aims. Evolution is a more intimate story of this child’s fears, rather than a reflection about society. In this sense, it is not a science fiction film and that’s why I wasn’t interested in saying who these women are exactly, and what the hospital is. It’s more the internal theatre of this child.
Evolution also features much more horrific imagery than Innocence, and the most shocking of all is the documentary footage on a Cesarean birth that you include.
Yes, I liked the idea of horror coming from reality, and that’s because a Cesarean is not a natural birth, it’s surgery, so it’s another abnormal way of depicting birth, another fear of it. Before making the film we had to look for those images and I had seen some videos, and they are really difficult to watch. I liked the idea that there would be some gore at some point in the story, you have to have some gory elements.
Evolution evokes a number of literary, cinematographic and mythical figures, Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the siren for instance. Did you deliberately want to evoke those figures?
Yes, absolutely. I think that we have this whole shared mythology, classical mythology but also science fiction literature, more recent things like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but also Philip K. Dick. Theodore Sturgeon, H.P. Lovecraft. Those references are now so much part of culture that I thought I had to be very careful not to say too much because it seemed so obvious. It’s better to guess.
Your film very much functions like a myth, it is built from very simple elements that recur throughout, the village, the red colour, the starfish.
I like to start with something very real, and for the mystery or the strangeness to come from very simple, familiar things. The image of a child playing with a starfish on a beach is incredibly familiar but if you look closely at the starfish you think, ‘what is this monster?’
You seem fascinated by organic matter, the starfish, the strange creature that the children bury, or the body of the women for instance.
The intention with the film was to explore the organic, because it’s this archaic thing that is part of us but at the same time is really odd. It can be disquieting as well as attractive. So we tried to have that throughout the film, to fabricate the film with it. It was upsetting to be forced to shoot on digital rather than celluloid, I thought it was such a shame not to be able to have the material of film. But we tried to work differently to create texture.
The village where you filmed looks dilapidated, the paint on the walls is chipped, everything looks a little decrepit.
It was to give it a reality, a patina. Locations were a key issue, including the interiors. It was out of the question to shoot in a clean setting, in a studio, regardless of what it would have cost, precisely to render the materiality of the walls. As the film is a little abstract, it had to have a very concrete aspect to counterbalance that, and for me that was the setting. That village was great because there’s the humidity from the sea, the saltpetre. It was used as a holiday place and people didn’t live there all year round so it wasn’t all freshly painted. We even added to the decrepitude, to avoid smooth white surfaces and have a sense of reality, of materiality, the sense of time that had passed.
Where did you shoot the film?
We shot in Lanzarote, and the hospital was near Barcelona, it’s an abandoned hospital that has been often used in Spanish horror cinema. It’s very big, and you have the structure, the operating theatres, the tiling, all of that is there, in a state of more or less disrepair, so we had something real to start from, but we could also paint things how we wanted.
Was it important for you to use those two places specifically?
Yes, I thought the most important thing was to find the locations. Early on in the project we found the village in the Canaries. I thought, ‘that’s incredible, it exists’, and it really helped me to think that the film was possible, that we wouldn’t have to create everything from scratch, that there was a very strong place that carried a lot of emotions and mythology. It was a little more difficult with the hospital because some of the ones we saw were too derelict, others were too new, and we had to find something in between.
How did you approach the sound?
I would have liked the sound editing to be done together with the image editing but because the film was a co-production, the sound was done in Spain and the image in France, so it ended up being more separated than I would have liked. We knew from the start that we’d have to create a lot of sounds because there wasn’t much dialogue. I wanted the sound to reflect the feelings of the child, and not to be realistic, but rather emotional, internal and oneiric. We worked in this way using natural sounds from the location such as the wind and the noise from the sea – which we had to rework because it’s difficult to record the sea, you have to recreate the waves one by one.
In the mixing I wanted to create something very specific and not use effects like the ones you have in horror films, to create tension using the sound but not through the usual means. I didn’t think I’d use so much music – there isn’t that much, but it’s quite a lot for me – but as we didn’t have sound when we were editing the editor asked for music, and it led me to use more than I had intended. I wanted something with an instrument that wouldn’t be recognizable, something a little strange. I heard pieces by Messiaen that used the Ondes Martenot and I thought that was exactly what was needed. I couldn’t get the Messiaen piece unfortunately but we were able to do something with the Ondes Martenot on some of the recurring tracks. They bring a certain melancholy, almost a human voice, and it instantly creates a particular atmosphere.
You’ve worked a lot on the sounds, textures and colours of the film, and like Innocence, Evolution is an intense sensory experience. Is that how you view cinema, as an immersive, sensory experience?
Absolutely, and I’d say that’s why you have to see the film in a cinema, it’s like dreaming awake, with other people, in the dark. That’s also why it was so difficult to explain the script even though we tried to describe it in an expressive manner, because it’s an emotional, even physical, experience, with sound and image, and so you have to go through it to understand it, for something to happen.
Release date: Volume 6 released on 28 January 2016
Event: Erika Lust will be in Berlin in February for a special screening of the Director’s Cut of her latest XConfessions short films followed by a Q&A, hosted by the Berlin Film Society at the Babylon Kino. The original event on 10 February is sold out but another screening has been added on 12 February 2016.
The Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker on women and pornography, trying to change the adult industry, and her interactive project XConfessions.
Swedish-born, Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker Erika Lust has been challenging the tiresome clichés and uninventive formulas of the porn industry since her 2004 debut, The Good Girl. Following a string of award-winning features including Life Love Lust and Cabaret Desire, she started the interactive web-based XConfessions project: members of the public are encouraged to confess their secrets and fantasies, which Erika Lust then makes into films. The resulting stories range from daily situations, as in the self-explanatory Meet Me in the Workroom or The Couch Surfer (think erotic air b’n’b), to the oneiric as in Spectrophila (an erotic encounter with a ghost lover), bondage reveries as in An Appointment with My Master (an S/M session presented like an appointment at the doctor’s), or flights of fancy inspired by books or TV as in Mad Men Porn. What all have in common is a joyful and tender approach to the diversity of human sexuality supported by a strong artistic vision that gives the films style and sensual beauty.
Virginie Sélavy talked to Erika Lust about women and pornography, trying to change the adult industry and innovating with XConfessions.
Virginie Sélavy: You describe yourself as a feminist porn filmmaker, what does that mean to you?
Erika Lust: I normally describe myself as a filmmaker, and I’m interested in the subject of sexuality, especially female sexuality. I think that the whole concept of feminist pornography can be very confusing for people because it seems that there’s something anti-male in feminism and something anti-female in pornography. I don’t believe that, but I think people have that idea about those two words, even though feminism is a basic idea about human rights. When you consider yourself a feminist it means that you believe women and men should have the same rights. I think it’s very sad that there are so many people who misunderstand the concept and think that feminism is an extremist movement against men.
In your book Good Porn, your friend Audacia Ray says that, for her, feminist porn is not about what is on the screen but about the way the film is produced. Would you agree with that?
I do agree with that part of it. For me the concept of feminist porn has three pillars. First it’s about what you’re showing on the screen; it’s about the sexuality and how the people on the screen are interacting. Then it’s about women in important roles, where they are moving forward, being a character, taking care of their own pleasure, and it’s about seeing their pleasure on the screen. But it’s also how you make the movie, who is behind the movie, and what ideas they have. I think it’s extremely important that women step in and start telling their stories about sexuality. So I mainly have a female crew behind my movies. When I started it was basically me and a few more people, but now I have a crew of around 15 people. In all important creative decision-making roles I have women – director of photography, line producer, assistant director, casting. For pornography to progress it really needs women behind the camera. It’s a genre that is created by 98 or 99% of men. There are still very few women involved today and they are mainly in the independent adult genre.
Throughout your work you challenge clichés about women and porn, one of them being the idea that women are not stimulated visually by explicit sexual material.
I think we are stimulated by all our senses, and one of them is obviously vision. I think it’s extremely erotic to see images. And I think that most women feel the same way. What happened with pornography is that it started as something more attractive back in the 60s and 70s, when there were actual filmmakers behind some of the films being made, they had ideas, visions, they wanted to tell stories. But then the whole genre turned into a money-making factory that was just interested in the penetration and the fluids and the acrobatic positions. It’s not that I don’t find that interesting, but I want something more. If you get into the most visited porn sites of today, like Porn Hub, YouPorn, Red Tube, etc, it’s aesthetically very ugly. And many of those films are basically men punish-fucking women. I feel that most women don’t feel comfortable with that, and I have to add, many men don’t feel comfortable with that. I think it’s a vision that we need to talk about. It’s getting very important to look at what kind of sexual images we are selling because internet has become a power of its own when it comes to pornography – one third of all internet traffic is about porn. When we log into those websites we are after sexual stimulation, we are after trying to figure out who we are and what we like. If the only images you find online when you look for pornography are those kinds of images then your view of sexuality will be affected by that. You will start to believe that the main goal of women in this world is to make men come. Sex-positive feminists believe that the problem is not porn, it’s that there’s too much bad porn, and we have to make it better. That’s what I’m trying to do.
How did XConfessions come about?
When I was going around doing screenings, especially with my last one, Cabaret Desire, people were coming up to me wanting to share because they felt that porn is pretty much all the same and their stories were quite different. When I was thinking about my next project after Cabaret Desire I couldn’t decide on one idea, so I decided to do ten short films. At that time, it was two years ago, there was a huge shift. DVD sales dropped, the way we were consuming movies changed. It’s not so long ago that we started to use the internet more and more as opposed to the cinema, TV or DVD. And that’s why I saw the opportunity to do a web project where people could interact and send me their confessions and I would make films from those confessions. Sometimes the films have a lot to do with the confessions, but sometimes the confessions are just inspiration for the films.
Do you get ideas sent by more women or men?
It’s 50/50, or at least it’s what the statistics are telling me, because who knows – the confessions are anonymous so because they choose a feminine name I think it’s a woman. But I don’t feel there’s a lot of difference between men and women in their confessions and what they write about. It may also depend on the audience that I have. My feeling is that it’s quite a smart audience, they are very articulate, they know how to write, they have a lot of ideas and fantasies, and even cultural references to books, music, films, a whole cultural world.
Which fantasy has surprised you the most?
I don’t know what surprised me the most. There are so many of them and they are so different, but there are some tendencies, a lot of things coming back. There are plenty of threesome situations, people love those films. People want to explore, I don’t know if they want to do it in real life or just in the fantasy world, but they love exploring. There are also a lot of confessions around power play, domination, submission, both men and women being both roles. And infidelity comes back quite a lot.
Has there been any confession that you haven’t wanted to make?
I haven’t done any rape fantasies. People ask me for that sometimes, there are confessions around that theme. But I feel that it’s not really something that I can deal with. I don’t know what to do with it. There are a lot of women who have those kinds of fantasies, I’m not saying that it’s the limit, but I don’t really see it. I have to believe in it, there has to be something that I want to go for.
The films are really diverse and they really show how inventive and varied human sexuality is.
That’s exactly what I want to show in the project. I love the idea of gathering all these films together to show that sexuality can be so many different things. It doesn’t have to be the pizza guy, the mafia guy, and the babysitter. Keep on dreaming! And that is one of the biggest problems with the adult industry and the way it’s become. The industry doesn’t have much creativity, or much fun. Imagine if in the film world you only had Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude van Damme. It’d be a very small world, and porn has ended up a little like that. It needs the Woody Allens and the Tarantinos and the Isabel Coixets and the Sofia Coppolas. But I think it will change. Things are happening, there are new people coming in.
On the other hand, porn has seeped into independent film, with films like Gaspar Noé’s Love, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac or Michael Winterbottom’s Nine Songs. What do you think of that evolution?
When sex gets into independent film, what happens is that it gets very dark and complicated. It’s like in Nymphomaniac, it’s normally only disturbed people who are sexually active and who go beyond the limits. Many of those films are made by men, there are few women. And very few of those films are positive about sex. What I try to do in my work is show a positive vision of sexuality.
Cast: Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Matthieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, Maria de Medeiros, Louis Negin, Géraldine Chaplin
The co-writer-directors talk about the perks and pitfalls of collaborating, Udo Kier’s haircut and the best remedy against forgetting people’s birthdays.
No barrier could hold what is unashamedly unleashed in Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, and equally there is no stopping the wonderfully twisted mind of the Canadian filmmaker as he consistently pushes further the various ideas he has developed in his previous films, from his hypnotic debut Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988) right through to the magical and haunting Keyhole (2012). This time, Maddin has co-written and directed the film with his collaborator Evan Johnson (who has been working with Maddin since 2009). Together they have crafted a perfectly chaotic, yet fiercely formal, billet-doux to the lost, destroyed and forgotten films of previous decades by reimagining their very essence, sometimes based on little more than the original title of the films or the bare bones of their narrative. Immersing itself in a mad melange of wild plotlines, colour saturations, tints and overlays, the film initially evolved out of an even more ambitious project called Seances. Maddin and Johnson made lost films in public, filming at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and at the Phi Centre in Montreal, and these films will be made available next year on a website devised so that each user’s experience is unique and unreproducible. Part of this complex project, The Forbidden Room can and should be watched a number of times, not only to discover the cinematic treasures it hides but to appreciate the relentless effort and sheer love that went into its making.
Pamela Jahn sat down with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson at this year’s Berlinale to talk about the perks and pitfalls of collaborating, using intertitles in talkies, Udo Kier’s haircut and the best remedy against forgetting people’s birthdays.
Pamela Jahn: You’ve been working together on other projects in the past, but this is the first time you are officially co-directing. How did that come about?
Guy Maddin: We all worked together on the companion piece to this project, the interactive website called Seances, ‘we’ meaning Evan and I, and also our third writer Robert Kotyk. We co-created it just through discussions in the screen editing room. But when it came to shooting, Evan and I were very close together, we’re inseparable. I consult with Evan for advice all the time. I tend to hold the camera more often…
Evan Johnson: I never hold it.
GM: But you have done on other films, on My Winnipeg and other short films, you’ve actually done the cinematography, so occasionally you do shoot. And it’s basically all just filmmaking. In the same way I long had a guilty conscience about my editor John Gurdebeke because, if an editor gets a bunch of found footage and makes a documentary out of it, he’s called the director, but if he’s just editing footage that we’ve shot, he’s called the editor. And I remember years ago, before I started working with Evan even, I asked John if he wanted to be called the co-director, but he said, no thanks, he’d rather be paid. So I kept him to that but I do try to give a shout out to him as a fellow filmmaker. And Evan is my co-director because he, too, is a filmmaker, even though our duties aren’t exactly the same. I couldn’t have made the film without him, or the editor, but John got paid eventually and Evan and I haven’t, so there’s that. Evan also does editing, or assistant editing for John, who gets things in a rough draft from us. And he does all the colour timing and effects along with his brother, the production designer Galen Johnson. I don’t do any of that, but I sit in a big comfy chair and write intertitles, the silent movie text.
What inspired you in the first instance to use both dialogue and intertitles in your films?
GM: I first became inspired to include intertitles with dialogue by the precedence set in Josef von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress. I like the way he uses intertitles with lots of dialogue and I thought, yeah, why would you abandon this wonderful vocabulary unit, just because you can have actors talk? Why not put these intertitles in which you can really establish a lot of flavour, in which a lot of expositional work can be done. And just like the way a child – if he or she learns a new word – doesn’t cough up the last word, so the vocabulary just keeps getting bigger and bigger. So, we kept the intertitles as an option here as well, even though our movies are essentially talkies.
The film is multi-layered with different storylines, genres and characters. How did you decide how to connect the various parts and, eventually, to frame everything with a prologue on how to take a bath which feels like another film within the film?
GM: When we were shooting some of the larger elements – there is a Filipino ‘Aswang’ vampire film and lumberjack-‘saplingjack’ film – we knew that those where going into the feature, and we knew ‘How to Take a Bath’ would be part of it. But then we had to start planning the links, and some of that was done after the shooting was done, which meant we had to go back and shoot some transitions. The narrator of ‘How to Take a Bath’, Louis Negin, and I ended up in Havana last year on a vacation together, and at one point I put him in a room – he didn’t really know what was happening – and I just pulled out my camera and there I had him. I mean, it’s clearly not shot the same year, the same country, the same camera, because I just opened up the laptop with his lines on it in really large font, and I just sort of scrolled down for him while holding the camera, so he could read the lines. But I love that because I’ve always loved the way my granddaughter could just gleefully slap together items and make a collage or a drawing, something with a noodle glued on, and I love the way Ed Wood or Oscar Micheaux did the same thing with film. And so I thought, well, I need some transitional exposition from Louis, and I’ll just take my camera and shoot this stuff before he goes to the beach.
Despite the dipping in and out of different storylines you end up with a surprisingly classic melodrama-like structure that carries the film.
EJ: We literally structured the whole thing like a classic Hollywood movie.
GM: Yeah, we bought Robert McKee’s book on how to write a screenplay, or a story, or whatever it is called – I never said I read it, but I bought it. But no, we worked way harder on this. I like working quickly on set, but I’ve always kicked myself for working too quickly at the screenwriting stage and never writing a second draft, and this time, we did second and third drafts of each different episode even. It took a long time, but I really enjoyed collaborating with Evan. I have always feared confrontation, and whenever I drew up designs for sets, half the time, the production designer would say, ‘No, you can’t have stairs’. I think I made eight movies before I finally got three steps in a movie! So in a way, collaborating was actually just compromising heartbreak and me hating myself for not sticking up for myself. But in the writing room we’d all collaborate and we argued things through and whenever it got personal – we can argue quite vehemently – there was no hurt feelings, and I think I learned that from Evan and it feels really good. And since his brother is the production manager there is none of that other stuff either. I got stairs, I got other things… I understand that things needed to be cheap but I was never just told, ‘no, you can’t have this or that’. And because they are brothers, they almost always worked things out between them and I never had to deal much with that. Before, my editor was my collaborator, and the most important collaborator was the happy accident, but now I have many collaborators and I really love collaborating.
You mentioned the Seances project earlier. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
GM: We shot a bunch of our own adaptations of long-lost films at the same time in Paris and in Montreal, in some cases with the same cast even, like improvised live ‘happenings’. That’s going to be an internet interactive, where anyone visiting the website can call their own a seance of lost cinema: little fragments of films will come up and interrupt and combine and collide to form new narratives. The programme will generate a title for that film, you’ll watch it and then it’ll be lost again. The programme creates and loses unique films and the title will be entered in an obituary list. Hopefully the two companion pieces will help each other, that’s the master plan.
Are you using some of the footage from The Forbidden Room when creating those seances?
GM: There is a little bit. Some the stuff from the film will be used as raw material in Seances, but it will be much altered in many cases, because they are alternate plots that you can change to incredible degrees by just re-wording the intertitles. That part gets hard because you have to come up with a completely different story that somehow fits the same edit – that’s the part that has racked my brain the most. But it’s really fun, it’s really satisfying when you come up with a plot that somehow fits. I guess it’s somewhat akin to Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? where he took the whole movie and changed its plot, but I’ve never seen the film, I’ve only read about it. And with Seances, there are literally 500 billion different permutations that are possible and I still don’t have a concept of that number, so every now and then I go, ‘Are we really losing and destroying those movies afterwards?’ But yes, we are!
You’ve also made an incredible effort reworking all the palettes and colour-timing the raw material, as if to give it a new life of its own.
GM: At one point we discovered that movies weren’t just being lost in the 20s and 30s but that the Khmer Rouge destroyed many films in the 70s and sometimes they even murdered the directors. And there were low-budget exploitation films that were getting lost just because there was only one print and the director lost track of it, or he died and his widow didn’t care, something like that. There were lost films from all over and, for example, when Evan was colour-timing that little musical number with the obsessive man he decided to give that a lurid 70s palette. Whether or not it reads as that is beside the point, but it just felt ‘nower’, not just imitating the very limited two-strip Technicolour palettes of real film history – basically a blueish green and a pinkish apricot – but creating other palettes as if from a parallel universe of something.
EJ: I think in that case it was more Udo Kier’s haircut.
GM: Yes, Udo had a blonde Moe Howard thing going that determined the palette. It was really despairing while shooting because it was my first experience shooting in raw colour HD video and I just didn’t have the right attitude, I wasn’t seeing things that were really beautiful. But I have a lot more courage now, knowing how much the footage can be fixed. I actually made a colour movie way back in 1992 (Careful) where I controlled the palette literally by painting everything. I would paint people’s faces, their clothing, the walls… I even painted the plants, literally. But because we were so poor on this film, we had to take our props from anywhere and there was just no palette to the naked eye, no order, no control, no art, no thought put into the colour. I just couldn’t afford to think about it, so it had to be added later.
Given the low budget, you worked with an incredible cast. How did you convince them to take part in the project?
GM: They just seemed to be up for an adventure, because there is no way they could have known what exactly they were doing. I just told them they’d be acting in public. They saw the scripts eventually because they had to memorise some lines in some cases, but I think they were just up for finding out. We didn’t waste time asking people who would just say no. It was just a matter of meeting everyone for a coffee or lunch, one on one, talking to them for a little while and, every time, they agreed to show up. I couldn’t believe it. I was just waiting for them to just storm out of the set, but they never did.
As always in your work, there is a great sense of humour in the film.
GM: I’m a laughter slut, ho ho. I always take a laugh. I know people earlier in my career didn’t know whether the laughs were intended or not, so it made people very uncomfortable or embarrassed for me to the point where they had to go home early. But then, because I never quite had the nerve to make a joke, if it got laughed at, fine, but if not then I could save my dignity and the joke hadn’t failed. This time though, I started to make some changes and I made some conspicuous gags – although they are not that conspicuous, there are still probably not more than two people laughing at once.
You talked about your obsession with dreams before and there are some Freudian references worked into the film. Are you a fan of his work?
GM: I am a fan in theory, but I think my publicist at the Sundance film festival described me as a six-year-old pervert…
EJ: a cross between Eisenstein, Italo Calvino and a six-year-old pervert.
GM: Exactly right. I’ve only read a little bit of Freud, on the interpretation of dreams, standing up in a book store and it just ruined dreaming for me for the next couple of months because I was interpreting them while having them. And I like having dreams, they just come out of me and mystify me, and I start figuring them out later, but I don’t need Freud’s voice nattering in my ear all the time telling me what to think. So I just have a basic cartoon understanding of what’s going on, just like a lot of people probably did before he existed anyway.
How much of this film derived from your dreams?
GM: A few episodes came straight from dreams – that I am willing to admit. I don’t know about Boba and Evan. But there are a few guilt dreams and empowered-ness dreams… The dead father one is a recurring dream I’ve had since my father died in 1977. But there are other things like forgetting wives’ birthdays… there are not just dreams, they happened in real life too, and then they revisited me as nightmares over and over again. It’s about time to get over that. And what I’ve learned is that by making movies about things that really matter to me, things that I have experienced, I sort of cure myself of them. It’s a form of therapy. I don’t know what kind of therapy that is, aversion therapy maybe, where you just make yourself sick of something, because in the act of making something that matters to you into a movie, you have to turn it into work units, you have to cast the thing, you have to design a set, you have to shoot it, edit it, sound design it, then you have to talk about it with people and by the time it’s finally over, you’re cured. I’m cured of My Winnipeg, I’m cured of my childhood, so now I am finally cured of forgetting peoples’ birthdays – I am going to keep forgetting them, but I don’t care anymore.