Global Village Voices

By David Jenkins


Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview, By Jason Wood

“I believe that the consumer society is the final stage of civilisation. This society can continue for another hundred years or so but I completely believe that this utilitarian, devouring way of life signals that civilisation is ending.” These are the words of the great Jan Svankmajer during a 2003 interview with Jason Wood (the David Frost of world cinema?) which begins as an appraisal of his influences and working methods during the making of Little Otik but rapidly evolves into a scathing critique of society at large. It’s an example of the trust that Wood is able to elicit from his subjects, often coaxing them into an extraordinary state of openness via his painstakingly researched approach to questioning and a manner that comes across as being just the right side of genial.

This book sees Wood accumulate the interviews he has conducted over the past ten years with many of the leading lights in contemporary world cinema, all of which have invariably featured in publications such as Enthusiasm, Projections and, of course, Vertigo. Whether it’s the gift of hindsight or just plain luck, Wood seems to catch these directors at the apex of their respective careers, with, for example, Laurent Cantet discussing L’emploi du Temps, Claire Denis discussing Beau Travail and Samira Makhmalbaf discussing Blackboards.

Talking to directors about their work can, logistically and emotionally, be a tricky business at the best of times, especially with the current rigmarole of exclusivity deals, PR bureaucracy and the dreaded press junket (with the added strain of a ticking clock in the background to contend with), so all credit to Wood for delivering a set of interviews which never settle for stock pleasantries and industry backslapping.

Indeed, Wood’s fearless curiosity and resolutely cool demeanour are seldom struck by the odd moment of awkwardness or abruptness, but there are occasions where the ego of the subject does run a little wild (and why shouldn’t it?) An almost comically errant Hal Hartley chatting circa the release of Henry Fool seems almost intimidated by the courage of his interviewer’s conviction, and as such comes across at times as being almost wilfully obstructive: (JW: “The film of yours which gives me the most pleasure is Surviving Desire.” HH: “That’s probably my least favourite.”)

One thing that is clear, Wood is certainly canny in his approach to interviewing, facing each director on their own terms and with broad knowledge of both oeuvre and personal history. This aids him in not only revealing the minutiae of the cinematic craft, but also the characters and personalities of the subject: you get the impression of a close personal bond between Wood and Atom Egoyan. You also feel that, ironically, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is somewhat, well, distant. Talking Cinema is an indispensable volume that should be considered a set text for arts journalists (both budding and professional) in mastering the methods behind achieving the most revealing and entertaining interviews possible.

Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview is published by Wallflower Press. For more information on this and other Wallflower Press titles.

David Jenkins writes for Time Out London and is Film Editor of Little White Lies