Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fissures at Cahiers du cinéma

The history of Cahiers du cinéma can be analyzed as if it proceeds through a repetition of stages: birth, death and reinvention. Even though there is continuity between generations, the more prevailing attitude is that of a rupture and then reinvention. This is especially true if Cahiers is compared with its rival, Positif, whose founder, Bernard Chardère, is still alive, and now runs the Institut Lumière, and whose current chief editor Michel Ciment has been there since 1966 (and whose son now even contributes to the magazine).

Cahiers, on the other hand, throughout its history, since 1951, has gone through over 11 chief editors. The magazine was founded by Joseph-Marie Lo Duca, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and André Bazin. The magazine’s format, and spirit, was built upon the earlier La Revue du cinéma that began in 1928 and was founded by Jean George Auriol, who would die in a car accident in 1950: Doniol-Valcroze would dedicate Cahiers to the memory of Auriol. Then Bazin, “incontestably the best critic on the cinema” and an important figure early on at the magazine, died of leukemia in 1958. Serge Daney, the intellectual backbone of the post-68 Cahiers years, and who would go on to found the journal Trafic, died of AIDS in 1992.

Not only do these deaths strongly impact the magazine, less drastic, but not necessarily less intense, the changing of order at the magazine, has created ruptures between the writers of the different generations, and with it a shift in the magazine’s editorial line, sometimes modest, and other times, radical.

There is also the relation between Cahiers and their publisher that needs to be taken into consideration. Though there is a marked shift in 1964 when the publisher Filipacchi purchased the magazine: the famous yellow covers changed and they became more modern (bold colors + title + film still) and there were many new important writers like Narboni, Vecchiali, Skorecki, Daney, Biette, Téchiné and Comolli (who would become the editor the following year). A more radical shift occurred in 1969 when Cahiers divorced from Fillipacchi: they stopped publishing for three months, before resuming, where there was a marked politicization and stronger interest in theory. By 1972, they have removed the film still from the cover, and in that year they only published five issues, which would be the average for the next few years. During this time Serge Toubiana joined the magazine, and with Serge Daney, they would slowly redirect the magazine towards films. By 1976 a new format would emerge, which would allow for pictures, and they would slowly write more about contemporary film releases and less about theory and overt politics.

To cite the year 1978 (N.284-295) as an example, here is some general information about what they produced that year:

The covers included (in chronological order): Marco Ferreri’s Rêve de singe, Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Francois Truffaut’s La Chambre Verte, Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, John van der Keuken’s Herman Slobbe, L'Enfant Aveugle N° 2, Peter Handke’s La Femme gauchere, Hans-Jurgen Syderberg’s Hitler: A Film from Germany, John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, Eric Rohmer’s Perceval le Gallois, and Adolfo G. Arrieta’s Flames. It should be noted that just because a film still was used on an issue’s cover, it did not necessarily mean that there was a review of it in that issue, sometimes they would only appear in a few issues later.

The January 1978 issue opens with an editorial that is signed by Daney and Toubiana,  "For two years now, Cahiers du cinéma has returned to its regular publication, which is that of a monthly. This regularity constitutes the base and is indispensable for the life of a magazine, to its continuation, and regarding its future projects." Prior to this, between 76-77 the magazine had to deal with a financial crisis and administration problems. The two writers, in the editorial, further explain their hope to enlarge the readership of Cahiers, and in the next issue there is a change of design, "a layout with more space, and a mise en page that is more adequate for the actual content of the magazine," with a shift from 68 to 76 pages.

During this year some impressive texts include: an obituary Trois Morts (Chaplin, Hawks, Tourneur) and a review of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind both by Jean-Claude Biette, Paul Schrader on Ozu, an interview between Nicholas Ray and Bill Krohn, Louis Skorecki’s famous text L'Ancien et le Nouveau: Contre la nouvelle cinephile (which seems to represent the end and the beginning of two separate forms of cinephilia).

In an interesting interview on Comparative Cinema, Jean Narboni is interviewed about a 30 year Cahiers anniversary film program that he curated for the Cinémathèque Française, Narboni writes,
“Regarding the idea of the hinge, for me the 1981 program marked the end of a cycle. At that time I was unaware of this, but it signaled the end of something. When the season began, Giscard d’Estaign still ruled France, and by the end, the Left and François Mitterrand seized power. Cahiers's 30 years closes a period. The 1980s bring in an institutional left, defined by the interests of the parties, of the government, that doesn't have anything to do with May 68 and its aftermath. In contrast, the program included all the periods of Cahiers, including May 68.”

In Charles Tesson’s editorial’s Raccords et accrocs (May ’01, N.557), he brings up the social history of the magazine in a discussion of a Cannes-Cahiers film program,
“It will retrace the history of the magazine, its engagement with cinema, its choices, from one extreme to the other, and especially the sentimental history of those that created it. Because Cahiers, it is also a long history of transitions between generations, sometimes gently (with good relations), sometimes aggressively (with unfixable tears between people). There is an effective history of Cahiers, which is that of everything that has been said and written about the cinema, but also an affective history of Cahiers (how writers enter the magazine, how they reach out towards the older writers, how writers leave the magazine without really doing so, content or injured).”
Regarding the new twenty-first century magazine format of the magazine, Tesson would write in the editorial Va savoir (Oct. '01),
 "With this issue, the new formatting of Cahiers is one year old. With each new month, our concern consist of creating all of the different sections (Événement, Le Journal, Repliques, Entretien, Cinéma Retrouvé, Cahiers Critiques) and to also create, evident and hidden, connections between them, so that the different sections speak to each other, affirmatively or through contradictions. "
This new formatting, would be revised slightly over the next decade, to improve its mise en page. There is now, after the table of contents and editorial, an emphasis given towards the features that are closer to the front of the magazine. So this clear and direct hierarchy proceeds: Événement, Cahiers Critiques, Le Journal, Cinéma Retrouvé.

In late 2009 when the art publisher Phaidon became the magazine's new publisher and Jean-Michel Frodon passed the magazine over to Stéphane Delorme (who has been writing at the magazine for almost ten years, and whose first review was Snake Eyes), in this last editorial Frodon wrote about the transition, “Cahiers is fifty-eight, it has changed ten times, it is great and vital that it keeps changing. To change to remain the same Cahiers.” 

From all external appearances this transition was amicable. Since then Cahiers has steadily become one of the best film magazines. The magazine's cover switched from film stills to a new graphic design to be able to highlight its Événements. Delorme has refined the magazine's editorial position so that it is clear and critical (cf. Programmer, Margins at the Center). The Événement section regularly publish dossiers on unexplored territory of cinephilia (cf. Cahiers and James Gray). The Cahiers Critique section usually offers three to five must-see "films of the month." The Le Journal section has vastly improved and has become a space to discuss the "Cahiers films" in a different form.

To return to the idea of fissures at Cahiers du cinéma, the following is one of its significant rifts, and is necessary to bring up, in a serious discussion of the history of Cahiers. In a previous issue, the partnership with Le Monde was marked to be an "important date in the history of Cahiers." And then, in a few issues later, the May '99 issue (Cahiers, N.535), with a still from Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother on its cover (a film that Tesson would analyse as being about the cinematic experience, a trope of the period, along with referencing Samuel Fuller and Luis Buñuel), there would be a break-up between two of its major writers: Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana. To illustrate the importance of these two writers, de Baecque would go on to write the major Cahiers reference, a two-tome history, and has recently published books in English on Tim Burton and Camera Historica, about cinema's relation to history. And Serge Toubiana was the Editor in Chief of Cahiers for over twenty years and is now the artistic director of the Cinémathèque Française.

The letter (which I translated below) was at the very front of the issue and is titled Je t’aime, moi non plus. In it the co-editor of the time de Baecque explains why he is leaving Cahiers and Toubiana offers a rebuttal. The transition towards Le Monde was an important step in the improvement of Cahiers' graphic design and mise en page. Since then the published writing in Cahiers have at times gone in both directions and these letters speak to the questions of the complexities, difficulty and politics about writing about cinema. - D.D.
Why I'm leaving Cahiers
I decided to leave my job as editor in chief of Cahiers du cinéma and to not write in the journal for a while. This decision arises from a disagreement with the director of the Cahiers, Serge Toubiana, which is the reason for this divergence, something that happens in the life of all magazines. We no longer share the same vision and solutions to the identity crisis that the magazine has been experiencing since the mid-nineties. In light of these interrogations, Cahiers' first order of business, is to respond to its economic concerns: this is why its new publisher will be Le Monde. I think that everyone at the magazine was in agreement on this point. This isn't the reason for our disagreement but instead lies in other questions: What should Cahiers look like to best respond to its proper crisis, to regain its dynamism, rebuild its image and their credibility, and to win new readers?

Our disagreement, between myself and Serge Toubiana, was born, at least from my point of view, from an uncertainty regarding the immediate future. The admission of failure: the policy of the opening editorial of the journal, which I had lead, and that I felt was likely to be able to renovate Cahiers, and to attract more readers, did not happen as I would have wished. Other reasons, in short, internal skepticism and sometimes incomprehension. The ideas was an opening editorial and approach based on the model of the Cahiers from the sixties, and to be open to other types of writing on the cinema (philosophy, literary, artistic), another actuality (not just have to only follow the reductive format of highlighting the films of the month), and to follow other interests (history of cinema, contemporary art, cinephilia, politics, new world cinema).

The aim for all of these essays would be to better nurture readings of contemporary films and provide breathing room within these pages where the criticism has been too cramped.

My fear about the immediate future was then to draw out an alternative format for the magazine which was intensified in these last few weeks by the change of owners and the preparation of a new format. Is this a film journal or only a film magazine? During the discussions about this new formatting, I have always refused the second term of this alternative, to instead propose a project that, in its substance and in form, would allow for the coexistence (radically) of the vivacity of a journal (that would take the example of the Journal des Cahiers from the eighties) and the identity of a magazine that, for nearly fifty years, offered a way of thinking about the cinema. Today, I fear a form of "magazination" of Cahiers, which would destabilize its identity, without being able to renew its force and originality. To become a magazine (even a good and well done one) that provides a commentary (even if it is critical) about all of the new contemporary released films and cinema in general seems to me a real danger. And I don't think that this is what its current director wants either. It will be great for Cahiers if I'm wrong.

It is in taking account of these facts and these fears, that I realized that I can no longer have the means to help "renew" Cahiers. On a side note, these two last years for me as the Editor in Chief of Cahiers, however much was it hard work sometimes, was such an extremely rewarding experience. For this, I would like to thank the team, its writers, and the readers of Cahiers. - Antoine de Baecque
Response to Antoine de Baecque
Antoine de Baecque has decided to quit his role as the Editor in Chief of Cahiers du cinéma, a role that he has held since October 1997. His departure represents a crisis that was created through internal discussions about the essential orientation of Cahiers, which, by the way, has never prevented him to exercise his functions in total liberty. But this admission of failure that he evokes in his letter is equally my own fault, because we could not pilot this project together. In regards to this "divorce," the responsibilities will continue to be shared, and I will take up the necessary duties.

Our principal disagreement is regarding the essential critical orientation. In actuality, we were no longer on the same wavelength, once he started to advocate too much on a strategy that opened up towards other forms of writing on the cinema (literature, other arts) as a substitute for a real critical function. I still continue to think that this is the base of a magazine like ours, and not instead to pursue the question of taste for "new forms of writing about the cinema," a conception that prioritizes the triumphs of the literary or the specialist.

There was in the direction proposed by Antoine de Baecque a kind of cultural and sociological derivative (with the credo "the cinema as a cultural practice"), which is not consistent with the axis that has always been a priority for Cahiers. As for his implicit concern of a return to the past, a folding of Cahiers that will end up cancelling itself out, I hope to reassure him by saying that I will continually to aggressively champion, at the heart of a editorial team that will reinforce this, for a real critical passion that will foster more curiosity towards cinema, in all of its different forms, and to stimulate thought. Whatever the vagaries of a magazine like ours, it is this spirit that will continue to animate us. - Serge Toubiana

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Éric Rohmer on The Big Sky

The 29th issue of Cahiers du Cinéma: Revue du Cinéma et du Télécinéma has a film still from The Robe by Henry Koster on its cover, which was the first Cinemascope film to be released (a still from Rudolph Maté’s The Mississippi Gambler is featured on its inner cover).

The issue is, for one reason at least, valuable for Maurice Schérer’s article Les maîtres de l’aventure on Howard Hawks’ The Big Sky (which I translated below). Even though the article is not included in the bibliography of C.G. Crisp’s book on Rohmer, it is a respected article and is cited by Hillier and Wollen in their respective Cahiers and Hawks books. And as it turns out, it can also be found in the rare English collection of Rohmer’s writing, The Taste for Beauty (more about it in a future post).

Regarding this period for Cahiers, Kent Jones, in the book Olivier Assayas, writes,
"The avant-garde was a group of critics taking their first collective step toward becoming filmmakers. They were not heralding the new but something pre-existing yet hitherto unacknowledged in commercial cinema, and in the process they re-directed the attentions and priorities of film viewing through the language of discovery and revelation. The collective action of the Cahiers du cinéma critics (and of those who followed them at other publications) was fairly wondrous in and of itself, an endless lifting of the veil of surface beauty to reveal what they took to be another deeper and truer beauty. There was a great deal of excellent criticism (most of it written by Jean-Luc Godard), but it's the lovely tautologies and proclamations that are often invoked nowadays. Cinema was Bresson, Renoir, Hawks, Hitchcock, Nick Ray, and Rossellini; and cinema was not Autant-Lara, Delannoy, Decoin, Pontecorvo, Kubrick, or Wyler." 
Crisp in his excellent book, Eric Rohmer: Realist and Moralist (’88), analyzes in depth the connections between Rohmer’s writing and his filmmaking. "In fact Rohmer’s central position in recent French cinema is due not so much to the films for which he is now so well known as to his participation in the critical reformulation of film theory in the post-war years, in collaboration with André Bazin,” writes Crisp. “An early and regular contributor to Cahiers du cinéma, Eric Rohmer helped to define the thrust of that journal’s initial critical position as a champion of film realism. The whole of the New Wave came to prominence under that banner, and looked upon Cahiers du cinéma as its house journal.” 

Crisp elaborates,
“It is not only the crucial ten-year age gap that separates Rohmer from Godard and Truffaut, and places him alongside Bazin; it is a totally different temperament and a totally different world-view. And precisely because Rohmer in his early articles made no attempt to conceal the metaphysical foundations of his critical and theoretical position, it is instructive to analyze his support for realism during those early years, and to recognize thereby the implications which also underlie Bazin’s theorizing.”
Crisp writes (a little unfairly) about Rohmer’s prose,
“His early critical articles suggest at least one reason why he never pursued the literary career he long considered: they show as an atrocious literary stylist whose natural expression is turgid, affected and obscure. He launches without warning into formless and tortuous theorizing, only rarely and tangentially mentioning the films under review.”
And Crisp writes about Rohmer’s departure from the magazine,
“After Bazin’s death he continued on as co-editor until June 1963, when the job of editing the magazine was taken over by an editorial committee in which Godard, Truffaut, Rivette, and ten further members were included. Three new chief editors were named, however, among them Doniol-Valcroze and Rivette, so the ultimate effect of the 1963 re-shuffle was to edge out Rohmer and leave less conservative men in charge.”
The Masters of Adventure

I'm not crazy about westerns. The genre has its conventions and requirements, like any other, but with them they offer less liberties. There needs to be prairies, livestock, harsh environments, wooden homes, mandolin music, pursuits, these good guys with their eternal bravery, hints of Irish humor, weariness of the old world, and people travelling with all of their possessions. This is what resounds, but which combined, in some westerns, achieves something more than just that. However, the greatest masters (Ford, Wyler) were able to assert in them their mastery without sacrificing anything. I have to, speaking on the behalf of Cahiers, openly reconcile with Fritz Lang and his Rancho Notorious, which we did not pay homage to on paper. I agree that this movie taught us nothing of the author, except that it belied a pseudo-decadence. But perhaps as a critic that holds a different opinion, and is more sensitive to innovation, I should not hold any strict laws and be more equitable.

I therefore take this opportunity to denounce a curious prejudice, as to what motivates a filmmaker to create: to consider ones talent, this exercise, is what is evaluated so highly by the Cahiers writers. What master filmmaker has not been yelled at for their decadence? From Gance to Renoir, from Clair to Ford, from Lang to Hitchcock... For my part, I rather give credit to the man than to the work and only with an extreme slowness do I listen when it is argued otherwise. In short, I’m on the side of the older generation, not because we are the same age, but because I agree that it is strange that quality can go from being so high and then fall so low; if it is true that it was even so high to begin with. Regarding the role of chance, king of this art, as we are told, is just really another sophism. I do not think that I’m important enough to not allow a few filmmakers of this genius – and even though it wasn’t planned – what they achieve is a creation of what they’ve wanted to make, exactly how they imagined it.

Regarding the genius of Hawks I refer to the excellent article by Jacques Rivette, which he wrote for us a few months ago. I see nothing to add to this study, if I had too, since it was exhaustive. I value, just like Rivette, the filmmaker Hawks, as the most important American filmmaker, except for Griffith, and much superior to Ford for my taste, who is more generally estimated. The latter bores me while the former delights me. This might be a futile criterion, lets say. And how can we confirm this? I remember Alain citing Treasure Island by Stevenson as one of his favorite books: he didn’t care for anything, which is true, other than eagerly being seduced by the story, he used to say, about being a reader. But if you’ve read Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae you would know that the author of that story, who charmed us, offers such a rich understanding of man, and this is what makes him a major novelist. "The purpose of art is to show," said Conrad, in the preface of The Nigger of the Narcissus. This is a vague sentence, like the style of its author, which I would like to like more than I do. Because what exactly does this suggest? If the only concern of the novelist was, through language, to describe the exterior world precisely, than I much prefer a bad film because of this potential boredom of description, and to get taken in by the whirlwind of action instead of the stiltedness of pretty prose. This isn’t cinema, it is one of its least merits, which we are severe about, because it marks the incapabilities of communication, which is more attuned to people’s nerves than to the surface qualities of its style, the verb and the adjectives, intent, movement and sensations, states, and morals.

This is how I disappointingly view Stevenson. I owe to the cinema my taste for the classics because of how it treats adventures. Nowhere else have I better seen the secret roots of desire, which emphasizes the instant when a choice is affirmed and the act begins. The arrival of the act is best managed if it is the only event, the waiting and anxiety is more than tragic as it weights the scene, these decisions menace the liberty of scene. Maybe even more than life itself. To read Stevenson’s stunning Reflux: to see how the characters are in a constant state of peril, either they are affirmed or are cleared, how the obscure is resolved, by actions. To show a part of man that for a long time has remained unknown, because I believe that man is a free being and can be renewed. I don’t like the few moments of artifice, ellipses or shadows. But what is necessary is to show the hero at the precise moment where we expect him, with his instinct, judging.

This brings us to Howard Hawks. Apart from a few scenes with harsh lighting, sometimes unbearable, with him, everything is prepared. An important point, rhetoric in exposition, too dry for a brutal resolution. There is a strong anticipation for something to happen, this is evident, and what is really surprising, is how it’s not expected, and this action which one would assume would be difficult, is actually done with an ease. Just like how Hitchcock plays with the fear, the kind of fear that is associated with danger, haunting the audience with suspicions, in a similar vein Howard Hawks’ gaze, how does he transform his subjects? Through an analytic examination and their geometric material. In this physical world where folkloric American heroes live, no missteps are allowed, and for the filmmaker: no bravura, fog or metaphor. I do not know of any filmmaker that is more indifferent to cinematic plastic form, with his banal editing, but on the other hand, more sensible to the gestures of characters, and pacing.

This is a sportive, efficient, beautiful style, and its poetry is additional, but which is also in the foreground, indiscernible from what it magnifies. Hawks is without a doubt more personal, stunning, and elegant with his burlesque charge, more so than the excessive grinning of the heroic-comic tones of the skillful Dudley Nichols' script, it is more traditional, and consistent to the spirit of Ford than to the flamboyant Red River. But what luxury of details is under its uniformity, and what restraint of exploiting the cheap horror of an amputation, a burnt face, or a fight between a man and a woman, and what mathematical beauty goes into the conflicts, these returns or when the equilibrium capsizes, the system inverses, but never cancels itself out!

I think that Hawks deserves a particular rank. Other very good directors, like Renoir, Stroheim or Vigo, have virtues that shine through their contradictions: a disdain for traditional forms, a rude intransigence; while for others, still, there is a tendency towards abstraction, all of which the auteur of Scarface doesn't bother with. Should we hold a grudge against him? I agree that he should not be elevated to the highest rank, because this title deserves to be earned by risk and ambition. But can you blame a cineaste for only being a cineaste? Hawks isn't about pushing the limits of his art form, but instead to always stay within its parameters, and to achieve this through a classical perfection, regardless of the popular form, wether it is the western, a thriller or a musical comedy. There are two ways to love the cinema that I disagree with. Some people are curiously attached to the ways in which they can be pampered, whether it is a pretentious drama, a shoddy opera, or a didactic poem that flatters their good taste; the others - are they less worse? - don't bother themselves with distinctions and just go see everything, sensible, so they say. With respect to the cinema, unless it is a masterpiece, it works best when it is more common than pretentious. But the cinema is already too old. And was it ever any different? Who would venture today to speak about the ingenuity of a Griffith or Chaplin? I do not believe in involuntary poetry, in the cinema and much less elsewhere. I think that the best westerns are those that are signed by a major director. I say this because I love the cinema, because I believe it is the product, not of chance, but of art and the genius of man, because I think that you can't love deeply any movie, if you do not love deeply those of Howard Hawks.

Maurice Schérer

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jean-Louis Comolli on Sergeant York

"My first article appeared in 1962, less than a year after arriving in Paris, an article on Sergeant York [1941] by Howard Hawks. I was astonished, enchanted and very nervous about writing my first article for Cahiers." - Jean-Louis Comolli ("Yes, we were utopians; in a way, I still am...")

The first few generations of Cahiers critics were known to be enamoured by a certain kind of American cinema, specifically the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks (which is why they were referred to by some as "Hitchcocko-Hawksian"). Jacques Rivette's enthusiastic review of Monkey Business, The Genius of Howard Hawks, opens with its famous claim:
"The evidence on the screen is the proof of Hawks's genius: you only have to watch Monkey Business to know that it is a brilliant film. Some people refuse to admit this, however; they refuse to be satisfied by proof. There can't be any other reason why they don't recognize it."
Jean Douchet in the book French New Wave writes on Rivette, "the young critic broke new ground not only in the way we understand a film or work of art, but cinema itself." He elaborates,
"For the first time, a film critic didn't limit himself to the surface of the film but attempted to grasp its internal organization and penetrate its organic life. We can image the effect this produced on the review's professional readership. Cahiers' reputation for unreadability stems from this, not from the words and phrases being obscure. Today, they are striking in their clarity. It was the thing itself ("the thing from another world" as Hawks would have called it) that seemed incomprehensible. This wasn't what a film was supposed to be like or the way it was supposed to be interpreted."
Luc Moullet, in his Cahiers review of Rio Bravo, uses contradictions in his argument: "I hate westerns. That's why I adore Rio Bravo." But he goes further, "So why did Hawks make this western? Because it enabled him to present actions that are not ordinarily seen in our everyday world, by beings outside of nature." In Douchet's review of Hatari!, he proceeds in an analysis that describes the film in terms of its scientific methodology, "The economy and efficiency of his methods result from a strict application of the law of conservation of energy."

I've translated here, in English for the first time, Jean-Louis Comolli's initial Cahiers du cinéma review of Sergeant York (Sept '62, N.135) where, in a sophisticated writing style, he elaborates on what are the qualities of good art, how the film's mise en scène can contradict its énoncés (cf. Comolli on Ford), and the genius of Howard Hawks. - D.D. 
The Grandeur of Simplicity
A misunderstanding always separates those for whom cinema is only an occasion for a social, moral, or political engagement; and those who think that the essential of cinema is to make us enter a more authentic dimension of our being and our problems through the creations of certain filmmakers. This fundamental disagreement on art appears again regarding Sergeant York. Some have criticized this film for denigrating the serious problem of conscientious objection. They rely on the fact that the film is an object from the WWII that aims to dismiss, in the USA, the objection of conscientious objection from a religious standpoint. Without a doubt, the adventure experienced by Alvin York, which is the starting point of the film, is a good answer to the scruples of certain Christians, and is an absolution of the act of killing in wartime. But this is also only the pretext for Hawks’ film. To only be limited to this dimension of the film, a schematic view of its scenario, is to not understand the film that was directed by its author, and to not to notice the obvious ambiguity of the Hawksien mise en scène. This ambiguity defines itself in two ways: first it resides in the ambivalence that Hawks looks at his hero, and then, by permitting a total look at the man, it creates a mise en scène that takes its departure to be the simplicity of this man.
            Alvin York is simple. He is uncultivated, rough, naïve, and he is carried away by his faith in religion. His only positive force is to be attached to his little world. Hawks understands and knows this man. This knowledge is both critical and loving: it takes into account failings, limitations, and riches. Hawks’ gaze is also at the same time hard and ironic, sensible and warm. What is the meaning of York’s conversion as Hawks’ constructed it and filmed it? The warnings of the pastor are only addressed to York’s intelligence: they cannot really convince him because they do not move him. As well what is actually significant, to hit the target of something that is close (with a gun), but this time there is a miraculous quality to it, because he is personally engaged, which changes him so that he now understands the fascination of the pastor and hymns. Similarly, if York hesitated to engage in the army, it is because he interpreted naively, without seriously considering its implications, all of the tenants of the oracles that go beyond his understanding and all of its questions as well as the commandments of the bible (he responds to a child who doubts the holy word: "What is written in this book is the truth."). By the construction of the narrative (the sequence of reading the Bible follows the conversion and precedes the flag call), Hawks shows us that York’s religious understanding, which is established on such a basis, also comprises little actual engagement, limited to an absolute faith, an acceptance that is total and sincere, which incontestably looks over the problems posed to a Christian who thinks about these things, but that, by its strength and simplicity, it exceeds exactly all of the spiritual problems, without ever becoming a drama of consciousness. The direction of Gary Cooper during these sequences (his detachment when the pastor intercedes for him, his fatalism when he is incorporated) leaves no doubt about the real intentions of Hawks: to show how York’s simplicity leads him beyond life’s dramas, and how a simple man follows an interior path where his interiority pushes him, without preoccupying his sense, his limitations, or the new responsibilities that he encounters.
            The military section of the film is just a reprisal of the first part. Here too, the Hawksien staging is evident: the Major imposes onto York, to persuade him, a book that he presents to him as another bible, his speech moves him and recalls the exhortations of the pastor, and the permission that the major gives York, like the saying ("I was counting on the good") when York returns convinced, suggests that he knows about what plan to achieve. The choice of York, once again, is not intellectual or spiritual: he is carried (beyond the biblical quote that he interprets and like the lightning in its own way, this justifies a choice that is underlined by motifs that exceed his consciousness) by the fact that Daniel Boone, who is a fascinating hero of liberty, has planted a tree in the Valley of the Three Forks. (Hawks insist on this tree in both parts of the film and the original scenes with Boone refer to them, destructive, Alvin York, shoots them with his gun.)
            On the one hand, what affects York, returning to his native country, engages him more than just through its confrontation of words and ideas; on the other hand, he stays himself throughout the troubles of the responsibilities that he assumed, but which he exceeds through his vital force (helped with this by the fascinating impulses from the pastor and the major who both understand that only a deep emotional contact determines the simple man and drives him into action).
            Does York act? He passes through a war but he does not live it: it is like he is at home where he was shooting a turkey. Nothing affects him: his unconsciousness experiences these atrocities with an admirable inner strength. He kills just like he plows, with the same eagerness. The pretexts that he gives himself does not account for his spirit and his inner drive, beyond the contingencies and problems, which is just as good for removing rocks than it is to kill men. The parallels between the night-time hallucinatory work of the first part and the frightening hunt of the enemies in the second is flagrant: it reveals the same exploit and destructive force. York dreams to own land and a house. Hawks imposes the brutal, in the miracle of seeing it in front of him all of a sudden this dream that is realized, without any direct action and by the same force of a dream. York can fight, though he cannot build. Hawks refuses York the estimable prize of his work (York’s efforts fail to realize his dream) and instead he is rewarded the same prize for killing. This restores York’s true measurement: he is fixed in his strong convictions of man’s condition, and he possesses such a primitive purity that he becomes a saint. So this is why he is accorded miracles: the realization of dreams.
            The man is understood here by his tragic and frightening dimensions, in the ambiguity of life. The authentic existence can escape the efforts of the man who is trying to achieve them, as if he is not himself, but come naturally, when he is. York is always himself. The story of his life is not the description of a battle, but a chronicle of the acts and words of the life of a saint, for whom everything is simple.

The ambiguity of York’s life returns to the simplicity of his being, this corresponds to the ambiguity of the Hawksien mise en scène, which is something that is like the character’s simple existence, this is why the style is very simple.
            One can, in front of Sergeant York, like in front of any major work, including the cinematographic, be carried away by a sudden revelation that returns us to ourselves without giving us time to pick ourselves up and to go through the work, but to be penetrated by a progression of the work in us, and to undergo a maturation. But all personal growth remains a miracle. The definitive moment of fulfillment for each instant of the way stops us from governing the process. This can be said as well for Renoir, Mizoguchi, and Rossellini. What puzzles and worries us in a Hawks’ film, and that is singular to him, is the equilibrium between the feeling of being constantly overcome by ourselves and, at the same time, the certainty that what we are trying to capture is escaping us while we are trying to grasp it. The elusive has no other secret than being in us, rather than beyond.
            It is not a failure to either to try to understand the work through reflection: the work of Hawks can be understood through a variety of approaches.
            Precisely, by all approaches, it presents the same lesson, in it’s entirely, irreducible to the different methods of analysis. It remains unalterable in the fluidity of its different aspects. It was such a force of existence that each rapport between a scene and us, does not make us think of the whole (like in most great works), but presents its entirety in front of us. To this extent, all of Hawks’ films present an essential ambiguity, that they live out in each scene, and in each explanation that we propose, all the while living more fully in the totality (which leaves room for an ambiguity) of moments and explications more than in isolated scenes.
            The difficulty of the critical function and what makes Hawks’ art particularly astonishing is its clarity and simplicity. Everything is already so assimilated, felt and understood, all is said and without mystery or symbols, the cinematographic expression serves only to tell the story, there is no separation between the mise en scène and the scenario, everything is shown to us so immediately that there is no formal or thematic problems to cling to, without ever totally grasping it: it escapes us, even when we have understood. This is the dimension of Hawks.
            How has Hawks managed this simplicity of narrative, and finally what exactly is this simplicity? We must first separate its secret and complex dimension beyond its apparent simplicity. One might think that in this film Hawks’ conveys a thematic concealed behind an easily comprehendible facade to not have to engage with its essential reality. This is thought of for Rossellini, Lang, Preminger, Hitchcock and is verified by a critic who penetrates the work and recreates it, as the author has designed it, on the level of his poetic imagination and his reverie of forms. When this critical method is applied to Sergeant York there is nothing that is crystallized. Every attempt to address the work, we face the film in its whole, which illuminates in some ways but not totally. If there were any latent themes behind its simple appearance, the work would be beyond itself, there would be a dimension where what it is lacking would be a key to understanding it. This dimension would call towards a reality that is more essential than the work, and that would not be able to be felt, expected, searched or at least found. A dimension that would set up a call to a more essential reality of the work, and that could not be felt, expected, and look more or less found. This lack is not revealed in Sergeant York. There is no appeal: on the contrary, every search reveals a reaction to the totality of presence of the film. I do not think Hawks’ oeuvre contains a hidden thematic: it is not deeper than that what is immediately accessible.
            The man is introduced, under the purity and strength of the Hawksien gaze, as if he now could not be those qualities. This constant presence of the essentials confers to the film its greatness and simplicity of the immediate revelations of being. Each scene is the renewal of spirits by the apparition of the man York. The film is not constructed with the function of a progression but allows for this revelation to be total and continuous. This approach to get the essential necessitates a complete lucidity and is tied together through the totality of its existence. At this narrative level, Hawks does more than tell the story of Alvin York, because the narrative is the totality of action and creation. Hawks is making cinema: he is creating York with every moment, and he has for his creatures a profound understanding, irony and love. This mise en scène can only then be simple: to create. The creation is the easiest and most powerful way to access existence.
            This simplicity resides in the totality of the gaze: in its ambiguity (cf. examples). This ambiguity is totally imposed, there are no alternatives, the man is offered in its whole. It surpasses itself in its simplicity of creation which presents in a single moment all of the facets of his being. The critical process accompanies the creative process: Hawks shows Alvin York and his world, and realizes them by the fact that he is showing them.
            The Hawksien creative process is a constant renewing fusion, where there is an eagerness and anticipation, that of the look and act: it is a mise en scène of authentic knowledge. Hawks creates by successive drives that work to create a "grand oeuvres" of cinema: the incessant transmutation of a gaze towards life, from an appearance into being. This process must utilize all of the facts, he realizes a complete movement where nothing is exceeded and that becomes the basis of the scenes. It is a dialectical cinema that is in the state of renewal: a dynamic cinema.
            The apprehension of this dynamic, of this tension, perpetually released to be brought anew, this creates the essence of cinema.
            The idea of the Hawksien process is confirmed when it is renewed, in a way that calls attention to itself, in this dialectic, as its unfolding, is a strong impression: like a perpetual voyage between seizing and giving, between expectation and possession. In terms of the vision, as a reflection of the Hawks process, is lighted by its momentum that creates its movements: it is the movements of life and creation that comes through in Hawks’ art.
            This is the simplicity of Hawks, his grandeur.

Jean-Louis Comolli

Monday, June 10, 2013

Henri Langlois on Howard Hawks

A great resource for Howard Hawks is the book Howard Hawks: American Artist which is edited by Jim Hillier and Peter Wollen. One of its major strengths is its translation of some French film reviews, most notably from Cahiers du Cinéma, including: Jean-George Auriol on A Girl in Every Port, André Bazin on Air Force and the Hitchcocko-Hawksians, Henri Langlois on The Modernity of Howard Hawks (which I transcribed below), and Jean Douchet on Hatari!.

Though this is a good selection, it doesn't go far enough! There are too few important classic French reviews that are translated. And where is Positif? Though there are some good websites that try to make up for this unfortunate situation (cf. Serge Daney in English), there is still an overall lack of good translations available. Because of this, it is difficult for readers to fully understand the multi-faceted perspectives of French criticism.

In the following essay The Modernity of Howard Hawks, Henri Langlois, who was one of the co-founders of the Cinémathèque française, discusses the difference between French and English cinephilia and, as an early film preservationist, describes eloquently Hawks' early and rare silent films. The placement of this review at the front of its issue of Cahiers du Cinéma (N.139), which has a still from Hatari! on its cover and then following a lengthy annotated filmography, shows the respect and influence Langlois had on the Cahiers critics. For more of Langlois' writing there is also the rare French book Trois cents ans de cinéma. - D.D.
The Modernity of Howard Hawks 
It seems that A Girl in Every Port was the revelation of the Hawks season at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
For New York audiences of 1962, Louise Brooks suddenly acquire that 'Face of the Century' aura she had had, many years ago, for spectators at the Cinema des Ursulines.
Because for Paris A Girl in Every Port is not a recent event, but one which occured in the 1928 season.
It was the Paris of the Montparnassians and Picasso, of the surrealists and the Seventh Art, of Diaghilev, of the 'Sporees de Paris,' of the 'Six,' of Gertrude Stein, of Brancusi's masterpieces.
That is why Blaise Cendrars confided a few years ago that he thought A Girl in Every Port definitely marked the first appearance of contemporary cinema.
To the Paris of 1928, which was rejecting expressionism, A Girl in Every Port was a film conceived in the present, achieving an identity of its own by repudiating the past.
 To look at the film is to see yourself, to see the future which leads through Scarface to the cinema of our time.

The modern man - that's Hawks, completely.
When you look back over his oeuvre today what is striking is the degree to which the cinema of Hawks was ahead of its time.
To be more precise - since there is generally a time lag between the main currents of contemporary art and the cinematic art - what is striking is the degree to which Hawks's art is up-to-date, and even in the vanguard of artistic movements.
The art he created is that of an America which has now been exposed and which did exist, but whose evolution was then still in progress.
Thus, five years before the appearance of the first modern construction in the streets of New York, on 53rd Street - fifteen years before the appearance of the first modern skyscrapers which have transformed Manhattan - Hawks, like Gropius, conceived his films as one might conceive a type-writer, a motor, or a bridge.
That is why, Today, when America has discovered Hawks, his old films like The Crowd Roads have such an impact when shown on televison.
In these forgotten Warners films, the people of New York and America, much to their surprise, recognize themselves: the depiction of the American scene now seems very accurate.
It is this which has causer people to write that Hawks is the most American of filmmakers.
He is certainly American, not more so than Griffith or Vidor, but his work is rooted in contemporary America in its spirit as well as in its surface appearance. It is now clear that Hawks's is the only oeuvre the American public can totally identify itself with, in terms of both simple admiration and criticism:
It has no relation to my work... I didn't care to do it but was forced under contract... It was made right after Murnau's Sunrise, which introduced German camera trick-work to Hollywood... They liked it; I didn't... I've always been rather mechanically minded so I tried a whole lot of Mechanical things, and then gave them up completely - most of the time my camera stays on eye level now... I just use the simplest camera in the world.
So many excuses for three or four shots made as a concession to Fox in Paid to Love, which anticipates Lubitsch.
It must have meant a lot to him.
Thus, at the time when Paris was rejecting expressionism, at the very moment when Babelsber was conquering the United States and Hollywood, Hawks too rejected it and for the same reasons, because it was in conflict with the demand of the new age.
Curiously, A Girl in Every Port, so novel for people at the time seems much less so today than Fig Trees, in which Hawks's art operates in complete freedom.
But Fig Trees was at that time too new a film for contemporary audiences not to be blinded by it.
With the coming of the sound film, the problem arose of cinematic construction in terms of speech, of the editing of dialogue in terms of movement.
A new dramaturgy was about to be born: it had to be discovered, explored, established.
Hawks applied himself directly to the task, without trying to evade the difficulties.
He immediately arrived at the heart of the problem: dramatic film construction in terms of the roles played by dialogue and sound.
From The Dawn Patrol to Ceiling Zero, Hawks was totally preoccupied with this construction. As a result, he became the Le Corbusier of the sound film, in the way he handles lines and volume.
His works, then, are stripped bare almost to the point of abstraction - but it is as if they are made of concrete.
The essential. The truth of the dialogue, the truth of the situations, the truth of the subjects, of the milieux, of the characters: a dramaturgy derived from an agglomeration of facts, words, noises, movements, situations, as a motor is assembled. There is nothing superfluous, no stopping, no meandering, no fleshing out. What is most impressive is Hawks's progressive mastery, culminating in Ceiling Zero, a totally accomplished film, and one which is diametrically opposed to filmed theater, except for those who no longer see its originality and its extraordinary achievement because they have learned too much from it and thus find it too familiar.
The dialogue: what one says, what one is, what ones does. Hawks puts great emphasis on dialogue and intonation: on meaning of the dialogue, the construction of the dialogue, the delivery of the dialogue.
No, it isn't done with cutting. It's done by deliberately writing dialogue like real conversation... All you want to do is to hear the essential things... And, of course, if I have a scene today that I don't think is very interestng the quicker I can play it the better off I am.
As in every man's work, there is one exception to his general rule:
Twentieth Century, lit up by the radiance of Carole Lombard's femininity, and that is enough. Thanks to it everything is balanced, everything comes alive, through cutting which makes the dialogue into cinema.
The period characterized by Scarface is coming to an end.
In 1937 there is a short pause.
The explosion of Bringing Up Baby.
And, suddenly, in 1939, that night at the Marivaux when they showed Only Angels ave Wings, a charm was reborn, that trance-like spell which had seemed lost since the advent of sound.
Out of cinema, mastered anew, magic was reborn. And with it, Hawks rediscovered that total freedom which let him dispense with all heaviness of touch. Already there was a hint of things to come: the play of colors and light in the brilliant facets of Red River and The Big Sky.
From The Dawn Patrol to Only Angels Have Wings: the circle is closed.
Another stylistic exercise, as if for the pleasure of a private gamble: His Girl Friday.
And now the great masterpieces.
Hawks is himself again, as before, as he was at his debut in the silent period.
The same arabesque, and this art of giving brith, from a void, to miraculous life.
The 'concrete' period has been transcended. The logical force of To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep is hidden beneath the sheen of an art as dense and translucent as the extraordinary vegetable-like growth of the new New York.
The constructivist, almost abstract art of Hawks becomes colorful.
Pared down further - and because it is in color - Rio Bravo is a construction of psychological impulses.
All of Hawks's intelligence is confirmed and exercised in Land of the Pharoahs, the only epic film which has style, rigor, and plastic beauty, qualities whose meaning we had long since forgotten.

Henri Langlois

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Interviews with Five Emerging Women Filmmakers

To expand upon a recent blog-post on Emerging Women Filmmakers; Nadia Litz, Sofia Bohdanowicz, Leslie Supnet, Sophie Goyette and Ashley McKenzie were kind enough to follow up with these interviews. – D.D.
DD: What I was particularly struck by in Hotel Congress is its sophisticated script. I liked how it’s described as a "a romantic film for the unromantic." How did you go about writing the screenplay and how accurately was it reflected in the finished film?
NL: Thank you very much.  I think there are certain tropes within micro and low-budget filmmaking that belie sophistication. But, it need not be so, because writing and, by proxy, ideas are the least expensive part of making a movie.  Going into the $1000 Challenge, I think the Hotel Congress core team Michel Kandinsky, Philip Riccio and myself all wanted to specifically retaliate against some familiar Canadian low-budget ground. We didn't want to shoot it in a familiar location, we didn't want it to be too goofy, or stoner or overtly sexy or horror-based. We wanted to create atmosphere. Cinema promises to take you away from your day-to-day life. That's also the promise of an affair. We wanted to create that. It's also innately Canadian, in a way that Canadian films never seem to want to represent, to yearn to escape Canada! We wanted to represent that. We shot it in the scorching hot dessert, in a historic hotel in Tucson, famous for its nefarious associations to bank-robber John Dillinger. We wore the Parisian clothing line A.P.C., set it to the music of Interpol's Paul Banks and we made the characters talk a lot. We wanted you to feel like a voyeur on the character's decision to have an affair or not. We wanted you to feel like you were eavesdropping on the best conversation in the hotel. That's a fun thing that cinema can do. Just put you in a room. With people and their obstacles. I always think those love stories are fun to watch. The romance comes in unexpected ways. The critic Andrew Sarris famously wrote about Rhomer's My Night at Maud's, "there's nothing more cinematic than the spectacle of a man and a woman staying up all night talking." I kind of built the structure of the script with that in mind. As well as the early films of Woody Allen, Whit Stillman, Linklater - which are just interesting conversations at their core. I wrote the script in 12 days, and during that time I would send stuff to Philip and Michel and say, "does this feel right?" The finished film is the exact script. Nothing is improvised. We didn't have time to veer from the script, as we shot the feature in 4 days. We were doing one-takes and devised the direction of the film from that perspective too. I think it works. There would obviously be a few things we'd like to do over, but constraints of time and budget were helpful in a breeding creativity, actually.

DD: I like the character you play in Hotel Congress, Sofia. Since you not only directed the film but also wrote and starred in it, this gives the film a very personal quality, especially in regards to Sofia’s views on relationships and life. Do you think other movies or television shows do justice to representing how women feel and think about these issues?
NL: What I have that is in keeping with the film is a malleable point of view on big life questions when it comes to love and sex and relationships, especially. I'm stubborn, but I also give myself the right to change my position over time. So, the back and forth between Sofia and Francis might be an elaborate version of a conversation I might have with myself on a moral quandary. I also believe in happy endings, but ones that are even more meaningful than what cinema can ever conceive of.
I don't know that media has conquered representation (of women or men!) quite yet, nope. But, that is what we have indie films for: to test boundaries.  We just hope that HBO or AMC takes note and makes us proper one day.

DD: Having worked with some impressive directors (Harkema, Cockburn, Refn), did these experiences teach you anything about the filmmaking process or make you want to direct your own films?
NL: I liked working with all of those fellows. Refn didn't know I was an actress. He saw me in a hotel lounge in Winnipeg with my Mom and fired someone to cast me as a waitress with a few lines opposite John Turturro. I loved how he had a gut feeling and followed it, even for a small part of his film. Cockburn is not afraid to be cerebral. Harkema understands how to cast for chemistry. I've been fortunate to work and meet interesting people my whole career. I think I would have been a director eventually, anyway, without those dudes though. They would be the first to say that, too.

DD: What is your next film The People Garden going to be about?
NL: The People Garden is being produced by Daniel Bekerman at Scythia Films. Telefilm Canada has supported it during the script writing process. It has just been accepted to a TIFF Intensive for its final pass, before going into production, so that will be fun. I'm very excited to make it. It starts with a young woman named Sweetpea, telling us her "sweet and terrible" boyfriend will be dead in 3 days. She then boards a plane to Japan. The tale unfolds from there. It's a mysterious film about how to find your way to the human-spirit triumph parts of life, within the darker sides of love and life.
DD: What inspired you to make these films from your grandmother Zofia Bohdanowiczowa's poems?
SB: A few years ago I was bored to the point of googling names of high school acquaintances of mine to see what they were up to. I eventually moved on to researching what kind of dirty laundry old relatives in my family might have online, and then suddenly remembered that my great grandmother was a poet and wondered if I could find any of her work online. I did a little bit of research and I found her poem Dundas Street somewhere on a Canadian Encyclopedia site.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I decided to borrow a copy of my great grandmothers poetry (which I still haven’t returned) from my uncle John and decided that I wanted to make a film out of Dundas Street. I still remember biking up the Toronto west rail path to his house in High Park to pick up a book of her poetry and was very excited to discover more of her work, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to find. After reading her poetry I knew that I wanted to make a film based on Dundas Street but wasn’t really certain how to do it.
A couple of months later a dear friend of mine Joanna Durkalec, wrote me a note that said that she was interested in working more in film and theatre in Toronto and said that if I needed a hand with anything that I should get in touch with her. Seeing as I regrettably don’t speak Polish (and she does) I contacted her when I wanted to make Dundas Street and we ended up co-directing it together.

DD: I like how instead of being narratives these short films are more like visual poems. How did you decide on the style of filming them?
SB: I made my first poetry film accidently when I had written a poem about ‘the end of a relationship’ and decided to turn it into a film titled falling with force., which is a four minute film that I shot with about 15 female friends of mine in Toronto in 2009. It’s an experimental piece, and I suppose you could consider it a poetry film but I didn’t really realize that’s what it was when I was making it.
It was a wonderful experience to have screened Dundas Street at the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin because it was the first time I was able to connect with other poetry filmmakers. Many of the artists there didn’t realize that poetry filmmaking was a genre and we all couldn’t believe how many people were making films based on poems.
But in terms of deciding on a visual style, I never decide or plan on how I’m going to approach the projects, I just make them. This sounds ridiculous, but the way that I conceive my work is that I am always thinking in transit. In my day to day interactions, I’m not really very present and that’s because I’m always working out a new idea in my mind or imagining how a certain situation that I’m currently living in might look on film. I think about what kinds of films I want to shoot while I’m biking home, cooking, in conversation or while I’m at my day job (maybe not a good thing to admit). I’m always very busy and try to multi-task and manipulate different ideas in my mind and as a result I’m always kind of half here and half over somewhere else.
If the idea survives a two-week incubation period, I know that it’s right and then I go for it. I don’t like to plan too much and make sure that I work under a very loose and comfortable structure. I like to work on my own, with my partner or with close friends of mine. It’s important for the production of whatever I’m shooting be as low stress as possible and for it to be a collaboration between myself and whomever I am filming with. 

DD: Were there any directors that inspired you?
SB: While Joanna and I were working on our script for Dundas Street we watched the entire Decalogue series by Kieslowski. It was at this point I decided that I wanted to make a series of films based on Zofia’s work. Watching a series that was so beautifully interlinked and masterfully put together ignited a desire for me to make a collection of films that represented her poetry. 
Fridrik Thor Fridriksson an Icelandic director is a filmmaker that has deeply inspired my work. His films Children of Nature (Börn náttúrunnar) and Mamma Gógó touch upon themes of aging, deterioration, compassion and death like no other filmmaker can. I am also very in love with Rúnar Rúnarsson who produced Volcano (Eldfjall), a predecessor to Haneke’s Amour (which came first the chicken or the egg), long story short, I loved Volcano much much more.
I respect the work of the Varda, so very much. Her ability to melt documentary and fiction together so seamlessly is quite captivating. She made her first film La Pointe Courte without much study or even watching many films before shooting, she just made it because it was a story she wanted to tell. In order to finance it she convinced her parents to re-mortgage their house just to get her through production. She wasn’t able to pay her crew or actors until ten years after completing the feature, this is a woman with nerves of steel.

DD: You were saying that Modlitwa still hasn't premiered anywhere. What are your thoughts on the financing and distribution side of filmmaking?
SB: I don’t have many thoughts, really, because my work has never been financed or distributed. If that ever happened I would be over the moon but this isn’t why I’m producing films. I do it because it feels good and because I love it. If my films are screened, financed or distributed I feel like this would be a real treat, but otherwise I feel very lucky to be able make what I make and do what I do.
I’m a little bit of a rookie when it comes to financing. I pay for it all myself and make sure that it’s done a cost effective as possible. I’ve recently gotten better at writing grants and those can help quite a bit. I am very grateful for all of the financing opportunities we have here in Canada, it’s pretty incredible.

DD: What new projects do you have in the works?
SB: My new film Last Poem that I shot in Iceland is about myself struggling to shoot a music video with a very distempered ‘Herzog like’ German boy named Tobi will be screening at Video Fag as a part of Birdtown and Swanvilles’ Friends and Outsiders series from June 21st to the 24th. It’s an evening of film, performance and theatre programmed by my pals Nika and Aurora. All are welcome! Please pop by! Say hello!
I have a trilogy of films that I shot in my Grandmothers house (Modlitwa is included in this trilogy) and I am currently editing up a storm trying to finish up this little three-part series which will be screened somewhere at some point! My Grandmother (not to be confused with my Great Grandmother) passed away in the fall and since then I have had a strong urge to make more work. It’s exhausting, I usually don’t have so many ideas but I’m suddenly making more films with so much energy. I’m just going to roll with it.
This summer and into the fall I’m also working on a documentary titled, Never Eat Alone that is being supported by the Ontario Arts Council. I am filming it in my building with the residents at 180 Sudbury. It’s a slow meditative documentary that focuses on the way that people eat. And that’s about all I can tell you right now. I am hoping to have it completed by next spring but then again, you never know.
And my film Dundas Street is going to be screened in London at the East End Film Festival on Thursday, July 4th.
DD: When did you start making animations? How would you describe the subjects of your drawings? And has your interest and style evolved over time?
LS: I began tinkering with animation in 2007, after taking a circuit-bending workshop at Video Pool Media Arts Centre in Winnipeg. It was my first experience with artist-run culture, and I was hooked. I looked into what else they had to offer, and they had an animation workshop coming up a few months after. 
I draw (pun intended) from personal experience - memorable moments of heightened emotion with respect to loss and tragedy. I try to temper all the sadness with some dark humour. Animation and cinema definitely has taken away a lot of my attention from drawing one-offs nowadays. It's hard for me to not think of telling a story without movement or sound. I feel my work is evolving though, paralleling the changes in my life. Getting older, prioritizing different issues and concerns.  

DD: It was great to see your work on the big screen at Videofag and then at the Images Festival. Do you make your short-films more primarily for home viewing on Vimeo or is one of the goals to have them screened in a cinema as part of a festival?
LS: Thanks David! I prefer my work to be seen in a cinema, but I'm definitely not opposed to my work being viewed on the internet, on various devices. I want to connect with as much people as possible. I've taken part in online festivals too. It's all good!

DD: What are you currently working on?
LS: I've been doing a lot of collaborative work, so after the last project is complete I'm devoting my time to my own practice for a very very long time. In between these collaborations I've been shooting a lot of Super 8, and it's been great. I haven't animated since last fall, and might not for some time. I'm enjoying shooting people doing everyday things. I toyed with the idea of quitting art altogether after seeing I Remember A Film About Joe Brainard by Matt Wolf at Images this year. I thought of how freeing it must be to no longer identify oneself as an artist. But I haven't yet found a suitable replacement for creative process. So now I'm experimenting with different ways to capture what I feel is meaningful, and figuring out how I can express empathy in a way I'm unaccustomed to. 
DD: You've told me that Le future proche is your most personal and explorative film to date. Do you care to elaborate?
SG: Le futur proche is not an autobiographical story but it's really how I was feeling at the time. I had just finished my fourth film, La Ronde, which was my first financed film with a big crew, and didn't know personally where I was heading. I shot Le future proche when I was twenty-nine and you can see the number twenty-nine written in the first shot on the airplane highway to symbolize it, to mark it. When you question yourself about your future, you look at everything around you with a different perspective, analyzing details, being more in the "present moment". And a character feels that way too when they have just learnt terrible news, as the death of a parent, like the pilot Robin will experience. Time is being suspended; you question yourself, the past, the present and the future.
Also, I wanted to explore at my own rhythm the making of that story, with a smaller crew and more time than La Ronde. I had an urgency to just do it and didn't want to apply for grants, so I auto-financed it myself to already be able to shoot in the summer. I wanted to try things to aim for precise images and emotions that were in my head. It was the first time I tried voice-overs, the first time I asked for documentary style images from my director of photography even if it was one-hundred percent fiction... I wanted to experience the medium without any pressure, which resulted in my most explorative and personal film to date.

DD: There is a larger discourse going on right now regarding feminism and cinema. The magazine Cahiers du cinéma recently had an issue Enquête sur les réalisatrices where they asked women directors, including Anne Émond, about their thoughts on filmmaking. Two of their questions, which I will ask you, are is there a feminine directing style? And what are your thoughts on the role women have in filmmaking in Quebec?
SG: For me filmmaking is not a gender issue, you can't categorize it. Because a film is not about a subject, but about the personal point of view, the inner world of the filmmaker on that subject. We should never sense that a film could have been made by someone else other than the filmmaker. And because there are as many sensibilities and imaginations as there are different people, the possibilities are endless.
I didn't question myself about doing a story about a forty-four year old pilot in Le futur proche even if I'm not a man, because the film is beyond that.
There are great filmmakers with unique voices, and we couldn't categorize Andrea Arnold, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Miranda July or Carlos Reygadas just by their gender or nationalities. Of course it's in them and makes them what they are, but it's beyond that.
In Quebec, I'm in a generation where there's an equal amount of women and men filmmakers in shorts. I haven't yet stepped into the feature world. I don't know if I could see myself having a specific role on that subject, but if my path, which includes microbiology studies that I've left totally behind to go after my art, can inspire any female or male to also do so, than all for the good. And I know that I can, here today, think that way because great women filmmakers from Quebec and around the world have before stepped into it and stood their ground, as it was for the right to vote and other gender-equal issues. 
I had the privilege to be for the first time in nomiation at Gala Jutra (Quebec) this year, and four out of five directors in our "short fiction category" were women filmmakers. As for the feature category, there was one woman out of five. I think there's a change coming, in the near future...

DD: Your short-films have gained quite the critical reputation: La Ronde premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and Le futur proche was named one of the top twelve Quebecois films by 24 Images as well won the jury prize at the Breakthrough Film Festival. Do you have any projects in the works? And what are your thoughts on the differences between short- and feature-length films?
SG: I'm currently writing a screenplay for my first two features and a documentary. It's the idea that dictates the length of the film, because shorts and features are the same, they're both art. Some stories are better being told in five minutes. Others in two hours. For me, I didn't plan to write features, even less two at the same time, it just happened after five shorts, when I saw that those stories needed to unfold on eighty to ninety pages. It's another respiration. Short are like sprints, features like marathons.

DD: I really liked the interviews with you at Nous Sommes Les Filles and Mange Ta Ville. Is there anything else that you would like to say?
SG: Go see movies at the theater! It’s a collective communal experience that can't be replaced by home viewing. And most filmmakers, at least myself, imagine our films, our images, our sounds, for the big screen, where the eye can explore everything in details, when we can have the sense that something bigger than us it taking place but will ultimately connect us back to ourselves.
DD: What were you trying to say through your first two short-films Rhonda's Party and When You Sleep? Were there any filmmakers that you took inspiration from? 
AM: I didn’t write Rhonda’s Party, but I remember after first reading the script I was left with a strong urge to tell the story so I could avoid offering up a typical happy ending. I saw in the story an almost absurdist worldview and I wanted to preserve that. I was interested in the question of how we make plans and remain open to life when it can be so unpredictable.
I remember drawing inspiration from Jane Campion’s An Angel at my Table. I saw Rhonda as someone who felt paralyzed by life and withdrew from it as a result, similar to the struggles of Janet Frame in that film. Or maybe it resonated because we shot Rhonda’s Party in the abandoned wing of an old psychiatric hospital. I also remember being inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s paintings and the cinematography of Harris Savides.
When You Sleep came out of a time in my life when I was struggling with the codependency of a long-term relationship. I knew a lot of young people in similar situations whose problems were confounded by unplanned pregnancies and poverty. I wanted to explore whether it’s possible to tap into some amount of personal agency when you feel the desperation of being trapped in a cycle seemingly destined to repeat itself.
The Dardenne Brothers were filmmakers I looked to while making When You Sleep. Films like L’enfant and Rosetta had characters and an energy that felt akin to the world inhabited in my story, though I wanted to capture something a bit more abrasive. I was inspired by the photography of Nan Goldin very much at the time and was also reading Just Kids about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe.
I also remember watching Andrea Arnold’s short film Wasp a couple weeks before shooting When You Sleep and freaking out about similarities between the two. I ended up tweaking my script and shot list at the last minute. I’m not surprised, though, because Arnold is the filmmaker whose work feels most familiar to me when I watch it. I always end up thinking, “that’s what it’s like back home in my town, or I knew that person growing up.” That said, the director I turn to most for inspiration is probably Robert Bresson. I don’t know if that comes out in my work at all, but I’m always reading Notes on the Cinematographer.

DD: What will your new project Stray be about?
AM: Stray is a short film that I’m finishing post on right now. It was the first script I ever sat down to write, along with my producer Nelson MacDonald, and is most directly inspired by my experience growing up in New Waterford. The story stemmed from a refrain I heard often when I was young, “Ashley, don’t cry over this,” and also an obsession I had with stray cats. 
The film follows a sensitive nine-year old girl, Savannah, who is searching for some intimacy in the harsh environment of her home and post-industrial town. It incorporates some of the fixtures of my life here, like the coal train that passes behind my house every day and the tracks I walked endlessly as a kid that lead nowhere. More than my previous two shorts, Stray is pretty stripped down. I approached it as a study of how this girl exists within a harsh landscape.

DD: How is it like being a filmmaker in New Waterford, Nova Scotia? What kind of community is out there?
AM: It’s exciting and sometimes lonely. I think I’m the only full-time filmmaker permanently living on the Cape Breton Island right now. My producer is currently living in Halifax even, though he is from here. I have a friend who runs a commercial video production company, and my best friend/editor is a filmmaker who divides her time between here and Montreal.
But there is no commercial film industry or community here. No place to rent gear, no actors union, etc. But’s that’s what I love about it. It’s more relaxed and authentic. The people and landscapes here inspire me so much; it feels like there are so many stories to tell. The island is like this giant palette in front of you that has been untapped. I feel a lot of ownership over this place – it all just seems like a part of my backyard.
There are, of course, many challenges about trying to make a living as an artist. We have the highest unemployment in the country here at almost 19%, so everyone is struggling really. And there is a camaraderie amongst the young adults who have decided to stay and put down roots here. Whenever I need to connect with other filmmakers, I just reach out to friends in Halifax, Montreal, or Toronto for support and inspiration. So I feel pretty lucky to have a network of peers in that way, while still being able to live and work in a place that feels like home for my art practice.

DD: Is there anything else that you would like say?
AM: Thanks for taking an interest in my work :)