2008 in Quotes

by
in Directors, Interviews
on Jan 11, 2009

Last year, I put together a blog post with a taster of some quotes from Director Interviews I did in 2007 and I have now (somewhat belatedly) come up with a compilation of choice soundbites from this past year.

Though in my thoughts on 2008 I expressed the opinion that it had been a below average year for cinema (at least in comparison with the high water mark of 2007), it has been a hugely enjoyable 12 months from my perspective as an interviewer. Any year in which you get to sit down with George Romero, Werner Herzog, Catherine Breillat, Abel Ferrara, Wayne Wang, Johnnie To, Nick Broomfield, Jirí Menzel and Michael Haneke – not to mention the most exciting new and emerging talent in independent cinema – will always be remembered as a good one.

Looking back, my interview with Haneke stands out as a particular highlight. I always relish talking to someone as formidably intellectual as the Austrian auteur, but in this instance my expectations for the interview were not great as Haneke had very limited time and apparently insisted on having an interpreter (which essentially cuts the interview time in half). There seemed even less chance of things going well when I turned up for the interview to discover that the publicist who I had been coordinating with was not there because of a fire in his apartment and that the interpreter was running late. Fortunately, Haneke turned up early and graciously agreed to begin the interview then and there; from then on, it all went very smoothly and he proved the perfect interview subject: sharp, direct, bullishly intelligent and fully engaged with the issues of our conversation. (And, for the record, his English is, in fact, excellent.)

Andrew Piddington (on The Killing of John Lennon)
John Lennon was the first rock ‘n’ roll assassination and he was the first one to suffer that tragedy. Consequently now we’ve had a whole raft of people who’ve been killed and a whole slew of people who have injunctions out on personal stalkers. Everybody wants to be famous for nothing these days. You have all these reality shows on TV and it teaches people that you don’t have to have talent to be famous and make a lot of money. These issues are worth exploring.

Abby Epstein (on making The Business of Being Born)
When we were at one of the homebirths, I remember thinking, “Oh my God, the neighbors are going to think we’re watching a porno in here!” because there was this moaning all day and she and her husband were in the tub.

Nadine Labaki (on growing up in Beirut)
I’ve lived with the war all my childhood: most of my childhood was spent at home because we couldn’t go out, there was no school for a long time, so I saw and understood the world through TV. That’s how I learned English, that’s how I decided to become a filmmaker. I learned that through films I could be able to create realities that are different from my reality, and worlds that are different from my world. That was my childhood, just me in front of the TV watching films.

Paul Andrew Williams
I was hired by Columbia to do Wild Things 3. At this point, I’d never done a film and I was like, “Yeah, cool. I’ve got a film, I’ve got some money, it’ll be great,” but after a week I was like, “These guys are total fucking wankers! And they don’t give a shit about the film or me or anything, so what am I doing…?” The people who were making it were awful. This was a line from one of the guys at the studio: “It’s only Wild Things 3, it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

George A. Romero (on the online community)
I had a website of my own for a while, but I just got really sick and tired of it. I tried to be diligent, I tried to show up at least two nights a week and actually answer questions and have conversations, but pretty soon people were just sniping at each other and it was sort of a party that had nothing to do with me anymore. Sort of coming over to my house, eating stuff out of my fridge, and just calling each other names. So I just wrote a letter saying, “Guys, gotta go. Help yourself to what’s in the fridge…”

Stefan Ruzowitzky (on directing)
When I was in primary school there was always a stage play performed by the fourth grade, the kids who were about to leave the school. I saw it when my brother did it: the mothers were doing the costumes and it was all wonderful. So for the whole of primary school I was waiting to be in the fourth grade and be part of such a performance, and when I finally got there our teacher came and said, “Kids, this year there’s no performance.” I said, “This can’t be,” and so I organized the whole thing by myself. I was casting my friends, and doing just everything. Obviously it was pretty good because we did a lot of performances for the whole school and the parents, so this is when I decided, “This is what I want to do as a profession.”

Michael Haneke
Cinema could be an artform, can be an artform… it’s very rare. If it is art, it is automatically responsible. A film has to be a dialogue, not a monologue — a dialogue to provoke in the viewer his own thoughts, his own feelings. And if a film is a dialogue then it’s a good film; if it’s not a dialogue, it’s a bad film. It’s very easy.

Christophe Honoré (on his job title)
I used to not be able to say I was a writer because I thought it was pretentious, but now I don’t like to say I’m a filmmaker because the person asking me is probably a young actor and then it’s going to be difficult. The business card I take out most readily is the one that says “Writer of Children’s Books,” because it reassures everybody but doesn’t interest anyone. People then don’t bother me and, as I don’t like to be bothered, that works.

Jeff Nichols
I was in sixth grade and they had a re-release print of Lawrence of Arabia in my hometown. It was enormous. We had a dome theater so it was a beautiful screen to see it on. I remember being struck by its scope and also by the fact that a landscape could dictate structure, that things that happened in the movie couldn’t have happened without that landscape, and that landscape couldn’t have been shown any other way than to be that big.

Etgar Keret (on co-directing Jellyfish with his heavily pregnant wife, Shira Geffen)
Shira had to go to the hospital just before the last day of shooting, so I was there by myself, but she didn’t have the baby until after shooting finished. All the time we were on the phone, and I was asking “How are you feeling?” and she was saying “What are you shooting now?”

Scott Hicks (on Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts)
My heart was in my mouth when I showed the film to [Philip Glass]. I said after showing the film to Philip that the closest experience I’ve had of that was the time I showed Shine to David Helfgott — the main difference being that Philip wasn’t clinging to my leg at the time.

Yung Chang (on “Chinese time”)
Living in the South of China, you don’t pre-arrange things: when you call somebody on the phone there are no answering machines or voicemails, you have to talk directly to the person. I think Chinese time is something that is very… inexact. Chinese time is not late time, it’s just “you don’t know if it’s going to happen” time.

Garth Jennings
I was a crackhead in Hot Fuzz. In the opening montage of Simon Pegg’s character’s reveal of his many talents, one of his talents was to shoot a crackhead who was holding a family hostage. And that’s me. [I was] standing in for that, waiting all afternoon with sores all over my face with a Kalashnikov rifle, thinking “This is really weird, really, really weird.”

Nick Broomfield (on politics and cinema)
We’ve lived in a decade of evading any real issues, and people in Britain and America feeling completely impotent to make themselves heard. So people seize on irrelevant things and address non-issues. The real issue is most of the electorate in both countries was against the war. We still went to war and we’re still fighting this war five years later. People have said we’re against torture, and we have an American president that’s saying waterboarding’s OK. I think people feel it doesn’t matter what they say, so many rules are being broken, they’ve lost power, they don’t have a political party that represents them anymore – it’s a terrible, dangerous apathy. That’s why all political films, not just the Iraq films, are doing badly. Any film that’s to do with anything vaguely political is doing badly because people feel impotent.

Parvez Sharma (on A Jihad for Love)
I am one of very few people in the Muslim world saying that “Jihad” needs to be taken back, that Al Qaeda doesn’t control that and they’ve got it all wrong. How do you make “jihad” fashionable and take it away from Osama and his gang? I’ve been thinking of great marketing ideas: the coolest new hipster T-shirt should be “Love Jihadi.”

Stuart Gordon (on Bush’s America)
I think that in our society now, people will just not admit to any mistakes, starting all the way at the top. There’s a line in the movie where they say, “Look who’s in the White House. Look, you can get away with anything now!” It’s true, we’ve got this completely amoral president who sets the tone for everybody else. In talking about fear in our daily life, this is a guy who has done nothing but try to fan the flames of fear, to get us more afraid – afraid of terrorists, afraid of immigrants, afraid of gays, afraid of anybody.

Werner Herzog (on dry eyes and Dreyer)
I do not cry in movies, I laugh in movies. But I do faint. I keep fainting in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, the wonderful great silent film. There’s a moment where they cut the elbow vein of Joan and blood is spurting out, and that’s when I faint.

Cecilia Miniucchi
The most incredible piece of advice that really changed my life was from Bob Altman who said to me, “Never take any advice.”

Catherine Breillat (on The Last Mistress)
There are some people who hated me who are now starting to say that, yes, I had made a really good film now, that I had calmed down. But I have not calmed down! They’re wrong. And people who are wrong will always be wrong.

Scott Prendergast (on Kabluey)
Right before we shot, I went and visited my sister-in-law and said, “Hey, so I have something to tell you… Yeah… So… You know that movie I was writing about the mascot costume? Well, there’s this other character in the movie who’s a woman and she’s got two little kids and her husband’s at war and her brother-in-law comes to help her…” She sort of gave me this very thin look, but kept folding laundry. I said, “And she sort of does some questionable things and she’s sort of an unlikeable character and she really makes some mistakes, but I dramatized it all because it’s a movie and we have to have a fictional plot so she does some things that didn’t really happen…” My sister-in-law, without missing a beat, said, “Who is playing me?” I said, “Lisa Kudrow.” She said, “OK, fine, whatever you want.”

Stephen Sebring (on Patti Smith: Dream of Life)
Somebody was telling me at Sundance that Quentin Tarantino was all over this movie, saying “This is what it’s all about: somebody taking 12 years to make a movie!” I was like, “That’s great, that’s really cool.” But I don’t think I could do another 12 year project.

Chris Smith (on the democracy of cinema)
I remember seeing Roger and Me when I was 18 in a mall theater in Michigan, where I grew up, and thinking how incredible it was that this guy who was 45 minutes away from me had made this film on 16mm and that it was playing at a multiplex. It empowered me to the point where I thought, “I can grab a 16mm camera and as long as the 90 minutes that I put in front of that camera is interesting, it can play anywhere that a giant Hollywood film can play.”

Wayne Wang (on the future of filmmaking)
A friend of mine in London just shot a feature film completely on her cell phone, and she did it for so little money and it’s a wonderful little movie and it’s accessible and showable. That stuff is amazing. People ask me, “What’s your dream project?” I don’t have a big dream project that costs $100 million, my dream is that when I’m older I can take my cell phone and make a damn movie.

Matt Wolf (on his weirdest job)
In high school, I worked in the only gay coffee shop in the San Jose area. It was really cool, it was in this old abandoned bank but the owners were heroin addicts and would shoot up in the vault. I was 15, and paychecks were bouncing and checks to vendors were bouncing and I would serve decaf coffee because we couldn’t pay the bills to pay for the coffee deliveries.

Marianna Palka (on titles)
When I was writing the script, I was really asking the question, “What is sexy? What does that actually mean for people?” and in doing that, Good Dick was just naturally the title. “Good Dick” is… it’s like titling a poem or something. You have to title it, you can’t just call it These People.

Abel Ferrara (on Werner Herzog remaking Bad Lieutenant)
He can die in hell. I hate these people – they suck. A, he don’t know me, couldn’t pick me out of a line-up. B, I’m chasing windmills. Well, I’d rather chase windmills than steal other people’s ideas. It’s lame. I can’t believe Nic Cage is trying to play that part. I mean, if the kid needed the money…

Ellen Kuras (on her marathon directorial debut)
People say to me, “What was it like doing a film over 23 years, and did you anticipate that it would take 23 years?” and I have to say, “No.” In the interim, I didn’t have a firm deadline that I had to respond to and also the film represented to me many different things. In a way, it was my own personal notebook, it was a continuing dialogue with Thavi that we had about life and death and philosophy and everything that was happening in the community and the gangs.

Avi Nesher (on the star of The Secrets)
The night before we met Fanny Ardant, I was at a dinner party and a man told me this really strange story about her. He said she was sitting at a diner party, she didn’t say a word for an hour and then, just before coffee was served, she spoke up and said, “You know, I have a knife in my handbag?” People were just flabbergasted and said, “Why a knife?” and she said, “I have this phobia that a huge tent will fall on me and I have to cut my way out.”

Elissa Down (on menstruation and movies)
Every guy and girl I know have great period stories, of springing a leak on a date or all this stuff, and I’m like “Why is this stuff not in movies?” In romantic comedies, where’s the girl freaking out because she’s bled over her skirt or it’s the big night and it’s her period and “Oh, do I tell him or do I pretend I’m not interested?” I find it insane that it’s not used screenplays more.

Nacho Vigalondo (on the science of Timecrimes)
When we were making the film there were some teachers at the physics college [where we shot] and they were like, “How does your time machine work?” I was like, “Well, it’s a tank filled with liquid…” He was like, “Liquid?! OK, forget about it. What is it about liquids? It looks like a porn movie more than a science fiction movie.”

Rod Lurie (on his teenage heroes)
I really wanted to become a film critic and I even began a correspondence with people like Pauline Kael, Judith Crist and Roger Ebert. They were so mensch-y they would write me back: I was 12 or 13 years old and having a relationship with these guys. There was nothing better than going up to my bedroom and on my bed would be waiting a letter from Ebert.