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Monday, August 25, 2014

From the Mouths of Filmmakers: Carlos Marques-Marcet

Carlos Marques-Marcet
Source: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Europe
By Carlos Marques-Marcet and Joshua Handler 

Recently I've been disturbed by the amount of people who don't seek out independent films, non-English-language films, and classics.  So, I asked some of the most distinctive voices in independent and world cinema to submit responses to a few questions about why/if they think indies/non-English-language films/classics are important to view, and how those films have been influential on their careers.

The responses below are from Carlos Marques-Marcet, writer/director of 10.000KM (in theaters later this year), winner of SXSW's Special Jury Award for Best Acting Duo. Carlos also edited Eliza Hittman's acclaimed film, IT FELT LIKE LOVE.

Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view independent and world cinema and why?
The selfish, but political answer to this question is that it’s important because we need to pay rent and make more movies. If people don’t go to see it, these movies just won’t get made, I know it sounds a dumb, obvious argument, but I feel it is the right one. Sadly, this is how it works in the capitalist society we live in. In the communist world, this logic was very different. I had a film teacher, an incredible Hungarian filmmaker, Gyula Gazdag, who made thirteen movies, and all of them were banned for political reasons even before they were shown in public. Could you imagine in today’s world somebody making two movies that go directly to the shelves and then try to get money for a third one? Imagine thirteen! It’s just impossible to think about it. In our society, if people don’t go to see movies, independent filmmaking will become a weekend hobby, or something that only rich people will be able to make in their free time. If you want to make movies, and expect people to go to see them, we should start being our audiences too.
Then, each one has their own reason to do things, and whatever is important for each person is very relative. I personally do it because I enjoy it. I like to be surprised and learn about other worlds that are not mine. And I like to see movies that give me something that I can take with me. I love TV, but when I watch a show, I just want to see the next chapter, and the next, and the next, it’s a total drug, and then I just want to inhabit these people’s life. I forget about my own life, I actually don’t give a shit about it. With movies, once the lights turn on, you are confronted with yourself. You have to cope with your own reality, your own desires, your own frustrations. Good films are like mirrors that allow you to discover things about yourself by looking at other people and other worlds.
Do you feel that it is important for aspiring filmmakers and filmgoers to view films of the past and why?
Every year you will probably be able to make a list of fifty really good films that were made. And that’s already being very optimistic. Why should you limit to those fifty good films if you actually can have access to over a 100 years of cinema history? It’s just nuts not to do it. That’s actually what I mostly do when I go to the theater in LA. I go to the Silent Movie Theater, the Egyptian, the New Beverly to watch old prints. It’s a good bet that you will see something that fulfils you, that shakes your head and your heart. Just think about the period 1955-1965. It’s insane the amount of masterpieces around the world that were made. In the '20s, an unbelievable amount of amazing movies accumulated, but I guess in the '55-'65 period it was this magical moment where a first generation of movie geniuses were at the height of their art, at the same time a new generation exploded all around the world to change cinema completely. I don’t say there are not good movies now, I don’t like nostalgia, but there are those magical periods of cinema that to me seems completely foolish not to explore.
How did viewing indies and films from around the world help you when creating 10.000KM?
I fantasize very often about being one of those classical Hollywood directors that says that they never watched movies, not even their own. Even Bresson said that, which I think is an absolute lie. So yes, I watch lots of movies, and they affect you in very different ways. I’m not the kind of director who likes to reference other directors with shots. I always try to figure out on my own, looking closely at the material I’m dealing with, although sometimes some friends have pointed out unconscious references that I was making. But in general, other movies help me to find the right questions more than give me answers. For example, the movie that influenced me the most for 10.000KM was I FIDANZADI by Ermanno Olmi, who is one of my favorite filmmakers. The movie tells the story of a couple that is separated by distance in Italy during the sixties, so obviously it is completely different. However, the feeling of the last scene in this movie, when they talk on the phone after the climax with the letters, is exactly what we wanted to convey with 10.000KM. I felt this last scene could be taken today and developed into a whole movie, to explore in depth what he just hinted at. Most of the influences are what I call “spirit references”. For example, like many other filmmakers I got obsessed with Ozu when I discovered his movies. I didn’t want to watch anything else, I just wanted to imitate everything he did, something that can be really ridiculous, because he has the gift of being universal by means of being very local and specific for its time. If I put the camera a foot from the floor, that doesn’t make sense. It made sense for Ozu because the Japanese sat on the floor and the architecture of the houses was what they were. But instead, I asked myself: how can I film an apartment in Barcelona and an apartment in LA, in a way that is culturally completely specific to each place and can create a contrast between them? Where do I place the camera to get that? Which lines do I draw with the framing to create that effect? How do I place objects in the frame? The answers that Ozu give are probably only valid for him, but the questions are for everybody. The same thing with Ophüls and the opening master shot of our movie. Or even with Alan King's documentary A MARRIED COUPLE, that I showed to my actors and was a very useful tool to ask ourselves questions about what it means to be a couple, not in an abstract way, but being very specific. I don’t normally show “direct” references to my collaborators of how I want a movie to look or to be. I would show a few movies (not too many), a few songs, a few photographs, and say, "Hey, that’s the spirit, these are the questions and then let’s make our own thing."
What's one Spanish film and one non-Spanish-language film that you would recommend that film-lovers or young/aspiring filmmakers see?
Only one! It’s so hard! I hate to recommend because I care so much about it. I really want the person I recommend something to to at least take something important out of the experience (that doesn’t mean necessary liking it). I don’t like to recommend “in abstract”. And I would recommend a different movie depending if it’s in the afternoon or in the evening, if it’s summer or winter, to watch alone or with people, etc. Anyway, with that said, I enjoy lists sometimes because it triggers in me the desire of watching some movies - that’s actually how you discover lots of them. One very important Spanish movie, that used to be the cult movie par excellence but now has become just a classic, is Ivan Zulueta’s RAPTURE (ARREBATO). His influence among Spanish filmmakers is huge, especially with what's now being called the new generation in Spain “el otro cine” (“the other cinema”). I don't think it’s been released in the US, but there’s been some screenings, it’s an amazing movie, I can’t say much but I just want people to go to see it if they can. One that's been released and is one of my favorites, a movie I never get tired watching is Saura’s CRIA CUERVOS. It’s so moving, so dense in its layers but with the grace of a magical simplicity. A Spanish non-Spanish-language movie (it only has one sentence in French in the whole movie) that also marked many young filmmakers in Spain is TRAIN OF SHADOWS (TREN DE SOMBRAS), by Jose Luis Guerin. His most known movie in the U.S. is IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA, but Guerin’s earlier movies were very influential, even if many of us had to somehow “kill the father”. I was also one of those Barcelona teenagers, “trendesombristas”, who tried at some moment to make some bad imitation of this movie. But I think that even if you tried to escape from it, TREN DE SOMBRAS follows you everywhere, specially if you see it when you are a teenager cinephile.

The only thing that I think could be useful for young filmmakers who want to make fiction feature films is to watch movies from first-time directors who were able to do incredibly personal movies, just using whatever they had around them but totally uncompromising their vision, being smart but not strategic. There is a danger in trying to be too strategic on what you want to be your first movie, because you can fall in what you “can” do, instead of what you absolutely “need” to do. Movies should choose you even more than you choose them. But you have to be smart because most of the time you don’t have many resources, you have to ask favors from all your friends, and most of the time you even have to self-finance. That wasn’t my case, but I really admire filmmaker friends who had been able to pull off incredible personal and uncompromising fiction feature movies almost by themselves, like Eliza Hittman’s IT FELT LIKE LOVE, Oliver Laxe’s YOU ARE ALL CAPTAINS or Desiree Akhavan APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR. These are three examples of movies made with the resources they have “at hand”, around them, but there is no single frame in those films that you don’t feel their complete urge to show what they need to show, you can feel their blood and guts in every single shot.
From the Mouths of Filmmakers continues on Wednesday.

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