The epithet “popular” does apply much to the concept of art-house, but it is quite appropriate with the name of the maitre of art-house cinema Jos Stelling. He made a name for himself among professionals and movie fans right after the premiere of his debut in 1974. Every film he made from then on had caused controversial arguments, acceptance and rejection – from De Illusionist to Duska, but never left anyone indifferent.
Once a new film is made, the master begins to demonstrate it at various festivals. This time the film The Girl and Death opened the VOICES Festival in Vologda, then special screenings were held at the “Golden Apricot” in Yerevan and culminated at Odesa International Film Festival. Here the film was presented by the director and a star of European cinema Sylvia Hoeks.
Very inquisitive and well-educated person in life, in professional activity Jos Stelling is not attracted to anything that is outside auteur cinema. We spoke with Stelling about his work and about what is happening to cinema art these days.
Mr. Stelling, when we speak about modern cinema, it is nothing other than skilful use of tools, operating, primarily, on the human mind. Frames flickering, editing, special effects, widely used in modern cinema, are as if zombie the viewer. You, instead, as if purposefully, slow down the time on the screen. Don’t you have a fear of being misunderstood by today’s audience?
“For me this is like a statement, ten years ago people also were asking me about what’s been happening to cinema. Even Federico Fellini once said that he had fears for the future of the cinema because we are moving more and more into the sphere of the Internet use. Flat TV screens and computer monitors become more and more important. At that time I didn’t agree with Fellini, but now I feel that we are moving in exactly this direction. Today, television and TV series did their job and the audience now is in very difficult position. They seem not to look deep into things, don’t dwell on them, but rather ‘scan’ small amounts of information. This is extremely dangerous for cinema, but not for those, who make it, but for the audience because it is changing rapidly. The audience is not ready for a serious, in-depth dialogue. On the other hand, as for my film – this is like self-assertion, I want to work in this direction. In my films I want to show a simple story in a slow motion.”
Your two last films were made in co-production (one with Ukraine, another one – with Russia). How productive is such cooperation for you and can you give a comparative description of working in one and the other country?
“I worked with people in Moscow and I worked with people in Kyiv. I had problems in both places. For example, in both cases I was told that some part of money for the film was gone. I don’t understand what I should do with that. And I spoke about the fact that money disappeared at a press conference in Kyiv. Perhaps, it is corruption. But even journalists were not really interested in investigating this fact. When I start telling this story everyone is smiling and laughing, I am too naive in this respect. Everything else is fantastic, people are great, but as soon as money enters the picture things change. It is a problem.”
Do you think that it is a problem of these regions or have you ever come across such things back at home and in Europe in general?
“Holland, France… There are agreements, rules for cooperation. Cooperation between countries is like marriage: this means that there can be fights and arguments, but also positive moments. In cooperation with other countries and other companies the issue of money does not usually trouble me, everything is stated in an agreement, companies and funds take over the responsibility to pay, let’s say, actors, who just come to work with me. Financial issues are not my sphere of competence. These aspects are usually done by other people for me.”
It is still very interesting to picture the image of your audience both in Europe and in post-Soviet countries. Do you have any general portrait of your average audience, since it is a task of every film director to convey his ideas to his audience?
“In general, any film can’t exist isolated from its audience, it exists only with the audience. It’s a kind of collaboration and when a film and its audience get together something very spiritual appears in the air and fills the entire space. In Eastern Europe the audience is very ‘greedy’: they even sit on the edge of a chair to watch the film, but, at the same time, they are very poetic, focus on visual images, that is, they visualize everything because it is very important for them.”
Taking into account the things you mentioned answering the first question, I would like to ask you how you see the future of cinema, since it no longer performs the educational function the way it did before. What functions will it have then?
“It is very difficult to say. We now have a very difficult and dangerous situation. Television dictates everything. This is the problem of our society. We are sitting on a train, this train is racing faster and faster, but we do not know the direction. People outside the train do not know what to do. They go to psychologists, rush to Buddhism, are looking for other ways… They are seeking an answer to what life means. I’m waiting for a response…
“There are two cinema theaters in my town. People don’t go to cinema to watch a new movie and open a new world for themselves anymore. They go there to see each other… Internet… Male energy goes from one point to another, and female energy spreads around, feeling what is happening around us. When a car is passing by, a man looks at the car, while a woman at the people in it. That’s the difference. This makes women ideal audience. There are men with female energy, there is no clear division into men and women. Is it a men’s job to make films, and watching them is women’s job?”
How dangerous is the expansion of American films that exists all over the world to national cinematographies and cinematography of Europe?
“American and European films are very different, even though many people working in Hollywood came from Europe. Of course, it is dangerous for national cinematography in Europe, very dangerous, not because America has good cinematography, but because they have much more money for making films. This creates a certain monster. It devours itself. But so far most of the ideas for films in Hollywood were individual stories, stories powerfully imbued with national idea. This gives many opportunities.”
Do you have, let’s say, in your “briefcase” some idea that you are working on right now and that will be presented to the public in the near future?
“One of the projects is called ‘The Last Smoker.’ I had a discussion… Discussion of the project on a Moscow website. From Moscow with love. A funny film about Russian people in Moscow. I am trying to show the mystique of a soul.”
Do you have some, shall we say, talismans among Russian actors such as Sergei Makovetskii, Renata Litvinova. Do you plan to continue working with them?
“I love working with the same people. I work with operators who are my friends. We work, helping each other, developing each other. And it’s great when you know a person for a long time. Makovetskii is a good friend of mine. He is a good actor and has a very powerful personality. I have an idea to make a film with him about the ‘Black Monk.’ When I make a film, I focus on a story and not the actors, and only then pick the right ones.”
The world is becoming increasingly politicized. To what extent, in your opinion, does it affect the film-making and the topics raised in films?
“Now many things are dictated by money, and the tendency only increases. Money is the rule. Auteur films disappear. Revenues from my movie theaters give me certain freedom in the process of creating my own films. After all, in this business director serves the producer. The more expensive a film is, the greater the influence of the producer. And that’s right. On the other hand, it is much easier now to make your own films – technology has become more affordable. The less money is spent on a project, the more freedom you have. Perhaps, this is one of the kinds of films of the future. But the problem is that more and more people want to see their own dreams in a film instead of director’s vision or things he dwells upon. There must be some basic rules that should be followed, when a film is made. It is very important.”