01.10.2013 john bang carlsen
JON BANG CARLSEN » b. 1950, Danish director, producer, writer

Tudor Mureșanu You are represented as a documentarist, but also, sometimes, as an inventor of reality. As a documentarist, what exactly do you document?
Jon Bang Carlsen Well, I document, very precisely, all the world, that which comes in front of my eyes, goes through my eyes, into my brain or into this inner thing, in my skull, where I'm all by myself and come to find myself. As a filmmaker I take the way the outer objects, the outer world reflects on my inner self and what happens in there and kind of blow it back up into the world. That's what I project and that's why I say that I don't deal with what people call, as a concept – truth; if it's not truth, it's some kind of honesty. I, much obvious, am trying to be as honest as possible about how I see the world and what the world does to me. One can only hope that we have some genuine feelings about life and that's what sometimes happens beautifully when we fall in love, when we suddenly recognize something in the unknown, which I for example do when I find my locations.
For example, in South Africa, I suddenly came to a place, with some people and landscape, and even though I was never there before I felt at home, because it's at the very same time part of my own mental land, my mental landscape.
Intellectuals and powerful people have one mutual interest: they want to categorize the world. They want to put everything in boxes because that makes everything easier for them, makes it much easier when they go to universities because they get one department for that and other department for that, and the power people can say: it is that box, that is that box. But this whole thing is to accept that everything in life is floating material, going in and out of control.

Maria Balabaș There are conductors in music that say that music is happening only in a concert. In theatre, for example, the piece, the theatre as a concept is happening only while the actors are on stage and the public is in the hall. When is a movie happening?
JBC I have a certain duplicity concerning that aspect because I don't think about the audience when I make films. Actually I think the best films I have made have been totally oblivious of the audience. But then, suddenly, sometimes, I have these golden moments when I see that they touch somebody else - that somebody actually, somebody I don't know, whose life or language I know nothing about, I can see that my world comes true to them. Of course that's a glorious moment, it's like meeting a new person, like meeting a friend, or fall in love. I think that's fantastic. When does art happen? I don't think you can have that kind of answer in just one... of course it happens when whatever you do gets an audience, when somebody is actually touched by your work – that's art. But for me is also art when I made it, actually.

TM You make feature-films but you're also a writer. How do you decide which story will be transformed into a documentary, a feature film or a novel, or just in your memory? You have different stories, but how do you choose, which one goes where?
JBC Of course, if I could... but I'm just a little guy, so I have to fight for money all the time; a lot is determined by those guys who you sometimes respect and you sometimes disrespect, but whatever you do, you depend on them when you do films. You know, I'm dependent on them, but I actually shoot all the time, I'm my own company also, I have my own equipment, I always shoot, it's a little like a soccer player, you always play soccer.
My next project, if I get the money, is a feature film. Actually I didn't write it, I've done only one feature before that I didn't write, but this story is a story written by a rather young woman, a very very good novel, in which nothing happens at all. It's a story about three young women living in a very provincial little town where there are problems getting started, life and stuff like that. A very banal story, but it really triggers me because I love the dialogue, it has a fantastic dialogue. And the story could be my story because, if you look at my best films, consider, for example, Before the Guests Arrive (1986) (played during One World Romania festival, 2013), the little one you saw, I actually found the best moments when nothing happens, that's where, on my mind, I start to really live, to become alive.
I think it is most interesting to see how people come alive, you know, we are here for a certain amount of time and we have to try, somehow to try to find a rope, and even a rope with some meaning to it. We can maybe hide - in having children, doing what we're supposed to do as animals for some time -, but we have to find a meaning above that. And I think that it's almost dramatic, that we just happen to be born somewhere, in some time, with some parents and some background work, as rich people or poor people, and we have to come out of our mother into what state we are dropped unto. And this kind of silent story inspires me. Of course those stories trick women to get too emotional but when the world gets too roaring and too full of action I die as a storyteller, it's not my…
When we came out of film school everybody wanted to do all those feature films, suspense movies, but I always couldn't care less about who kills who, I didn't give a fucking damn, I think it's extremely boring. My wife is totally obsessed about them- that's probably the biggest problem in America, especially television - she loves suspense stuff, I simply cannot, it's never been part of my world.


TM So in one way you're documenting feelings, your own feelings. You can say that , or one can say that you're documenting yourself in your movies and express your personal point of view on the world. How do you see your movies right now, after 40 years, a movie being a document of your feelings, from those times up until now?
JBC Funny enough, I tried to write my biography, turning it into a novel, which is released in October; but the main thing I want to do is film. I have to see all the films I make. I have to see them and give them a name, for commercial reasons. But as a matter of fact, I can see all my films as one long film, which is, of course, my POVs (N.T.: points of view) and the world. And take all the characters from all my films, from the docs and the feats and put them into the same painting. And when I finish that film, I will know the answer to your question.


TM You see your films in a subjective manner, but how do you see your audience? Because having these Master classes all over the world, you can see the reaction of different people, of different places, looking at the same movies, everybody is looking at the same movies. How do these different people react to your films?
JBC That's really supporting the idea of the United Nations. For example, in Denmark, we have actually a very nice high school for film makers, eight months courses, which is supported heavily by E.U., and where people come from all over the world, and sometimes I teach there and show them my films, it's an interesting place to show your films because you have people with different backgrounds. If I know there's a place where I've been dishonest, I've been sloppy or I've been banal, there are all the guys, no matter from where they are, they feel it, right. Of course, my films are not political, I don't go make a film about how dumb Israeli people are compared to the Palestinians. I don't go into political issues, because if I was going to do that movie, I will try to tell those POVs. So I very seldom got the reaction that a lot of documentary film makers have, of course, that people are pro or against whatever they do.

TM Speaking of your style, you told us at the Master class, about stage reality. Can you tell us more about it? I mean, the rule of the documentary is that you don't intervene in reality, you don't write lines, you don't intervene there. But you don't care about these rules.
JBC No, I don't care about these rules. One of my profound beliefs is that there is not such a thing as reality, right? Of course you can put up a camera, put it up there and look down, but you don't necessarily get to know anything about it, you just see the area. In the same terms reality also wears a mask, you just see the art side of something, it's just what they call observational cinema, which is not my kind of a movie. I think that if you try to make art, and art understood in the way that you try to portray feeling, emotions, you have to manipulate, and also, you have to make yourself vulnerable, you as a filmmaker you have to make yourself vulnerable.

TM Vulnerable in what way?
JBC Vulnerable in the way that... I go into their world, I start to manipulate their world, and if I fail, I'm an asshole, right? I'm a dirty guy, I'm a rapist, somehow. I have to talk  a little about how I grew up. How I grew up, probably like you, with this very paternalistic style, where all the men, the grown-up men were wise guys, that talked, and talked, and talked, and talked, and you never got behind their fucking talking, and talk, and talk... And my first billing was to get rid of those talkative stupid guys. Because they didn't use words to say anything, they used words to hide behind their words. To hide their own doubt, to hide their own manipulation, to hide everything behind that kind of very talkative, very formalistic exterior they had. I have a working rule for myself, I'm very precise about every inch/each and every minute of my filmmaking, that for two reasons. Of course, the first reason is that I will try to be as honest as possible about my own impressions, because I think that only honesty communicates – the more honest you are, the greater you communicate. The other thing is to be very precise, like I am, for example, in Before the Guests Arrive, also in the Irish film, It's Now or Never (1996). Or in Addicted to Solitude, which speaks about solitude, where actually I am in front of the camera, where I participate in the lives of those people in front of me, in front of the camera, and thereby I make myself fragile. For me, stage reality is the only way, it's my way and it's the favourite way to approach the world I'm in – whether the world I'm in, whether that world consists of 80% reality and 20% dream or 30% reality and 70% dream. I don't know, but the only thing that I know is that I'm in that world, right?


MB About the modifiction of the feeling of time, how did the feeling of time change for you in all this period of filmmaking?
JBC  I was driving around in Utah and suddenly it dawned to me that when you drive in a car, you drive there and you have those totally boring highways, you're going to watch them and you have them in your rear-view mirror, and you see the world there. And it dawned to me, it's very obvious, but when you look out there, what you see out there, is that the future changes the past. The past is also being transformed all the time, your individual past, the way you reap your past, of course that's going to be a heavy element in that movie. Because I have this huge material, and because we present all those years. I think that's an enormously interesting scene about getting old.  Your sense of timing becomes much more liberal, you know things, that something when you were ten years old could be actually more, more in present that something that happened yesterday.

TM  You're a minimalistic documentary filmmaker and you don't watch movies but your favourite movie is a super production, an opulent fiction, Gone with the Wind in this case.
JBC  Yes, but you know, I don't see any strangeness about that, because, as I told you, I have my own way of work; and I still admire master classics that I - Dickens is the first writer that I ever read, I love Dickens. My problem in making feature films is - and seeing a lot of other feature films -, is that I actually don't believe in the characters. I see actors up there, I don't see people. And I always think, now there he goes, now he has a coloured coffee, oh, he has to do it one more time and stuff like that. When I see stage theatre also, if I should write for the theatre, I would make a piece of theatre where you would see what is being placed on stage and what happens when the characters go in the back, waiting for their next entrance to the main stage – that would be my natural instinct. I like to project the world and suddenly see it falling apart, when the illusion stops and becomes something else - I think that's enormously important.

TM So, thank you very much, it was very interesting.

Interview by Maria Balabaș and Tudor Mureșanu
photo Maria Balabaș
english version Andrea Nastac
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