Friday, 28 June 2013

The East (2013)

Image: 20th Century Fox

Last on our screens alongside Richard Gere in the drama Arbitrage, Brit Marling is back on familiar ground with her latest film The East, reteaming with frequent collaborator Zal Batmanglij to co-write and also star in this much-hyped thriller The East as the principal character Sarah Moss.

Working as an operative for private intelligence firm Hiller Brood, Sarah is brought on board to infiltrate an anarchist group that has been terrorising the neighbourhoods of powerful CEOs. Armed with little more than a mobile phone and a bottle of hair dye, Sarah must work to bring this collective out of the dark whilst maintaining enough strength to resist its obvious charms.

The problem with The East is evident very early on: it’s got plenty of drama, some romance, and occasional tension, but it’s not a thriller. It’s also clear from the beginning of Sarah’s mission that we’re not going to be in for a very complex ride as she opts for a simple hair-lift to get the job started, and all the other signs on her journey characteristically point to The East. Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page and Toby Kebbell are all part of the insubordinate yet likable crew, however, Marling and director Batmanglij can’t quite get a handle on what they want this film to be.

Genre disputes aside, though, it’s a well-directed, enjoyable movie - if a tad too long – with solid performances from the actors, so a Friday night watching The East certainly wouldn’t be a wasted one.

3/5

FG

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena


Overview

A series borne out of the necessity to allow Spartacus actor Andy Whitfield the time to recover from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (which he sadly never did, necessitating a re-casting), this second run is a half-length prequel season (apparently expanded from a single episode planned for the second season) which permits the showrunners to fill out some of the back stories of the characters. Sensibly bookended with a reminder of the bloodbath at the conclusion of Blood and Sand, Gods of the Arena takes us back in time, finding a younger Quintus Batiatus (John Hannah) trying to escape from the shadow of his father and take his first steps on the road to his dream of political office. It's a familiar set-up, yet one with a few crucial differences. While Batiatus’s relationship with his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) is the same, he is great friends with future nemesis Solonius. Likeable beefcake and future champion gladiator Crixus (Manu Bennett) is but a good-for-nothing slave, while the current champion is rockstar gladiator Gannicus (Dustin Clare). The Arena we are familiar with is still under construction, so the fighting takes place in a far more intimate venue which makes for some rather more intense bouts.

Weaknesses

The show is still far too formulaic, with episodes building up to fights which are never particularly surprising. The background gladiators remain underdeveloped, with some throwaway rivalries and romances that do little to enamour them to us. Some of the storylines too just feel like rehashes of what we have seen before, with the new generation of new fish gladiators and a doomed love story both feeling especially has-been. With this being a prequel, we have a good idea of who is going to live or die, and the only interest comes from guessing how soon people are going to pop their clogs.

Strengths

With John Hannah and Lucy Lawless having been the shining lights of Blood and Sand, it’s lovely to have them back again as the stars. Hannah does a great job here at playing a convincingly callow Batiatus, sparring nicely with his father Titus (a well-cast Jeffrey Thomas). Without the presence of Ilythia for Lucretia to plot with, Lawless is instead paired with naughty widow Gaia, played with verve by Jaime Murray. While the character initially appears to be simply an Ilythia stand-in, she actually has a rather interesting place in the story, and Murray can play sneaky-slutty in her sleep (I fondly remember her as Lila in the second season of Dexter). The role of Batiatus’s adversary in this season falls to Stephen Lovatt (Neighbours’s Max Hoyland!) as Tullius, who has great fun torturing the rest of the cast. It’s nice to watch how relationships came about, with the character of Ashur in particular getting welcome depth. It’s also good to meet Gannicus, given the role he plays in the later story, and Clare does well with the underwritten part. The direction, writing and special effects are all improved as well, with familiar capable hands like writing team Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancheron (Dollhouse) and director John Fawcett (Ginger Snaps) onboard. The fact that it is less than half the length of the first season also works in its favour.

The Verdict

A stronger warrior than its predecessor, Gods of the Arena is not without its faults but the headlining of John Hannah and Lucy Lawless and the reduced running time are very welcome. While the first season only just made it out the arena alive, this one gets a far more certain thumbs up.

3/5

MP

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

An Interview with Sir Trevor McDonald

Image/Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse

Sheffield Doc/Fest may be over for another year, but over the next couple of week we’ll be bringing you some interview highlights from our festive days up north. First up, a little interview with celebrated broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald, whom we caught up with after his session, 'The Art of Access – From Palaces to Prisons'.

You’ve had an incredible career, is there anything you’d still like to gain access to?

I’m getting to the point where… no. Well, there may well be. I’m not doing any more prison films. I’ve just done one in a woman’s prison and that’s the end.

Why, was it a harrowing experience?

I found that I couldn’t get some of these guys out of my head, and I don’t like that. They didn’t give me nightmares, or I didn’t lose sleep, or I didn’t become an alcoholic or anything… I just couldn’t wash them out of my head. One of the things that journalists do very well is… you know, in my job, I would travel from India to South Africa, and then, you know, go to Northern Ireland, and when somebody asks me ‘what were you doing last week?’, I’ve almost forgotten I was in India. We kind of move on and we wash things out of our heads very quickly. I couldn’t wash these guys out of my mind. And I’ve just done a woman’s prison thing and I couldn’t get over a kind of depression about seeing all these women.

Could you explain your sentiments towards them, considering why some of them are there? Do you empathise with them?

You know, I’m a wishy-washy liberal; I empathise with most of them. And having empathised with most of them I would say to somebody, one of the wardens, ‘you know that guy John, he was a really, really nice guy. What did he do?’ and the warden would reply, ‘he was a contract killer’. I thought, oh my god, I choose the wrong kind of company.

Is there, conversely, anything that you’ve been really, really proud of?

Well, I’ve been doing this for some time. There are three or four things that I’m really proud of…

Receiving your knighthood?

No, I mean, work really. I was terribly, terribly proud of the stuff I did in South Africa, and I was immensely proud, and I still have a lot of pictures, of my work with Mandela. To get to know him… I got to know him very well and I’m very proud of that.

And with everything that’s happening at the moment… How do you feel about it?

Well, he’s 95 and, unfortunately, we all die.

Yeah, unfortunately, we do. Well, on a final note, if we could ask one last question… Earlier we attended the session 'The Art of the Interview'. Having interviewed so many people, could you pass on a tip?

It’s the core art in general, even when you go to ask somebody in the street, ‘what happened here?’. The core of everything we do is asking questions and getting information. You know, from that, or interviewing Saddam Hussein or Mandela or, whatever…

It does help to have a likeable voice, though!

I think you’ve also got to ask the right questions. You have to learn to find a way to get the right questions asked.

FG & MP

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013: Final Day

Artwork (The Big Melt) by Tom J. Newell, artist in residence at this year's festival

This final day was a rather strange end to the festival! I only saw two films, and one of these wasn’t actually a documentary.

The doc of the day was Emptying the Skies, Douglas Kass’s film based on Jonathan Franzen’s essay for The New Yorker on the issue of migratory bird poaching in Europe, which follows the work of CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter) as they take on poachers. Franzen himself was present for the Q&A, along with Douglas Kass, his brother and producer Roger Kass and two of the activists from CABS. The film was, at times, a moving portrayal of people willing to put themselves in danger to protect what they love, and the activists came across very well indeed, but it was a very one-sided view of the situation and, not knowing anything about Franzen, I found his interventions far too abstract to be of use to the film. No doubt his name gave clout to the project, but his detachment from the cause detracted from the overall cohesiveness. In the Q&A he was similarly aloof, offering only the occasional (though admittedly funny) bon mot. Much more interesting were the activists, whose love and enthusiasm were very apparent. Head activist Andrea Rutigliano located himself as a new breed of trapper, getting a thrill from seeing the species of bird found in the traps, but also from releasing them. This was a film with great drive which could have used more focus on the serious political and environmental issues and less airy philosophising.

The rest of the day involved talking, eating and drinking, three integral aspects of the festival. Sheffield Doc/Fest is a social event as much as a film one, where friendships and professional partnerships are forged by the minute. The 20th anniversary trailer which preceded the films highlighted the importance of pitching and bitching, schmoozing and boozing, love and hate and films and fights, and all manner of other stuff which makes this festival so special.  

The final film was the newly restored version of Werner Herzog’s 1972 masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which follows an ill-fated attempt to find El Dorado by the insane titular soldier, incarnated with febrile energy by Herzog regular Klaus Kinski. This was preceded in the programme by Herzog’s documentary My Best Fiend, which explores the complicated relationship between the two men. This continued a trend of this year's festival in pairing an old doc about a film/filmmakers with one of the films, following Hearts of Darkness/Apocalypse Now and Fear of God/The Exorcist. It made for a somewhat bizarre conclusion to the festival, which traditionally ends with something of a crowd-pleaser (last year’s Bones Brigade, for instance). Aguirre has a unique power drawn from its melange of insanity - non-sequiturs, impossible visions and Kinski's impressively barmy lead - and the calculating narrative economy (it only lasts 90 minutes - would that Hollywood could learn from this). It is also, quite simply, one of the most beautiful films ever made. My head remained in the jungle.

Looking back, what can be said about Doc/Fest Twenty? It has been another successful year, certainly, but rather different in tone to 2012. Whereas last year saw a number of ‘big’ docs, such as Oscar-nominated Five Broken Cameras and BAFTA and Oscar-winning smash hit Searching for Sugar Man, this time we perhaps had less of these sure-fire successes, but possibly more overall quality, with no films that we saw standing out as outright failures.

One aspect which I, as a Sheffielder myself, wholeheartedly support is the way in which Sheffield itself has been made a focus. From festival director Heather Croall’s dedication of opening night event The Big Melt to the steelworkers to the issue of Sheffield’s importance as a counter-voice to the Conservative government  in the 1980s, this year made it clear just how important the city is to the alchemy of the festival's success. Sheffield Doc/Fest is as much about Sheffield as it is about documentaries and festivities. It could not happen like this anywhere else.

We can’t wait for next year.


MP

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013: Day Four

Walter Murch in conversation

Day 4 started with ‘From The Godfather to the God Particle’, a talk from renowned editor Walter Murch. Engaging with concepts of fungibility and issues of control for filmmakers, the talk was enlightening and accessible. It was obvious just why Murch has been so successful for so long, with his fascination for technology especially apparent. His use of a clip from The Unbearable Lightness of Being was particularly informative, showing the effort it took to integrate scenes featuring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche into real archive footage of the Prague Spring.


Jean-Yves Ollivier

Our next engagement was a talk with Jean-Yves Ollivier, the subject of the film Plot for Peace. Ollivier’s work on the political backstage helped bring about the end of Apartheid, but he has been shamefully overlooked by the public eye, until now. An unassuming man, despite his involvement in some of the biggest political affairs of our time, Jean-Yves reflected on his life and on what it means for him to now be a character in a documentary. Also raised in this interview was the importance of Sheffield itself, a recurrent theme of the festival: ‘Sheffield was the first city to declare itself a “Nelson Mandela city”…at the time Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher, was calling Mandela a terrorist, but Sheffield went against this. How could I not be affected by Sheffield?’.

Next up was the film that brought Walter Murch to Doc/Fest this year, Mark Levinson’s Particle Fever. A beautifully constructed film, it did lose us here and there as its focus on the search for the Higgs Boson (aka the God Particle, though don’t call it that in front of the scientists) headed deeper into jargon-heavy territory, but the strong characters and tremendous editing kept our attention firmly focussed. The film’s greatest success is bringing a very human dimension to the sci-fi environs of the CERN project – there is scope for so much more to be said.


David Kaplan and Mark Levinson

Lunch was once again at Fancie, after which we spoke to the director and one of the producers of Particle Fever. Both exuded a passion for their film, which was clearly a labour of love for all involved. They explained the process of creating the film, and especially the problems one faces in dealing with five years’ worth of material. We raised our idea for a CERN sitcom, but apparently having cameras stalk you around your workplace while you look for the key to the structure of the Universe can be a tad distracting – a pity!

Fohn had to return to the south, so Martin faced the final film of the day alone: a secret screening of Nick Broomfield’s latest film, Sex My British Job. An occasionally harrowing account of Taiwanese journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai’s undercover investigation in a Chinese-run London brothel, the film is notable for the minimal presence of Broomfield himself. His famously dry drawl provides a commentary throughout, but his physical presence is reduced to a series of cameos until the final, typical confrontation. Broomfield was in Kenya, and so joined the Q&A via a slightly dodgy Skype connection. The questions were particularly animated, with many blaming Nick for apparently endangering his subjects. He pointed out that his job is to make a film, without ‘playing God’. An avowed Broomfield fan, I found the film to be an intriguing look at a dark corner of society where paperless immigrants are forced to do horrible things to survive.



Another day, then, that highlighted the magnificent scope of documentaries and sessions at Sheffield Doc/Fest this year. The fact that some of the films proved contentious just goes to prove the importance of showcasing these stories, exposing secrets and opening up debate in the viewing public. 

MP

Monday, 17 June 2013

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013: Day Three

To kick off day three we decided to take a break from the docs to partake in some of Sheffield’s unique culinary delights. Brunch (with pudding) came courtesy of Fancie, one of Sheffield’s trendiest restaurants, and we followed this up with some chocolate concrete from Cooplands.

A shot from inside the tent of Coral: Rekindling Venus

Our next adventure was a foray into immersive cinema, right in the middle of the Winter Gardens. Lynette Wallworth’s wordless exploration of coral reefs, Coral: Rekindling Venus was projected across the ceiling of a small tent, with the audience invited to lie back and lose themselves in the images. The images seemed to dissolve at times into abstract shapes, colours bursting through one another like the star gate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey – perhaps an apt comparison, given the film’s extraordinary evocation of an almost entirely alien environment. We felt that some of the images could have been sharper, but this was perhaps more to do with our distance from the screen. In a larger, planetarium-like space this would be incredible. As it was, the womb-like tent still contributed to an odd yet compelling viewing experience. This was compounded by the comedy of watching people get stuck on the Velcro flaps that sealed the door!


No need to call the midwives; these guys have got it covered!

Our next film was Gabriella Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish, one of our most eagerly awaited docs.
Exploring the events surrounding the killing of a SeaWorld trainer by a killer whale, the film showed the harrowing story behind whale shows. Some superb editing and the strength of the interviewee’s testimonies made for an affecting watch. The director was present for a very engaging Q&A session afterwards, and outlined her nuanced and informed views on the problems and advantages of keeping animals in captivity. Martin asked about her use of footage from the film Orca: Killer Whale, and it transpired that she, like him, had been particularly shocked by a graphic sequence from that film, one which illustrates the callous approach that whalers have to this intelligent and emotional species. The film is coming to cinemas in July and we highly recommend it.


Gabriella Cowperthwaite

Martin’s last film of the day was Simon Klose’s TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard. As one honest man during the Q&A said to the director, this was a far more interesting film that we had anticipated! The subjects were an interesting bunch, often kings of their domain completely out of water in real life (or ‘away from keyboard’ as they prefer to call it). Though the film fell on the side of the pirates, it did nonetheless provide a warts-and-all picture of them, not shying away from the moments where they are overtaken by paranoia, loneliness or extremism. An interesting aspect of the film is its distribution strategy – the film was released first onto YouTube, yet was also pre-sold to a number of television channels on the understanding that this sort of release would not harm their audience figures, given that the online audience would most likely not have watched the film on TV anyway. This sort of model is an exciting indication of the future of documentary distribution, and indeed film distribution generally.


TPB: AFK director Simon Klose

While Martin was hanging with the pirates 'away from keyboard', Fohnjang was learning all about comedy legend Richard Pryor in a fitting venue reminiscent of a dingy comedy club. At this point a quick shout out must be given to the organisers of this year's Doc/Fest for never failing to give festival goers a fully immersive experience. Anyway, back to the Library Theatre... Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic was a fascinating look at the man so many comics of today call their hero. Raised by his grandmother in a brothel, Pryor rose to become the most foul-mouthed, nigga-loving then nigga-hating (the word), comedian of the 70s. Featuring clips of his electric stand-up shows, and a glittering back story, Omit the Logic is a comprehensive, fresh, occasionally sad and, of course, funny look at the highs and lows of a megastar. Whether you're a fan or a doe-eyed comedy novice, there's something in this documentary for all.

And on that note, Fohnjang and Martin, or Ebony and Ivory (for one post only), ended the night in the usual evening spot, the East End Bar, enjoying all things black, white, and Mexican. Hello free burrito!

MP & FG 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013: Day Two


Having reached The Summit in a cavern on day one, Fohnhouse were back on more familiar turf on day two with a plethora of screenings and sessions in the city centre.

Martin’s first film was Fuck for Forest. A well-crafted and pleasantly non-judgemental look at the weird titular NGO, whose members sell pornographic videos online to raise money to fund ecological projects, the film especially impressed through director Michal Marczak’s masterful eye for composition. Although the subjects are an odd bunch, their free-loving, utopian dreams are strangely infectious. The film does not shy away from the more explicit aspects of their work, and for this refreshing openness alone the film is a must-watch.

Next, we caught the new film from Avijit Mukul Kishore, To Let the World In Chapter 1, which was making its UK debut at the festival. Fohnhouse last spoke to Kishore in 2011 when he came to the festival with his short film Vertical City, a fascinating look at life in the slums of Bombay. This time Kishore swapped his roving observational camera for a series of talking head interviews with prominent Indian artists. What could have been a boring prospect is enlivened by the insight of the interviewees and some playful cross-cutting with examples of their work, and it is nice to see this relatively obscure field explored in more detail. The film ends abruptly, however, and it would be nice to see Chapter 2 in the not too distant future.

While Martin got reacquainted with the work of Kishore, Fohnjang sat in on a couple sessions showcasing the work of the BBC. In The Art of the Interview, filmmakers Richard Macer, Bart Layton, Vanessa Engle and Olly Lambert engaged in an amicable roulette-style showdown, which saw them take it in turns to interview one another. It wasn’t quite what we expected and we felt that the objective wasn’t quite achieved, but it was, nonetheless, a great opportunity to listen to a group of respected filmmakers talk about their work.

Sue Perkins

Following The Art of the Interview, we decided to attend a session featuring the more winning exchange between broadcaster Sue Perkins and BBC executive Janice Hadlow. Speaking about her transition from radio to TV, we were privy to insightful tales from Hadlow’s time at BBC, working on productions such as The Late Show and A History of Britain, and her stint at Channel 4 as Head of History, Art and Religion.

Paul Hamann, Sir Trevor McDonald and Michael Waldman

Both cats met up in the afternoon to attend the session on The Art of Access. A nice and simple discussion of the topic, the session was important as it highlighted an oft-overlooked yet integral aspect of the documentary process. Chaired by Sir Trevor McDonald, his witty comments kept the audience amused.

After last night’s unique foray in the Peak District, in the evening Fohnjang decide to indulge, once again, in the world of extreme sports and settled down to watch Lucy Winter’s latest oeuvre The Crash Reel, a documentary chronicling the recovery of the gifted and passionate pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who was critically injured in 2009 when a new trick on a training pipe went horribly wrong. Thrilling, shocking, informative, distressing, and a bit of a tearjerker, The Crash Reel is a brilliantly crafted and captivating piece of work from the Oscar-nominated director that sympathetically deals with the struggle to let go of shattered dreams, and raises questions about the awareness of the ramifications of competitive snow sport as many pros are affected by life-threatening injuries each year.

Michael Palin

While Fohn opted for the jaw-dropping perils of winter sports, Martin went to Sheffield’s Crucible theatre to listen to Michael Palin in conversation with Miranda Sawyer. Palin back in Sheffield is always a treat, and today was certainly no exception. The audience listened with rapt attention as Palin discussed his documentary work, beginning with his Around the World in 80 Days series and continuing right up until last year’s Brazil with Michael Palin. There was also time to touch upon his work with Monty Python. Palin was frank about what worked and what didn’t from his career, and engaged with some challenging questions both from Sawyer, who was a well-informed and likeable questions master, and the particularly tuned-in audience. When asked about Sheffield having recently been named as the happiest city in the UK, Palin noted that Sheffielders are ‘stroppy, but in a good way’.

Kate Townsend and Havana Marking

The final film of the day was Smash and Grab, Havana Marking’s film about the Pink Panther gang of international jewel thieves. The film was a comprehensive exploration of the subject, something which perhaps meant it lasted a tad too long. However, the juxtaposition of the rather sexy antics of the group (their high profile heists compared by the police chasing them to something out of Hollywood) with their background, coming out of war torn former Yugoslavia, is fascinating, and adds a real depth to the story. Disaronno sponsored the screening, and we all enjoyed a few cocktails afterwards, before heading off for a midnight burrito.

That’s it from day two. Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

FG & MP

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013: Day One


Having experienced the sex, docs and rock ‘n’ roll that was last year’s festival, the newly re-christened Fohnhouse Cats are back again this year for some more doc-ing fun as the festival celebrates its twentieth year. Last year we found Sugar Man, learnt the value of coffee from Punksters Pertti Kurikan’s Name Day Party and chatted Up with Michael Apted. Let’s see what Blue John we can dig out this time around.

In true Fohnhouse fashion, we skipped the morning’s festivities in favour of pork sarnies, leaving us fully prepared for the official opening events in the evening. First, following last year’s live musical treat, Penny Woolcott’s From the Sea to the Land Beyond, this year saw Sheffield icon Jarvis Cocker leading a raucous musical accompaniment of Martin Wallace’s edited film The Big Melt, which gathers together footage from the history of the steel industry in Britain. Revelling both in the abstracts of molten steel and the hard lines of the final product’s industrial applications, as well as some animated interludes, the film was a fascinating exploration of the subject, and timely, given that stainless steel celebrates its centenary this year. The marriage of music and images was not always perfect, however, with Jarvis’s energetic conducting and the mad, contrasting music sometimes drawing attention away from the screen. The main things gleaned from this performance were the importance of both steel and music to Sheffield – while the city stands on its steel foundations, its soul is now carried in its eclectic music scene, represented today by, amongst many, Cocker, Richard Hawley, the City of Sheffield Brass Band and the City of Sheffield Youth Orchestra. To paraphrase Mr Cocker himself, ‘Sheffield is so rock!’.


The official opening night film was Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer, but we were attracted to the rather different concurrent screening of Nick Ryan’s The Summit, screened in Peak Cavern in Castleton, one of the gems of the Peak District. Programmer Hussain Currimbhoy explained the reasoning behind this – for twenty years, thousands of guests have descended upon Sheffield, only to be trapped in cinemas and hotel rooms, missing out on the stunning scenery surrounding the city. This was rectified in incredible style, and none of us lucky enough to attend will forget it in a hurry. The film itself was a well-structured commentary on the extremities, both rapturous and terrifying, of mountain climbing, exploring similar themes to Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void. Though there are questions to be raised about the bias of the testimonies within the film, the context of viewing and the power of the images added up to a fittingly memorable conclusion to this opening night.


We were enamoured with both documentaries, but the night belonged to Jarvis, with his physical performance and genuine love for his city earning thunderous applause. The festival is now fully opened, and these cats are looking forward to a week of thrills, chills, spills… and pork sandwiches (with apple sauce and crackling).

FG & MP 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

An Interview with Jean Marc Calvet

To celebrate the French release of Dominic Allan's 2011 documentary Calvet, we present for the first time our complete interview with the subject of the film, French artist Jean Marc Calvet. Entretien egalement disponible en français ici.


Image: Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse

Could you explain to me something of your journey towards being an artist ?

Briefly?

Yes, just a précis!

Well, I had nothing to do with the art world. I was a good for nothing, travelling through different countries... Then, one day, I decided to die. I locked myself into a house and I started to drink lots and take lots of drugs. Eventually I was down to seven stone and was close to death.

Then I found, in the house - a little house I had bought in Costa Rica - some pots of paint which had hardly been used, locked away. I started painting the walls with my finger, and for eight or nine months – I locked myself away for nine months without seeing anybody, without talking to anybody – I painted the entire house. I burnt the furniture and used to wood to write on the walls…

There was a sort of frenzy. As if I had convinced myself that I could vomit out what I had inside. At the start it was really that, vomiting. Now it’s different, but at the start that's how it was.

At the start painting helped you to run from your problems?

No, it was really just fighting with the walls. Everything that was on the walls was a language that I understood, and it was something that had been within me and had been expelled. In a couple of minutes it returned, so I resumed painting.

It wasn’t easy…

It’s the only method I have to allow myself to live normally.

So it was bit by bit that you escaped your problems?

Ah no, I haven’t escaped. It allowed me to combat my problems…and to no longer need to escape myself. Because I escaped myself with alcohol and drugs, and that was done with. For me it’s a way of having an emotional stability and to be able to live normally like you. My life was depression, euphoria, depression, euphoria. Painting, art, creating, that just allows me to live normally.

You always have faces in your work, sometimes hidden or half hidden – what does this symbolise? Is there a reason behind it?

No…I don’t know! I give my brain free rein. I just draw the first lines and then the rest arrives bit by bit. Normally a painting takes two or three weeks. Here [in Sheffield] it has taken a day, a day and a half, which makes a change, but otherwise it’s the same. It’s a sort of frenzy, of collective hysteria. It’s what I see on television, people walking, people running, Iraq…

You put all that in? A mixture of life, basically?

Exactly. Without seeking to give a story or a sense. It would be like trying to explain life, and I don’t know much about life. I’m more of a witness. I don’t give solutions. I don’t say ‘I’m painting a picture about war, I’m painting a picture about love’. No. In each painting there is war, love, sex…everything.

And anything?

Everything and anything! It’s like in life, what we have around us: we have anything and everything!

Why did you leave France in the first place?

I left for different reasons. I had always moved around. I changed countries to try and change faces. I thought that by changing countries I could leave my problems behind, but that isn’t how it works. We always carry our problems with us, and multiply them.

Thank you very much!


There will be an exhibition of Calvet's works, entitled 'Redemption', at the Mark Hachem Gallery in Paris from the 6th to the 21st June 2013

Interview and Translation by MP


Entretien avec Jean Marc Calvet

Pour fêter la sortie du film Calvet en France, on vous propose l'intégrale de notre entretien avec le sujet du film, artiste Jean Marc Calvet, fait à Sheffield Doc/Fest en 2011. This interview is also available in English here.

Image: Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse

Est-ce que vous pouvez m’expliquer un peu votre chemin vers ce monde d’artiste?

Vraiment en court?

Un précis!

Disons que moi je n’avais absolument rien à voir avec le milieu de l’art. J’étais plutôt bon avec un flingue qu'avec un pinceau, j’allais dans tout les pays et cetera. Et puis un jour j’ai décidé de mourir. Je me suis enfermé dans une maison et j’ai commencé à consommer beaucoup d’alcool et de drogues. Jusqu’à arriver à un point ou je faisais 47 kilos et j’allais mourir.

Et je trouve dans la maison que j’avais acheté, c’était une petite maison en Costa Rica, je trouve des pots de peinture, qui avait servi à peine parce que c’était une vielle maison. J’ai commencé à peindre avec mon doigt les murs et au bout de 8 ou 9 mois – je me suis enfermé pendant 9 mois, sans voir personne, sans parler à personne – je peins toute la maison. J’ai brulé les meubles, avec le bois des meubles j’ai commencé à écrire sur les murs et cetera…

Il y a eu cette espèce de frénésie. Comme je me persuadais que je pouvais vomir ce qu’il y avait dedans. Au début c’était vraiment vomir. Maintenant c’est différent, mais quand ça a commencé c’était vraiment de vomir.



Au début c’était pour vous aider à s’enfuir des problèmes?

Non, c’était vraiment « je me battais avec les murs », c’est à dire  tout ce qu’il y avait sur les murs, c’était un langage que je comprenais, et c’était surtout quelque chose qui était là et qui était sorti de moi. En une minute ou deux ça revenais, alors je recommençais à peindre.

C’était pas facile…

C’est la seule manière que j’ai de pouvoir vivre normalement.

C’était au fur et à mesure que vous avez échappé ces problèmes?

Ah non… je n’ai pas échappé. Ca m’a permis des les combattre mes problèmes…et de plus m’échapper, parce que je m’échappais avec l’alcool et les drogues. Et ça, c’était fini. Pour moi c’est un moyen d’avoir une stabilité émotionnelle et de pouvoir vivre normalement comme toi. Moi c’était dépression, euphorie, dépression, euphorie. La peinture, l’art, la création, ça m’a permis juste de pouvoir vivre.

Vous avez toujours les visages, des fois cachés ou moitié caché, dans vos peintures – qu’est-ce que ca veut dire ? Il y a une raison?

Non…je ne sais pas! Je laisse libre mon cerveau. Je dessine juste les premières lignes, et après le reste ça vient au fur et à mesure. Normalement un peinture c’est deux, trois semaines. Là [à Sheffield] j’ai mis un jour, un jour et demi, c’est différent mais sinon c’est pareil, c’est une espèce de frénésie, d’hystérie collective. C’est ce que je vois à la télévision, les gens qui marchent, qui courent, l’Irak…

Et tout ca tu mets dedans ? Une mélange de la vie, quoi?                                                  

Voila. Sans essayer de donner une histoire, ni un sens. Parce que c’est comme si voulais résumer la vie, et la vie je n’en connais pas grand-chose. Je suis plutôt un témoin. Je ne donne pas solution. Je dis pas ‘je fais un peinture sur la guerre, je fais un peinture sur l’amour’. Non. Dans chaque peinture il y a la guerre, l’amour, le sexe…Il y a tout.

Et n’importe quoi?

Tout et n’importe quoi! C’est comme dans la vie, ce qu’on a autour de nous on a de tout et de n’importe quoi.

Et pourquoi vous avez quitté la France?

J’ai quitté pour des différents raisons, c'est-à-dire que j’ai toujours bougé. Je changeais de pays pour changer de visage. Je pensais qu’en changeant de pays on laissait ses problèmes derrière, mais c’est pas vrai. On amène nos problèmes avec nous, et on les multiplie.

Merci bien!


Il y a un exposition de Jean Marc Calvet, 'Redemption', à la Galerie Mark Hachem à Paris du 6 juin au 21 juin 2013