In the Name of the Father

When I watched Pablo’s Winter on the big screen at DOK Leipzig for the first time, I felt that it was exactly at that moment that a new project should start for me. The director-film cord had finally cut, and the immortalised seventy-year-old Pablo could now explore the world without my direction. We will still have to look after the creature, taking it to places where the film could meet other films and other audiences, where it could grow. But what about the father-director now?


Beyond good and responsible fathers, who can be a bit flat for writing purposes, annoying fathers can take many shapes. There are those who are so busy with work that don’t even have the time to phone their sons for their birthdays. On the other end of the scale, you find those fathers who are such control freaks that always need to have their sons by their sides, at their feet, like a dog by the fireplace… I'd rather be a good father, but I have to say that I recognize myself as both types of bad father when it comes to my own film-creatures. I have been terribly ungrateful to some films that I have made, leaving them behind, burying them in a messy desk until dust consumes them, without showing them to anyone. They had defects, or were not very pretty. I almost denied paternity and went instead onto trying to make prettier ones. I treated another films like dogs by the fireplace, admiring my good work in a dressing gown and sleepers, but without really giving them a life of their own. Now I want to be a father again! Hopefully, I might learn from my previous mistakes. 

Sorry to continue bothering you with this pseudo-metaphor of fatherhood applied to filmmaking, but the fact is that I'm torn between the Chinese and the African approach to progeny. Should I make film after film, the more the merrier, hoping that one of them will make it to the world of richness and take me along with it? Or should I have strict control over my paternity and only make two or three films in my whole career, carefully considering each idea, waiting for a strong signal before embracing paternity? In a romantic way I feel closer to the latter, but the problem might be what to do in-between films. Since it seems that I might have to live in a continuous state of pregnancy, the question is how my next film creature will look?

In my opinion, genetic engineering or designer babies seem to be quite a dangerous thing to do. I wouldn't mind it in some situations, like in order to have an Israeli prime minister with a very strong pro-Palestinian gene expression. Beyond utopian dreams, baby engineering works for me when thinking about a new film. What kind of creature do I want to see made? How will it feel when watching it? How does it speak to the world? How does it look? Will it be stylish, cool and trendy? Or rather simple like bread and butter?

Like most filmmakers, I also think of other parents and of the way their film creatures look. I look at Rossellini, whose creatures merge with the scenery like chameleons. I look at Kiarostami, whose sons manage to steal your heart by just repeating two simple actions endlessly. At Ozu, whose kids are as charming as helping a granny cross the street. I also look in awe at Tarkovsky's descendants, who are like saints wandering lost paradises. At Renoir's children inventing games, at Martel's making beautiful sounds without instruments… They are all lovely kids. They all have the mark of their parents. But they can't be my children.

In the massive catalogue of potential film babies that I could have, I still can choose things like: Do I want my creature to grow among real people or among invented characters? Do I want it to be a city boy or a country girl? Is it quiet and contemplative, or does it like to explain things? The world of possibilities (also known in creative business as the scary blank page) is immense and confusing, so it helps to start eliminating some options[1]. For instance I could say: no invented characters, no city, and no explaining anything. Having decided that, I am closer to embrace a documentary, set in the countryside with little exposition. The wheel of options can be spun further: will I be a fly on the wall or will I interact with reality, participating in the creation of situations? Am I interested in applying genre conventions or maybe in playing against them?

The essential thing is not necessarily the answer to those questions, but to keep asking new ones. Every question should be studied carefully and it could mean a large period of research. It is easy to say that I want to make a documentary film in the countryside that complies, and sometimes play against, the Western film genre. But why would I do that? What is the concept behind it? To talk about contemporary America through the use of its most famous and classic genre? Or to compare past and present ideologies through film form? Maybe. Then it becomes research and more research. And before you realise, you have been working for one year on something that is not even a film story…

This approach feels a bit like preparing a nice picture frame (the form) before you even know what painting to put into it (the content). For many, it is better and more logical to find the painting first (the story of the film), and then buy the frame that suits it best. Maybe it doesn't matter that much what way you do it. Actually, the important thing when starting a new project is cleaning out a little trail through the jungle of possibilities; a path that allows you to walk inside and look around.

But remember, when it comes to fatherhood, the first thing that you should be asking yourself is why you want to bring a new film creature to a world overcrowded with films anyway? If you still can find a bunch of good reasons for it, I reckon that you should start spinning the wheel…

[1] If you haven’t watched yet, Lars Von Trier’s and Jorgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions is an essential film about the creative power of restrictions. 

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