The director of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004), Be Kind, Rewind (2007) and The Green Hornet (2011), an unconventional do-it-yourself enthusiast in the world of images world and an inveterate dabbler in directing projects (clips, ads etc.), is President of the Short Films and Cinéfondation Jury this year. A straight-talking interview.
What is your reaction to the role given you by the Festival de Cannes?
It's a great honour to be asked to do this, but I admit to feeling a little stressed as I am not someone who makes snap judgements or has strong opinions on things. Neither am I that comfortable with judging the work of others. I also happen to think we should be encouraging people to take part rather than compete. My project L’Usine de films amateurs (the Amateur Film Factory) was set up in that vein. It's maybe because I've always lost at board games and that begins to get a bit annoying after a while! So I've changed and gone against the grain, but in a positive spirit.
What are your memories of your past visits to the Festival, from Human Nature (2001) to The Thorn In The Heart (2009)?
My memories are terrible. I was pretty uncomfortable. I remember once refusing to put on the right shoes and suit. That got me thrown out of my own party! I had to go back to the hotel but I'd forgotten my keys. So I wandered the streets like a loser. So Cannes is not my favourite bit of France, compared to Paris, Brittany or the Cévennes!
Do Short Films have the status they deserve in cinema today in your opinion?
They are not shown often enough as far as I am concerned. They should be more consistently shown before films in cinemas. It's a format I use more than I used to as it means I can focus on simpler subjects. I prefer to invest in that sort of project than to buy expensive cars or luxury apartments! It can be interesting to express yourself within a limited timeframe but there are also dangers. As in an advert, the message has to come across very quickly and the result can sometimes give too oversimplified an idea of life and reality. The short films most popular with the public are those with a very strong punch-line.
What advice would you give to a young director?
I'm always fairly at a loss when asked for advice, but in general, I like to say two things. The first is to see your projects through. People often give up because of failure, but you can learn a lot from a film that fails, whether it's too short or too long. And the second is to get a project off the ground! I believe strongly in that order of things. It's vital to get started, to be out there, exposed. We are lucky enough to be in a great profession, but the downside is that we are constantly being judged. I also think that to cast your own actors can be one of the best learning experiences for a young director, especially when you're quite shy like I am, not someone with a holiday camp cheerleader mentality!
Does a first film have to be successful?
It can be dangerous to start your career with a very successful first film because it can become a ball and chain for ages. You're under constant pressure to recreate the same thing. That was my case to an extent with Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, which is generally speaking my most popular feature film. People criticise me for not having continued making the same sort of film.
What is your take on technological developments in terms of the cinema?
Sometimes I'm thought of as being nostalgic for the past. But I have nothing against modern technology. But just because a format has been created doesn't mean that everything made in previous formats should be forgotten. There are heaps of films in videocassette format that haven't come out in DVD yet.
What in your opinion is the key turning point in the history of cinema?
The advent of talkies was a slight setback for cinema at the beginning, as it began to resemble theatre. On the other hand, many say that 3D represents the future of cinema. It's something I find interesting. I used it of course in The Green Hornet. 3D works very well on stills. But I don't know if it will last. It's a concept that disappears after ten metres or so or as soon as you move the camera.
Your work accords an important role dreams and the imagination. Is cinema too serious for your liking?
On the contrary, I watch a lot of realist films which I find impressive and exciting because I find in them an ability to capture and reinterpret reality in such a way that the audience forgets these are actors playing roles. I feel totally crushed and outstripped by directors who can do this. For my part, I'm happier working with my imagination and creating worlds which are not necessarily so realistic.
Reported by B.P.