At first glance, it might not seem that an Oregon-based indie stalwart specializing in small-scale character dramas and a Greek satirist known for high concepts and black comedy would have much in common. But as fate (and the intertwining pathways of the global festival circuit) would have it, filmmakers Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy & Lucy, Certain Women) and Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster, Killing of a Sacred Deer) are, in fact, great pals—a fact recently reiterated in a special Film Independent Coffee Talks conversation.
The trans-continental video chat between Athens and Portland was pre-recorded (normally, Coffee Talks are streamed live—with an interactive Q&A—to Film Independent Members on Thursday afternoons), giving the two friends and peers the space to candidly discuss their thoughts on not just moviemaking, but the state of the world.
“It’s strange how so many of the films we saw at Cannes last year were zombie films,” said Reichardt, beginning—as all conversations in 2020 do—with some rueful COVID-19 chitchat, adding: “It’s was like foreshadowing.” Watch the entire conversation below:
The filmmakers expressed their continuing exasperation at the present state of the world (the conversation took place in the days immediately following the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests.) “Truthfully, I haven’t been watching many films lately,” said Reichardt.
Lanthimos said he feels that 2020 is “a time of great contradictions.” Reichardt said that despite everything, it felt good to have been out on the streets (the night before) marching in solidarity with protesters—at a safe and responsible social distance. “You’ve been out marching, and I went a restaurant,” joked Yorgos, from his temporary headquarters in reopened Greece.
Lanthimos asked how the abrupt lockdown impacted the release of Reichardt’s critically acclaimed First Cow—one of the final films released in theaters in 2020. “We played in theaters for about one minute,” bemoaned the 2020 Bonnie Award winner—Reichardt hopes to re-release the film once theaters are open again. In the meantime, Kelly noted the many things she would have done differently had she known most people would be watching the film at home.
“I wouldn’t have shot in 4:3, and I wouldn’t have spent nine days doing color timing for a theatrical release and eight hours for streaming,” she said. “You have to go around adjusting everyone’s TV,” offered Lanthimos.
Reichardt asked Lanthimos if he’s been able to get any quality work done during quarantine. Lanthimos confessed that, largely, he has not—too distracted by the news and a steady and nefarious accumulation of household chores. She then asked Yorgos if he was worried about the pandemic rendering any of his in-development projects irrelevant. Yorgos said that, on the contrary, one of his many currently percolating projects is, in fact, about a pandemic.
“Our intention is not to make something super-realistic,” Lanthimos said of the idea. Nevertheless, he said that his knowledge of the way pandemics work has been greatly informed by the current crisis, reflected in his script revisions.
“Yorgos mentioned that he’s “always fighting for less people on set,” and asked Kelly if she intentionally keeps the scope of her stories and productions smaller.
“It all has to do with the money we have,” said Reichardt, saying that in particular keeping production modest helps in union negotiations. But also, adding more crew would, according to her, “change the entire vibe we have,” saying that she appreciates the sense of intimacy such productions produce onscreen.
Returning to the idea of multi-platform distribution. “Isn’t that always a problem, though?” asked Lanthimos. “Only a percentage of people will ever see your film on the big screen,” observing that filmmakers “can’t really do justice to all these platforms” in terms of platform-targeted remastering. But regardless of how a film is presented, Lanthimos believes that as long a film is compelling in its storytelling and artistic vision, audiences will watch it.
“It’s painful for us [filmmakers] because we know how different the experience would have been, but the essence of the film remains,” he said. Lanthimos wondered if such perfectionism impedes Reichardt’s ability to enjoy her own work after it’s in the can. “Can you ever get enough distance to watch [your films]?” Yorgos asked.
“I can’t! I can’t watch it!” She said, saying she gets obsessed over small details, like sound design. For example, “I was obsessed that people were going to be bothered by the rhythm of the crickets,” in First Cow, she said.
Luckily for fans of Reichardt and Lanthimos’s work, such minor obsessions are no issue at all. Here’s hoping we see more from the duo soon!
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