The atmosphere in the press conference room was filled with a certain kind of energy: the huge, tall guards controlling every cardholder, reporters rushing to grab the translation headphones as well as a seat, photographers fighting for their ideal spot, the regular announcement to the print press that photos were not allowed, but, oh!, fingers were wagging at those who were secretly taking them anyway! The conference begins, the cast makes its entrance, a silent pause and then crazy blitz camera sounds fill the room. The moderator explains the conference ground rules and opens the questioning forum. Many times we heard, “Could you repeat the question, please?” due to the variety of languages spoken, but the simultaneous translations gave us a strange connection of unity. In spite of much repetition, the show went on and following are some comments we enjoyed:
Lou Taylor Pucci, actor Thumbsucker, on whether sucking your thumb indicates some kind of special need: “I don’t think it’s a special need; anyone who smokes a cigarette is doing the same thing as sucking your thumb. It’s no different!”
Tilda Swinton, actress Thumbsucker, on what she thought about the low budget films in America and Berlin (she was a breath of fresh air after a barrage of American bashing): “Well, low budget is the great strength of the film culture but we can’t live forever on nothing…the reason why I’ve been working in America with independent films is because there is a spirit in the IFM (Independent Film Market) which I find extremely attractive and it reminds me of a kind of IFM that I had once been part of in the U.K., which has since changed: people are under more pressure now to produce for profit. There is a spirit in the American IFM which I cleave to, because these people go out and raise the money from their aunts, uncles, parents, even the bus driver next door, in order to make a film for a small amount of money. They also have that beginner’s mind about work…I do think that American filmmaking is something that the European filmmaking structure can look at and learn from….to look at what America is doing and take heart.”
The questions which make us groan with embarrassment often came from the reporter from People Magazine. This time she asked director Wes Anderson which actor in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou sported his own tattoo. Sometimes these tacky questions are brushed aside, but Anderson answered with a straight face that Noah Taylor’s tattoo was real and Bill Murray’s fake. He went on to describe other real tattoos of cast members Cate Blanchett and Owen Wilson.
Director of The Sun, Russian Aleksandr Sokurov, credits the Japanese Emperor Hirohito with saving thousands of Russian, Japanese, American, Chinese, and English lives when he commanded his countrymen to cease fighting in the summer of 1945. Sokurov believes that without this decision we would have still been fighting into the 1960s. He said that the Japanese are a homogeneous people, not divided like Europeans, for example. Japanese are not even typically Asian and, in fact, the Japanese way has been little researched, not even by the Japanese themselves. Sokurov said, “If we turn off our hearts, we will never understand each other. The 9/11 attack showed that we have false values; the emperor gave us an example for turning the tide. Life is mysterious and worth more than any politics.” This sense of mutual understanding was carried over onto the set where signs were printed in Japanese, Russian and English for the international cast. One team member said, “The atmosphere was so connected, that I understood even without translation. Our thoughts ran together and I could feel the meaning.”
Gu Changwei (Kong Que, Peacock) was a successful cameraman before directing his first film. This must have been difficult for his cinematographer Yang Shu. Oh no, said Gu, who only once changed the proposed picture “because it was too beautiful for a single shot.” The film about a Chinese family in the 1970s shows the maturing of the three children. Changwei explains, “Families are a reflection of society. People try to hold on to old traditions in the face of new influences. The problems are universal; money was scarce in China, still people were warm and understanding. Although there seemed to be little communication among the family members, the recurring scene of them sitting down to eat together represented a form of communication. “Have you eaten yet?”, is a typical Chinese greeting. Life is like a meat dumpling: you can’t tell from the outside that it is hot on the inside.”
Liam Neeson expertly portrayed the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. He willingly discussed his own life growing up in northern Ireland in the 1950s, but said, “Don’t even go there, next question please,” when one reporter asked, “Did the film reveal to you your own sexuality?” According to director Bill Condon, “Americans are returning to the cold war atmosphere of the 1950s and sex research is going underground. Paradoxically, the U.S. has the most licentious culture since ancient Rome (including a booming pornography industry), while still remaining extremely puritanical. Religious groups have attempted to affect public TV in New York, e.g., the station refused to accept advertising for Kinsey. During Kinsey’s era, syphilis, discussed discretely behind closed doors, was an epidemic to be eradicated. Not much has changed, since we are giving $800 million for abstinence education to combat AIDS, when reality shows that sex education and condoms are most necessary.
Moderators were poor to excellent, some allowing a variety of questions, while others monopolized the conversation. American filmmaking was often criticized, but American directors and stars drew large crowds, especially compared to the sparse audiences covering film teams little known outside their respective countries. In every case the commentary of the originators was a helpful and interesting guide to their films.