As a working American filmmaker, do you feel it’s your social responsibility to use your medium to comment on and expose what you’re seeing happening in this country? Is this your version of political activism?
[Laughs] Maybe. I think that there needs to be a politics of form. It’s the responsibility of filmmakers to not be ignorant of this gesture and what it does to the population. There’s a responsibility of cinema to ask itself some very hard questions before it ends up wrapping into total irrelevancy. What is narrative? What value does it have? How is it destructive? How is it being used for destruction? Is it functional anymore? I think that a lot of consumer cinema doesn’t ask those questions because it’s afraid to expose its vulnerabilities or its potential irrelevance.
How did your experience with Entertainment affect your approach to The Mountain?
Entertainment was the first film that played with cinematic influences that I had. It played with things that kind of grossed me out in cinema, with the defaults of metaphors and symbolism to create false profundities.
With The Comedy, I was focusing on a subset of class privilege in nuclear centers like New York City that I find reprehensible. I wanted to engage with it, investigate how to understand it, and make myself uncomfortable. Suddenly the medium felt a little more vital to me. It wasn’t just a propagandistic grandstanding, where essentially I would be showing off my likes and dislikes. I try to play a cat-and-mouse game with my own comfort and hopefully the audience finds some vitality in that.
Your last two films have felt very surreal, stylistically. They’re more lush yet still quite detached. What’s compelling you to stray from the slice-of-life realism you were using with your first few films?
I had always wanted to have a career working with non-actors, but as I’ve gradually become more interested in the problems that make me uncomfortable I find myself engaging with them head-on, instead of just ignoring them for my comfort zone. The unreality of cinema has also become increasingly interesting to me.
There are some obsessive-compulsive approaches I took in The Mountain, which viewers might not see off-hand, that sort of heighten that falseness. Nobody leaves or enters the frame unless they go through a door. I’ve padded and loaded the film with limitations and, if I have any value now, my responsibility lies in nurturing the limitations of cinema and making them apparent.
For a long time we’ve been living in a fantasy land of unlimited potential and an abundance of opportunity, but the fact of the matter is we’ve been ignoring the beauty of the finite quality of the world. I think the same thing goes for cinema.
You’ve mentioned before that you don’t usually stick to a script but you did this time, though obviously the film utilizes a lot of long pauses and still imagery. Do you map out this sense of pacing in the script, or is there an element of you finding the film in the editing suite? How important is the sense of discovery in post for you?
Editing the movie is incremental in its own way. But for me, the film really becomes alive during production and I find the pacing there. As far as mapping out those things in the script goes, it’s an obligation that I find tedious sometimes. My scripts used to be very short but they’re longer now because they’re a little bit more traditional on the page.