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Interview: John Boorman • Director

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“Film is a universal language”


- Cineuropa met up with English director John Boorman in Paris during the “Filmmakers Invite... a European Friend” event

Interview: John Boorman  • Director

Cineuropa headed to Paris to meet renowned English director John Boorman during the “Filmmakers Invite... a European Friend” event organised by the ARP, the SACD and the SAA, ahead of the French release of Queen and Country [+see also:
film review
interview: John Boorman
film profile
(which was revealed at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight – read the review) on 7 January 2015, courtesy of Le Pacte. The evening also saw the French Minister for Culture, Fleur Pellerin, award the distinction of “Commander of the Order of Arts and Literature” to Boorman, in recognition of his vast career (Point Blank, Leo the Last, Deliverance, Excalibur, The Emerald ForestHope and Glory, Beyond Rangoon, The General…).

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Cineuropa: You have made films in all sorts of genres. How is it different to get stuck into a more autobiographical style, as you did with Queen and Country?
John Boorman: For a director, all of his or her films are autobiographical to a certain degree. I had had the idea for Queen and Country for a long time, but I had always put it to one side. The movie deals with a period of transition, just after the war, when the older generations and the old soldiers were still clinging onto the idea of the British Empire, whereas we, the younger ones, we knew full well that everything had changed. The sheer speed at which the great British Empire came crashing down is astounding. In a few years, shortly after the war, it was all over: India, Canada, Australia, the African colonies... Lots of us accepted this development and took it on board without any problem. The young people witnessed these very rapid changes at first hand, and I tried to deal with that in my film through a kind of microcosm.

Speaking of transformations, what is your opinion about the changes that are taking place across the global film industry?
The major change is a technical one: namely, digital technology. Digital shooting and editing have made making films easier and a lot more accessible. But it hasn’t helped movies to reach audiences. Exhibition and distribution have not kept up with the pace set by technology. Here’s a little story for you: when I decided to start shooting in digital, I did a few tests, and I wanted to see what they would look like on the big screen. I booked a slot very early one morning in a movie theatre, and I headed over there with my cameraman. There was no one there, just a woman who was hoovering the place. I explained the situation to her, and she told me: “Oh, I’ll do that for you!” She plugged it in, and the picture started rolling. Projectionists have disappeared, and their art along with them. Stanley Kubrick used to say that the only person who had the “final cut” was the projectionist because he was capable of ruining your film. That’s all over now, but digital projection is really rather good, in spite of a couple of downsides to it.

Bringing your Queen and Country project to fruition was not easy. What do you think of the current funding situation?
It’s always been difficult, but it’s even harder now. A long time ago, I wrote a book about the process of creating a film, called Money into Light. Usually, at the end of the creative process, you’re left penniless. And very few films then make any money. Nevertheless, in the old days, it was easier to fund quality arthouse films with average budgets. Today, you’ve almost got the blockbusters on one hand and the low-budget movies on the other. It’s easier to shoot at little cost thanks to digital technology, but then there’s the distribution problem. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs. 

What do you think of the new distribution formats for films in comparison to movie theatres?
One day when I was talking to Peter Jackson about the way I imagined things on the big screen at the point when I was making my films, he told me that when he shoots, he always bears in mind the fact that some people – and perhaps even a lot of them – will be watching the movie on a mobile phone. All that unbelievable effort squashed down onto such a tiny screen! (Boorman laughs). I think that there still isn’t anything that can replace the act of seeing a film in a decent movie theatre, surrounded by other viewers. Sometimes it starts off a bit noisily, drowned out by the sound of people scoffing their popcorn, but if it’s a good film, silence gradually takes hold, and you get that prevailing feeling, a feeling like nothing else, of an audience that is tuned in completely and becomes totally immersed in the film. 

Does European film have a really recognisable “DNA”?
I have worked with Japanese, American, British and French crews, and there was very little difference between them. Film is a universal language. Nevertheless, the initiatives in support of European films, like Eurimages for instance, are very attractive. And each European country has its own support fund. As for the Americans, they don’t have any of that, and yet it all still works. Why? It’s undoubtedly because they make films that audiences really want to see and because they’re ambitious. Because it’s really complicated to put together a big film by joining the forces of several European countries. It’s not a new issue. But we should undoubtedly reassess this from a totally new angle.

You stated that Queen and Country would probably be your last film.
I’m 81 years old, and so it’s very difficult, physically speaking, to get going again on a new project. But perhaps I will direct one more film in the not-too-distant future.

(Translated from French)


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