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Interview: Terence Davies • Director

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"If you don’t forgive, you will never release the past"


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2015: Cineuropa interviewed seasoned English filmmaker Terence Davies, who is competing for the Golden Shell with his new film, Sunset Song

Interview: Terence Davies  • Director

A passionate and critical Terence Davies, responsible for great British titles such as Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Long Day Closes and, most recently, The Deep Blue Sea [+see also:
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interview: Terence Davies
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, told us a lot about Sunset Song [+see also:
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interview: Terence Davies
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, an adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel about a farming family struggling to eke out a living in north-east Scotland. The film was very well received at the 40th Toronto Film Festival, and is now competing for the Golden Shell at the 63rd San Sebastián Film Festival. We chatted with him.

Cineuropa: Previously, there have been other adaptations of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel (by the BBC, for theatre and so on). How do you approach a project like this?
Terence Davies:
It is considered a great Scottish novel, and everybody knows it there. I wanted to capture the spirit, as it is not just a story, it’s a subject, and I wanted to do a good job of showing the essence. I can only make things that I can see in my mind - if I can’t see it, it’s a waste of time. I’ve read it maybe 40 times, but adapting something is difficult and I made a lot of notes. This novel is about hope and forgiveness, and these things are important: if you don’t forgive, you will never release the past. It’s difficult to forgive someone that really hurt you, and my film is about that.

This film is a modern portrait of a feminist who tries not to give up – and so its strength is that it is timeless, it could be made in any era…
I agree. I wanted to be truthful, and sometimes it is enough to watch the drama that is unfolding. When she is approaching the stairs, she’s pregnant, she is in terrible pain, and it's terrifying when people are in pain. My father died of cancer, and it was horrible because you can’t do anything. These things can happen at any time. I just like the idea of showing something, and you decide whether it’s modern, feminist, timeless or whatever. Lots of people don’t like what I do because they think it’s too slow, but that’s how I see things. I wish more people liked my work, but you have to be true to your heart.

You show a heroine without her falling into victimisation. What was the process of creating such strong characters like, even though they are already in the book?
It was partly logical and straightforward due to the book, but I also grew up around strong women - my sisters and my mother especially, who was not a hard woman but was strong and very loving. When I was growing up, I was also taken to the pictures a lot, and in those days, all the big Hollywood movies were about women. However, it is not just about what you read or write, but what you live through. For example, she knows that she is pregnant, but she is not going to tell her husband. She has that monologue on her own. You don’t see it at all: the scene in the bed is not in the book, but I decided it could add more intensity to the proceedings. You just have to be true to the spirit of the book and to the characters, whether they are men or women. Like in Jane Eyre, the first great novel - there’s never been a good Jane…

What advice or tips did you give Agyness Deyn and Kevin Guthrie to help them with their performances?
I just said, "Please don’t act – just be!" I like to capture the spontaneity of the moment because it is very fresh. British acting is so terrible, but this is nothing new. I switch off the television and I say, "Please stop acting."

Sunset Song is the first book in the A Scots Quair trilogy. Do you think there will be a second and third part?
I don’t think so. It would cost a lot of money, and no one would give it to me. It's very silly! I am not part of the mainstream, and when you are not, you just can’t do it. For example, I couldn’t cast people just because they are famous.


international title: Sunset Song
original title: Sunset Song
country: United Kingdom, Luxembourg
sales agent: Fortissimo Films
year: 2015
directed by: Terence Davies
screenplay: Terence Davies
cast: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie

main awards/selection

Toronto International Film Festival 2015Special Presentations
San Sebastián International Film Festival 2015In Competition
Stockholm International Film Festival 2015
Luxembourg City Film Festival 2016
Luxembourg City Film Festival 2016

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