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LECCE 2018

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Michael Winterbottom • Director

"Sacha Baron Cohen won't be playing British Trump"

by 

- A guest at Lecce European Film Festival, where he received a Golden Olive Tree career achievement award, the British director Michael Winterbottom talked to us about his new projects

Michael Winterbottom • Director
Michael Winterbottom with his Golden Olive Tree career achievement award (© Festival del cinema europeo di Lecce)

Some juicy rumours have been going around: that Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame is due to play the billionaire Philip Green, a controversial retail store mogul, nicknamed the British Trump, in a film directed by Michael Winterbottom. Intended as a satire on the world of the super rich, the film (Greed) is still due to go ahead, but, as unveiled by the English director at the 19th Lecce European Film Festival, where he was awarded a Golden Olive Tree career achievement award, a different actor will be starring in the main role. 

Cineuropa: Can you tell us who you have in mind instead of Sacha Baron Cohen?
Michael Winterbottom:
It's not about replacing Sacha, let's be clear on that. We developed the film with him, and now we'll have to do it with someone else. I'm still looking for the right actor, but it will definitely not be someone like Sacha, it will be someone else. The film is a satire about a billionaire who made his fortune in the clothing industry and accumulates a great fortune, but then experiences a major crisis. In order to mask any potential inferred misfortunes, he organises a sumptuous feast in the Mediterranean, inviting all his friends and dressing as an emperor – some gladiators also make an appearance. A tragic end awaits him, but one that is nevertheless somewhat fortunate for the rest of us. Beyond a few references and inspirations, it's entirely a work of fiction. I hope that the audience, upon seeing this film, will reflect on how enormous the disparity between the rich and the poor is today. We all know that the items of clothing we buy in department stores, owned by a billionaire with numerous yachts, are packaged in countries like Sri Lanka using underpaid labour. But it's still a funny film, I don’t really believe in thesis cinema. I thank that messages need to be coded and disguised in order to be effective.

What is The Wedding Guest about? The other project you have in the pipeline.
The Wedding Guest is an on-the-road film set in India starring Dev Patel. The protagonist is an English citizen who sets out, together with a woman, on a journey starting in Pakistan through India, from Punjab to Goa. The film is about their relationship.

You've made films in various countries all over the world, how would you tell the story of modern-day Syria?
What’s happening in Syria is terrible. Over the past year and a half, I have met many people who have spent time there, journalists, NGOs and diplomats. Every single one of them has told me incredible things. I promised myself that I would not make any more films about journalism, because it is a completely unrecognisable trade compared to twenty years ago when I made Welcome to Sarajevo. Back then, journalists were supported and covered by their publishers, these days they are 20-year-old freelance backpackers who go to dangerous places at their own risk so that they can blog about them. In terms of a film about Syria, it would be interesting to create a reflection on how we perceive the place and what we really understand about what is happening in that country, what we are told and what is being kept quiet, to form an opinion.

Returning to Europe, the European filmmaking community is worried that British cinema might leave the European productive wave due to Brexit. How do you feel personally about this potential detachment?
I view Brexit with absolute terror and consider it to be a wholly negative thing. Personally, what convinced me as a young man to be a filmmaker was European cinema in general, other directors from other countries, rather than the exponents of British cinema that I think have always had a position that is somewhat separate from the rest of the continent. They have never been involved, like other countries, in European co-productions. There’s also the good side to British cinema that aspires to be rather like the American one.

What do you think about the new guidelines at Cannes, in particular the abolition of press previews to protect films against hasty reviews on social networks?
I haven’t been following it closely but I can say that I was on the jury at Cannes, and as a member of the jury, I saw films with the audience, not in private screenings. If the press can experience watching a film with the audience and capture their reactions, that's a good thing. It’s important to see the films in the context for which they are actually made, at the cinema, with the audience. In principle, it seems like a good idea. Personally, I don’t use social networks, nor do I read reviews. Today everyone wants to have their say, to show what they do, to create more or less real versions of reality and themselves, it seems like a nightmare. But who knows, maybe the day will come when we’ll say: what are we doing all of this for?

(Translated from Italian)

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