This Filthy Earth is Emile Zola meets John Berger via director Andrew
Kötting. In this kamera.co.uk exclusive he talks to Jason Wood about his film
and the state of British cinema.
Jason Wood: Despite the often-unforgiving elements and the way in which you present the physical hardship of rural existence, there's a lyrical beauty to the film, specifically the summer harvesting sequence. Firstly, did you want these sequences to exist in any kind of opposition to the other 'spunk and bones' sequences and did you allow any other films to here affect the way in which you filmed? Personally, I was reminded of Malick's Days Of Heaven and Alexander Dovzhenko's Earth.
Andrew Kötting: I haven't seen the soviet film Earth but I was definitely influenced by Terence Malick, and that magic hour light that can sometimes seem so surreal. Polanski's Tess as well. The harvesting does read as somewhat elegiac but there is also something ominous forever present and of course the message of the old versus the new.
JW: Talking of unforgiving elements. What kind of atmosphere was it on the shoot and when and where did the majority of the shooting take place?
AK: We shot in Dentdale in North Yorkshire for everything other than the girls' abode which was shot in Dent in Cumbria.The atmosphere on set was that of one large dishevelled spunk stained family. The cast were always around even if they were not required for many of the days of shooting. Peter Hugo Daley aka Jesus Christ would wander the Yorkshire Dales in costume, spirit bottle in hand ready to cure the afflicted.
JW: Visually, the film has certain timelessness to it but it still manages to deal very effectively with concerns that affect modern communities. I'm thinking specifically of the racial abuse suffered by Lek. Were you keen for the film to have contemporary resonance?
AK: Absolutely, we never wanted to write it large but it was very important.
JW: You draw fantastic performances from a naturalistic and relatively inexperienced cast. Newcomer Demelza Randall is especially good. Are there benefits to working with non-actors and could you talk a little bit about some of the qualities each of their principals bought to their roles.
AK: I was casting intuitively. I had help from casting agents who were responsible for drawing my attention to Rebecca Palmer and Dudley Sutton but it was a process of pushing and probing at interview stage. It was also about look and how genuine I thought the actors were when I confronted them with the REAL that I was after. Whether they baulked at the idea of full penetrative sex or dead animals. We were hoping to cast at the city farm but this proved problematical so we had sides of beef delivered instead. Shane is from Deptford, (like myself) and it was always his look that I had been interested in. I found his picture in spotlight years before I cast him and it was this image that informed the Buto character, and the fact that he can act despite his buddy holly fingers was a real bonus.
JW: Is improvisation something that you encourage and why?
AK: I am always on the look out for the happenstance, whether that be from the landscape or the cast or the crew or the props or whatever so to trust in the cast to improvise is all part of my process.
JW: I understand that you take quite a 'sculptural' approach to filmmaking, having described it as a 'hunting and gathering process'. How closely do you stick to your original shooting script and what kind of problems does your approach present in the editing stages?
AK: Yes it is very much a sculptural process. Contingent, never set in stone, always an approximation of what you set out to do and therefore I'm far less likely to be disappointed or dependent on TAKE 66. Albeit that we stuck very closely to the final script I was always on the look out for the OTHER. It can however create no end of problems at the edit because of all the new possibles but it just makes you work harder as a filmmaker.
JW: You obviously work in a variety of media including DV and Super-8. What kind of possibilities do these formats present and how do you see digital filmmaking as influencing the future of film production, particularly in terms of the possibilities it affords those working on limited budgets.
AK: The impact of the new technologies is profound. I think that a lot of the control is now back in the hands of the film makers. The power of the labs has been undermined and the industry as a whole is losing its monopoly. It is all very positive, but as far as the different formats within This Filthy Earth are concerned it is as much about texture and feel as it is about being cost effective. I also use DV throughout in a symbolic way, it is meant to represent the Eyes Of The Landscape as seen through the eyeless character of Joey, the feral vagabond. It is an animistic presence and in the wake of Joey's sisters death the film goes into a berserk and apocalyptical freefall where madness is almost kept at bay.
JW: How unforgiving is the current filmmaking climate for innovate directors such as yourself?
AK: The paradox is that although it might be cheaper and easier to produce films it is becoming harder to distribute anything at all wayward and unfamiliar. This is not necessarily true of World Cinema but certainly of British cinema. Output seems to be genre driven, generic and rather limp. Filmmakers always erring on the side of caution or accommodation. However for a few years now there are new arenas opening up which are more about the gallery space or viewing context. I am very inspired to see the works of people like Issac Julian, Tacita Dean and Shirin Neshrat so well disseminated.
JW: Finally, what future projects have you got in the pipeline and what aspirations remain for you as a filmmaker?
AK: I've been collaborating with a paediatric neurologist for a few years now on a project that uses my daughters Syndrome as a catalyst and focus. We are making a short film and Gallery Installation from the ideas and footage generated or archived, it is called Mapping Perception and can be visited as a work in progress at www.mappingperception.org.uk. As far as longer linear narrative pieces are concerned I have a screenplay that I co wrote for BBC Scotland just after we finished writing This Filthy Earth and I would love to get up to the Inner Hebrides and give it that a go. If indeed they're still interested in wake of the last outburst!