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Daniel Young, Paul Bowles: The Cage Door is Always Open

Swiss-US director talks to Screen about his biopic of acclaimed US writer Paul Bowles.

Daniel Young’s documentary biopic of acclaimed US writer Paul Bowles, most famous for his novel The Sheltering Sky and his bohemian expat life in Morocco, gets its world premiere in the German Language Documentary Competition at the Zurich Film Festival.

14 years in the making, Swiss-US writer-director-narrator Daniel Young captured the last filmed interviews with the legendary writer and spoke to a host of Bowles’ literary and filmic friends and collaborators including Bernardo Bertolucci, John Waters, Gore Vidal, Edmund White, Ira Cohen, John Giorno and composer Richard Horowitz. The film also includes rare archive footage, including a conversation between William Burroughs and Francis Bacon, which took more than one year to secure the rights to.

The film blends interviews, narrative, photography and animation in what Young calls a “slightly experimental style.”

Look Now! releases in Switzerland in March, Submarine Entertainment handles world sales.

Why did you want to make this film?

The day after reading Paul’s novel The Sheltering Sky I was talking to a friend in Budapest. She told me she had his fax number in Tangier because she was trying to get him to attend a literary festival. I asked for his number and began a correspondence with him. I started out knowing very little about the man, I was more eager for an adventure. Over the years, of course, I’ve come to realise that the man was a genius. The beginning was fate, though, which is important in Bowles’ work, funnily.

How did the film come together financially?

I started with nothing other than a camera. As the project progressed we applied for and got subsidies from the Swiss government and we also had a number of private investors, including Stanley Buchtal and This Brunner. Valentin Greutert of HesseGreutert Film is the main producer and was very supportive.

What was the biggest challenge?

Financing is always the most difficult. But also, in the beginning, this film was made without a structured plan. We initially had to forge tickets to travel from Budapest to Marrakech, it was only me and a couple of friends. There was no script and there wasn’t a clear path to begin with. The film was a journey and a discovery process. I’m very glad it wasn’t more contrived.

What’s next?

The film will be in the international competition of the San Paolo Film Festival next week and we’re looking into other festivals for it.

I have a production company in Budapest that specialises in commercials but I am  also writing a feature set in Basel and a short with animator Robin Bushell, the brilliant animator on this documentary. I’m also writing-directing a low budget feature which will shoot in Budapest in March.

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