The visionary director of Brazil and The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus will pick up a Fellowship Award at the Bradford International Film Festival this weekend. He talks to Screen about financing struggles, pasta, and the dangers of too much hype.
US-born director Terry Gilliam is showing no signs of slowing down. Having just directed a short film in Italy, he is now back in London gearing up to direct his first opera, Berlioz’s The Damnation Of Faust, for the English National Opera, as well as squeezing in a trip to the UK city of Bradford this weekend to accept a Fellowship Award and present a retrospective of his work, including The Miracle of Flight, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Time Bandits. The festival runs until 27 March.
On the feature front, Gilliam has high hopes that his long awaited The Man Who Killed Don Quixote project, which was originally set to star Johhny Depp, but now has Ewan McGregor and Robert Duvall attached, will shoot this year. Meanwhile he is also acting as a creative advisor on 1884, a sci fi animation feature directed by his old friend and animation specilist Tim Ollive, which Gilliam describes as a “19th century James Bond”.
Screen catches up with the film-maker as he puts the final touches to his short film, The Wholly Family, and prepares to launch himself into two months of intensive rehersals with the English National Opera.
How do you feel about being honoured at Bradford?
Every time you get a lifetime achievement award it’s like another nail in the coffin..They are beginning to realise how old I am. [laughs].
But what I really like about it is that they are doing a complete retrospective of my films, on a big beautiful screen. As they were meant to be seen, not on your home TV or iPhone. Recently there was a screening of Brazil in LA. The comments were amazing. People had seen it at home on their DVD, but seeing it on the big screen it was like, wow, a completely different picture. People are missing out..they’ve got the convenience but not the experience. Who wants to watch Lawrence of Arabia on an iPhone?
You have just made a short film in Italy, which has been sponsored by a pasta company…
Yes, I work for noodles now! For the last four years pasta company Garofalo has handed over a sum of money to a director and said go away and make a film, it just has to be something to do with Naples, that’s it. I’ve got a house in Italy and I’ve always been intrigued by Naples and here was a chance to spend some time there.
It’s called The Wholly Family, it’s basically about a dysfunctional family starring Italian actress Cristiana Capotondi, English actor Doughlas Dean and an 8-year-old boy who has never acted in his life. He’s American. That’s how dysfunctional the family is.
Is it easier and less stressful making a short as opposed to a feature?
I wouldn’t say it is easier or less stressful, it’s just over a shorter period of time. No matter how big and small, films all seem to have the same kind of rhythm and problems. Although when things do go wrong they take up less of your life.
We had a week to shoot, it’s quite interesting having to work quickly as opposed to doing a major feature film. It’s nice proving to yourself that you can work fast.
Does it ever get easier to raise financing for films?
Actually it seems to get harder because I make films in the wrong financial category. My films aren’t less than $10m or more than $100m. Middle budget films and middle class people are struggling. I find it a bit depressing. There is a certain scale of film that needs more money but you don’t want to end up doing the big studio blockbusters, which usually entail cutting ideas down to nothing.
What’s the answer? Do short films for pasta companies and operas! Things to keep me occupied until the tide turns.
What did you think of The King’s Speech winning the best picture Oscar? It’s quite different from your film-making style…
It’s a good solid piece of film making with good acting. I enjoyed it. But I luckily saw it long before the hype. The hype builds your expectation to the point where you are going to be disappointed. How can any film live up to the noise that’s made? That’s what is crazy now. Everything is whipped up into a frenzy. The King’s Speech is a really good film, there is nothing breathtaking about it, but I enjoyed it and that’s it.
Was it worthy of an Academy Award? I don’t even know what an Academy Award really represents? I’ve looked at the history of what has won and what hasn’t, and you say, wait a minute. It’s like, how did George W Bush get elected? These are the kind of questions that will never be answered.
Where are you at with Quixote?
I am still alive, Bobby Duvall is still alive. We are putting money together in a slightly different form, we are re structuring. I’m getting tired of saying this year is the year for shooting Quixote, but it’s what I believe so that’s good.
How did you get involved with the English National Opera?
People have been trying to get me to do operas for 20 something years now and I guess I just got tired of running. The people at the English National Opera hunted me down and trapped me (laughs).
I don’t watch most opera, most opera I’ve seen bores me. I’ve never done it before, so it’s a complete novice at work. It happens to be a particularly difficult opera, so I thought let’s just leap and see what happens.
You are certainly not just sitting back and taking things easy..
That’s death. I’ll wait for that when it comes. Until then I’ll stay active.