Jennifer Baichwal’s award-winning film Manufactured Landscapes is just the latest in a series of beautiful and thoughtful documentaries. Hot Docs’ focus on Baichwal includes screenings of her earlier works, including Let It Come Down: The Life Of Paul Bowles, The Holier It Gets and The True Meaning Of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see the films as they deserve to be seen: on a big screen.
LOOKING BACK, WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING IN ANY OF YOUR FILMS?
There’s one scene in The Holier It Gets where the music cuts out and we go from getting ready to go down the mountain to walking down the mountain. I don’t show the porters helping us with the tons of film equipment. I think I was a bit ashamed that these people were helping us. We were paying them fairly, but fairly over there wasn’t fairly in any other context. I took it out at the last minute, and that cut still jars me.
HAS THE SUCCESS OF MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
I’m grateful but I’m also wary. You can get caught up in a kind of cycle of looking back on what you’ve done. The energy that you need to be in situations where you’re introducing screenings, going to receptions and travelling is a very different energy from the solitude you need in production or editing. We’ve been trying to combine the promotion for Manufactured Landscapes with the making of the new film, and it’s been delayed because of that.
Also, I don’t feel comfortable being an authority figure. I get asked to do more seminars, what they call master classes. Master what? The only way you can learn how to make films is by doing them, listening to people you respect and watching other films. And by learning the technical aspects of it.
AFTER LANDSCAPES, STILL LIFE AND UP THE YANGTZE CAME OUT. DID YOU KNOW THERE’D BE SO MANY FILMS SET IN CHINA?
God, no. What’s interesting is that Still Life is such an aesthetic film, and Up The Yangtze is such a dramatic film in that it feels more like drama at times than documentary. I guess there’s this focus on China because of what’s happening there and the looming Olympics. It’s not like we picked that subject because we thought it was going to be popular.
HAVING SPENT SO MUCH TIME THERE, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE PROTESTS?
It’s a complicated question. On the one hand, the Olympics provides an arena for people to focus on issues that wouldn’t otherwise get this kind of attention. On the other hand, the bestowing of legitimacy that comes from letting an event happen in a country like China is problematic.
I’m not sure what the right answer is. The Olympics could be the best thing that has ever happened to the Tibet protest. Others believe the Olympics stands outside of politics. I don’t think anything stands outside of politics.
YOU’VE MADE FILMS ABOUT PAUL BOWLES, SHELBY LEE ADAMS AND ED BURTYNSKY. WHY ARE YOU INTERESTED IN ARTISTS?
I think art is a rich arena for examining questions about the human condition. It has ways to move you that aren’t just intellectual. I think we’re drawn toward art because it’s irreducible. Its meaning can’t be translated into something else.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FILM THAT MADE YOU WANT TO BECOME A FILMMAKER YOURSELF?
It’s a toss-up between Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil and Donald Brittain’s Volcano. There was something about the way Brittain used metaphorical visual sequences that was so haunting. Often in documentary, the visual language is just a backup for what somebody’s saying. It’s such a wasted opportunity.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO SEE AT HOT DOCS?
I’ve seen Triage, which is very complex. I’ve seen Carny. I’m looking forward to Sturla Gunnarsson’s Air India 182, Nettie Wild’s Bevel Up and Heddy Honigmann’s Emoticons. Plus, I’m on a jury, so I get to watch a bunch of international shorts.
WHAT DO YOU WATCH FOR FUN?
Watching those films is fun.
HOW ABOUT REALITY TV?
I can’t handle it. We don’t watch much TV, because we watch a lot of film. The only reason we have a satellite dish is because Nick [collaborator/partner de Pencier] likes to watch sports. I don’t want the kids to watch Treehouse and that kind of crap.