Siobhan Davies + Molly Dineen

“Because of the way I film, once I am there and I go into somebody's space, their time, their body language, their movement, they dictate everything about what I shoot and how and when and from what position.” Molly Dineen, Film Maker
  • SD _ If I look at your work I see choreographic intent or content. Do you recognise that and if you do, are there things that you would like to talk about?
  • MD _ Yes I do recognise it because of the fact that I shoot hand held all the time, so I am moving round the person I’m filming.  These days I m very often shooting alone so it’s just me and the subject engaged in this sort of movement, but I always used to work with a sound recordist, sometimes even attached together by a cable! That was the most sophisticated thing, how my sound recordist, Sarah and I used to work – it was beautiful. For years and years we worked together and just the understanding of where we each needed to be (and this applies whether there are two of you or one of you), what you’ve got to do is move round your subject to be in the best position to shoot them but never in a position where you are going to obstruct what may happen in a room. So not blocking doors, not between them and a person they might be talking to or an object that might be part of what they are talking about. I was really excited by your question because if you do hand hold or if you have been trained in a particular way, you do find it very interesting, whereas conventionally you wouldn’t talk about that in documentary.
  • SD _ So can you guide me through some of the thoughts that you would need or want to have while using a hand held camera in a room or in a situation with your subject?
  • MD _ Well at any point you have got to be where the image is going to be strong in the frame. There are so many different ways of shooting something and there are unfair ways. The range is from a camera on a tripod doing a head and shoulders interview, somebody talking and they are fitting into your frame, which is the sort of stuff we did when I used to work as a camera assistant.
  • MD _ The discipline is that whatever the person is doing, say take recently in The Lie of the Land (2005), it’s quite tricky, because you’ve got somebody in a car, then maybe getting out of a car, bending over to do something with their back to you and getting up. It might involve a conversation with somebody else, then maybe something nasty happening to a calf which you don’t necessarily want in the same frame and you have got to be moving and covering all of that, but not obviously; not just standing getting a wide shot with somebody’s back. You’ve got to move with them but you mustn’t be fussing so that they are feeling permanently ‘got’.
  • SD _ You’ve got to be in the right magnetic field with them, not too close not too far.
  • MD _ Yes but therefore not on the long end of a zoom, because that’s the other way of doing it, to be detached, but that feels detached, funnily enough. I always used to shoot on a lens which was a 9.5 to 57 which means you can’t get a close up on the lens. You are shooting on a wide angle but physically close to the person and when it used to involve the sound recordist and her mic, that was another consideration, because you’ve got to have a tight enough frame for her to be close, but you’ve got to absolutely know what each other is doing. So you’d mark up a lens so that she would know what I was doing and if I was close up on a subject, therefore she had to be there, or she might push my frame in by bringing her mic in to hear better. That’s where it is so wonderful if you work with somebody when you understand what each other is doing because she has to understand what it is I’m after, right to the point of, is it that the sound isn’t important here. If I want to shoot a big wide shot, you’ve got to know, both of you, by listening to what’s going on in the room and understanding whether it matters that she won’t be able to get good sound. That relationship hasn’t existed for ages because I have shot either with people I don’t really know or using radio mics.
  • SD _ There are formal organisations needed in order to capture the ‘nowness’. These include the images and sounds of what you want to film, the kind of lens, the frame, a projection of how a particular shot may feed into the whole film later on, but the reason that you are involved in the technical is to free the subjects to be in a state where they can be themselves and therefore contribute their particular story.
  • MD _ Which is why I think the reason for hand holding and being so flexible and so mobile is that also, even as you are talking, you’ve got to make that very dead thing – the camera – a very live part of you. It was always easier on a film camera called an Aaton. It was designed by a Frenchman whose lover shot documentaries, so probably they had a lot of discussion about this. There was something about the way you could balance it on your shoulder so that you could just tip it without it obscuring your face, you could tip it for chatting and then bring it back and it was very natural. It had a wooden handle, beautifully crafted in the shape of your hand, literally – it was comfortable. The lens at the front balanced against the magazine at the back, so you could go for hours and hours and you could walk.
  • MD _ When Sarah and I shot the British Army series in Northern Ireland (In the Company of Men 1995) she had an enormous great machine – a Nagra – but we were walking for miles and miles with soldiers on patrols. Likewise when I was in southern Chile I shot an expedition for Operation Raleigh (Operation Raleigh, The Mountain, The Village 1988), with a different sound recordist and that was up mountains, across glaciers and things – and that camera was just wonderful.
  • MD _ The video cameras now ironically are really tough because they are not made in any way for a user. They are made so we can simply record life, so that technically you can record and regurgitate and it’s all there, but actually, all the weight is in your right hand and none of it sits on your shoulder. It’s ghastly and what’s more you’re also supposed to pull out a screen and look into that.
  • SD _ So no contact with the person?
  • MD _ No and also it means the person watching you filming is watching you watching the screen, so you’re never going to have eye contact with them. So I shut the screen and hold the camera up, so that I’ve got one eye with the lens on it and the other eye open. But I’m doing all this business, plus which I’ve now got radio mics, so I’m having to worry about the sound and the subject is radio-mic’d. It’s good for intimacy, because there’s just me and the person and certainly filming The Lie of the Land, where we were in a car a lot of the time, the logistics of having a sound recordist were too tricky.
  • MD _ It’s the mic that can be the confrontational thing, not the camera. If you have as I had on this an on board mic on top, that’s the thing that is off-putting to people.
  • SD _ The mic on top - which camera are we talking about now?
  • MD _ The video camera, with a mic on top and radio mic antennae sticking out of my pocket and on the subject.
  • SD _ You begin to look like a Martian!
  • MD _ And also what’s wrong about radio-miking people is they then become part of your dance because they’ve got the kit on and somehow it’s inappropriate. It works beautifully technically if you are on your own.
  • SD _ You are having to deal with their sudden realisation of being made permanent on film?
  • MD _ I think it’s psychologically they feel listened to, therefore there’s more self censorship going on. The whole business of me trying to tease somebody into a conversation, it’s not dishonest, it’s just you’re starting as strangers and you’re moving closer. It’s all blown if they’ve got this mic on, because they’re already complicit. Maybe they don’t even want to be, but that’s what’s happened and most people don’t say no.
  • SD _ If I filmed you filming I would see this dance between yourself, the sound recordist and your subject. So your consciousness of movement is huge?
  • MD _ Oh it’s huge, yes.
  • SD _ That organisation of movement is then transformed into a shot which will later be part of another choreographic act, editing. Your interviews appear easy but I now recognise the care that goes into supporting the real person whom you are filming rather than the one they may feel obliged to be because of the camera?
  • SD _ Can you talk a little bit about framing the person you are interviewing? During rehearsals I sometimes forget the power of the proscenium arch as a frame. In the studio I see the movement framed within the context of a living world around the dancers and one of my reasons for trying not to perform so much on the stage in the near future, is to place both the performers and the audience in the same space where a frame is not necessary. But you inevitably have the frame of the television or the film screen. Do you think about that at an early stage?
  • MD _ No but my situation is much more flexible than yours because, remember, I’m creating that frame depending on how wide or tight I’m framing. So it’s coming out on television, but I’ve decided in every single moment of it where that proscenium arch is, because I’m doing the scene setting. It’s why I love documentary as opposed to fiction, because very often your frame or what you’re shooting is going to be dictated by some other completely chance event that’s happening behind a character and that’s the sort of thing you might never have thought of.
  • MD _ I have often thought about how brilliant people are who do fiction because they are creating absolutely all of it from nothing, whereas if you are out there and for example you are filming somebody delivering milk, you might be shooting relatively tight because you’re talking to them and you’re moving with them; not so tight that they’re going to keep disappearing out of frame, but tight enough that they are the focus and therefore as they talk to you and you get their eye contact, the audience will feel they are being spoken to by someone doing a job. Or maybe there is something happening outside their control but in that context that is lending poignancy to it: maybe there is a whole load of Lithuanian builders unloading a lorry in the background and the milkman in the front is talking about feeling British, or feeling abandoned as an English person. Therefore I am going to include this background action because it’s going to lend all that texture to what the person is saying.
  • MD _ And there is a mood thing too. When people shoot crowds the screen would be absolutely full, close up, wide angle with lots of clamouring people, somehow taking away any order from that society. You can do all sorts of things with frames, whether you’re up or down or wide, or whether you’re giving them the sort of dignity and status of this piece to camera with books behind them. Every inch of the way there is a language in a shot that is going to make people take it one way or another.
  • MD _ I was trained very formally with a camera crew, literally with a following focus round the door frame – that sort of apprenticeship. Then I went to the National Film School where a man called Herbert Digioia, who was the documentary tutor there, taught observational cinema with a passion. He was part of the whole 1960’s observational cinematic movement.
  • MD _ The National Film School completely took apart the rules I’d been taught. For example there’s basic film language: maybe you shoot from the outside of a car, the car drives off. Then obviously everyone knows you can jump-cut to inside the car when you are driving. Not if you are being taught by Herb who would literally scream at you ‘how can you be inside that car if you are outside the car!’ What he was always teaching was that the camera has to be where the eye would be. You are observing, you are an eye and no more than that. My films are more than that because I am more participational, I don’t just observe.
  • SD _ I look at dance and see movement as part of people’s intelligence and imagination. I want to share that information and try to make performances where dancers work with this developed physical language but it needs to be really looked at by the audience. As a choreographer I need to discover the means to engage the audience so that they don’t lose their belief in what they are watching. Can you talk about how much the camera needs to record; can we talk about observational cinema?
  • MD _ I’m not an expert, but those films were ground breaking because of the way they liberated people. Funnily enough, I was just at a film festival where I saw Ricky Leacock (Richard Leacock) who was one of the original cinema vérité people. He worked with Robert Drew and they made famous films in the 60’s, including about Kennedy (Primary, 1960). He also worked with Pennebaker (D A Pennebaker), who made Don’t Look Back (1967, filmed in 1965) about Bob Dylan. These are really legendary films and the technology was also what freed them up to do it. Ricky Leacock is now 82 and he was standing on stage and receiving an award for being legendary and wonderful. He is still excited by new technology – the smaller, the more flexible, the better. He was standing up there saying ‘it’s fantastic because now I can use these little digital cameras’ and I was thinking ‘that’s really funny, because I really lament…’ – he’s much more of a Modernist than I will ever be! I love to take part of that philosophy, but then I stop, because for me it’s much more participational.
  • SD _ Because it interferes?
  • MD _ No because I don’t feel I am just observing and also I’m daunted by new technology and threatened by Modernism, clearly he is not.
  • SD _ Tell me what you mean by you being a participator?
  • MD _ Because I’m chatting, I’m interviewing, I’m throwing in questions, I’m interfering. I’m possibly affecting the course of what might happen.
  • SD _ A feedback evolves between you and the subject. A chance event or something said might give you an opening?
  • MD _ Yes, I think it makes it richer and also that English television is more verbal. I don’t think you can be making these more detached, sync, observational films, because I think television requires a bit more eye contact, to be basic about it – a bit more exchange. The problem is taken to its ultimate extreme with all the reality television or people fooling about in front of home videos. I loathe that because somehow it’s degrading. Yes, people are moving about freely and flexibly, but there is no discipline or hold back. There is no respect or dignity or intellectual context. I feel they are just ‘being’, because the technology allows it, and broadcasters love it because it’s cheaper!
  • SD _ It’s a form of constant self expression isn’t it, without any reason for it’s existence other than that it is.
  • SD _ I am quite fascinated in this context by the difference between a director choreographing a scene in which we see somebody outside a car getting into the car and then the knowledge that the next shot can be them in the car because there is a leap of understanding and yet the observational cinema would require that we would need another piece of information in order to really be with the action - is that true?
  • MD _ Fiction people or actually most people would say ‘but we’re capable of making that leap, we understand this, this is basic film language’. Herb’s problem with that is that if you are going to stick to the principles of observational film making, that can’t be, because if that car has driven off it has left you behind. He would prefer a wobbly shot of you getting into that car and driving off with it.
  • SD _ And do you think we would enjoy that experience more because we’ve remained physically part of the action rather than an imagined part?
  • MD _ I don’t think it’s to do with ‘enjoy’. He would say, subconsciously, therefore, what you are doing is that you trust that moment as reality, because you have got in with them. And that immediacy is borrowed by a lot of fiction – United 93, for example – all these films that would appear to be reality, when they are not, they are entirely fiction. They borrow that documentary technique of compromise because you are really moving with the action. Often you can’t get your shot steady so it’s wobbly grabbed camera work. A lot of story telling is getting into very dangerous territory now.
  • MD _ In fact I would say a lot of the audience must be getting extremely confused as to what is actually truth and what is not, or rather what is reality and what is not. It is dangerous. If you look at the news, the news is now constructed like a pop promo, with disco music in the background and a lot of fast cutting just in case we get bored. A lot of fiction is borrowing documentary technique and in a lot of documentary, bizarrely they are doing these interviews where they will shoot from five different positions and then jump cut it.
  • MD _ I will often shoot to cut too because that is deeply engrained in me and shooting to cut means you let people come in or out of a frame. There is a moment in The Lie of the Land when the second subject of the film kills the two baby calves and one which I notice I have left in is when he throws one of the calves into the back of the van. I let the shot rest and then I whip to him. The whipping to him allows an editor to get the scissors in and make a cut. So that was stupid of me, because what I’m about to complain about is the fact that very often in the cutting of this film, the action was being fragmented, whereas I had shot developing shots because that is how I like to shoot. I think if a shot develops, you do the job of geography, context, background action, continuous conversation – you feel you are there.
  • MD _ If you feel you are there, you don’t have to give quite as much information verbally or be quite so busy in your cutting, because you have got so much more going on, you are learning so much by these developing shots. So part of the struggle of this film – because it was a struggle to try and get this balance right – was the fact that the whole thing of hunting was to be kept as a shadow. It’s very hard creating a shadow and also I was wanting to have moments of violence but followed with explanation and context. So I was trying to include the conversation while the killing was happening as opposed to separating it all.
  • SD _ You had an early edit of The Lie of the Land?
  • MD _ Yes
  • MD _ I was lost because I had three separate characters in one film and it’s very hard to be in time and place when you’ve got different people, different situations and no link. Nothing in the material gelled them together. The film was fragmented, all over the place.
  • SD _ The Lie of the Land was fragmented?
  • MD _ Yes, at one stage it really was, so therefore it was a terribly hard film. I love it now after the final edit when people look at it and say there’s such intimacy and you clearly knew the characters so well. Absolutely not! In the end, that intimacy was created by reconstituting some of these shots and putting back in the feeling of being there. We sort of recreated that dance.
  • SD _ Listen If I return to choreographic ideas, for instance in dance, how much time does any one part of a movement, a phrase, a section, a piece really need to last? What is the rate of change in the timing of each piece? I could learn a lot from a certain kind of editing. When you work with an editor, whose job is it to make many of those decisions and how does that affect how you film; how do you keep the feeling found while filming on the location?
  • MD _ Well that is why I am there absolutely all the time in an edit, because what an editor will nearly always bring is intellectual clarity, story telling skills and hopefully a clear line to your muddled thoughts. But I think why I have to be there is because of continuity between me and the subject. You can do anything with people on film and where they’ve been shot. It is very easy to betray trust and a relationship through cutting. You need to be there to say ‘you can’t’, because there is a great tendency to create energy in editing by undermining the person who has just spoken or cutting against them and I don’t like doing that, because in a way it is a different sort of movement. It is less bringing people with you and the subject, for all their flaws and complexities and it is more continuing to be observing, looking at them – because that is what you are doing.
  • SD _ There was something that my mind grabbed hold of there: you help the film to become the property of the character, because you are giving them time to bring themselves towards the camera, whereas the editor might shape the film from an outside perspective.
  • MD _ An editor may be more inclined towards a dynamic, a moving on of the story, juxtapositions that create a bit more dramatic tension and they’d be right except that unless I hang on to certain movements, lengths of shot, moments of silence or expression or self doubt, then I’ve lost some richness in the character I’m portraying. If you lose the richness you begin to lose the audience’s tolerance of people who aren’t like them, who they might be prepared to not like.
  • SD _ I enjoyed the characters in your film The Ark which is about London Zoo and was made in 1993. It revolves around the lives and work of some of the keepers who may or may not lose their jobs due to a change in the zoo’s economics. The film witnesses their relationships between each other, the outside world, their bosses in their offices and the animals in their pens or cages. It is carefully slow and the emotional and practical information that you draw out is enormous. Instead of quickly editing from one statement or image to another, we the audience have to wait during the silences, building up an anticipation and curiosity about this diminishing workforce.
  • MD _ And their knowledge that is no longer respected. You go almost anywhere and the same thing is happening, the Zoo was like many other British institutions. That is why you can make the same film in England, year after year after year after year. All these museums in Kensington- taking the curatorial work away from them and giving them all gift shops, it’s one enormous sell, just all about image and it’s so depressing.
  • SD _ Another question: when I begin rehearsals I have many ideas but I don’t want to know the end result, I want to find something less predictable through a process. I begin with a raft of ideas to set out with, but that raft sinks as a stronger set of ideas or material takes over.
  • MD _ With a documentary I need to sell the ‘raft’ idea and stick to it because if I stray, the financial people will say that is not what we agreed to.
  • SD _ Luckily, because dance is so ephemeral, it is genuinely hard to describe the action that is going to vanish in front of your eyes.
  • MD _ But you see that is very interesting, because I wouldn’t necessarily expect this sort of indulgent commissioning, but actually I have been allowed this increasingly recently. If you are trusted it’s fantastic, because if you go out there to shoot something and you discover a different reality that you think is more important, which is what happened on The Lie of the Land, you can go with it. The tragedy of the current commissioning is that no way could you go with that. The idea that you are going out into reality which is going to be full of other things, or change, seems to have gone away, because it’s product and obviously I know there are finances involved but it’s a great shame because it should be at the roots of this journalistic process.
  • SD _ You come within budget?
  • MD _ Yes I do because I massage the budget and where the money is going. I am very long on time and short on people and expenses!
  • SD _ But it is about finance – it is about what they’re after. Do other people use your films as an example of how to trust or do you feel yourself a sole runner at the moment in this idea of British documentary film making? I think of you as unique, the sole person allowed to do this.
  • MD _ No, not at all. What I am doing is criticizing the overall process. I am recognising that I am in a very lucky position because I have been trusted and allowed to respond to the reality going on in front of me.
  • SD _ Can we talk some more about the process of editing The Lie of the Land, because I understand that the film was finished and then re-cut, because you weren’t happy with the first result?
  • MD _ The difference between the two?
  • SD _ Yes, that crucial element when material is pulled together and when it is good it is recognizable and when it is not it just appears distant and disconnected.
  • MD _ The problem with The Lie of the Land rushes was that they were simply rushes, there wasn’t a coherent story, or link of character or situation between all those rushes. There were lots of separate extraordinary moments, some wonderful interviews and some good character – some, not as much as you actually need for an observational film where you’ve got to get so much in the characters (which we should talk about at another point). Because of the problem of structuring it at all, most of the edit went in getting the key bits in the key places and then somehow we solved the structural problem by covering the film with commentary of an informative sort.
  • MD _ I think the difference in the re-cut was that it was as if those bits of information turned out to be the bricks and what we did was went back into the rushes and got the grouting that connects the bricks, which is the behaviour, the developing shots. We put the beginning and the end on shots so that a character would not just kill something, but they would then be allowed to look at you, you knew how they felt and they would walk off in that same shot, so that you were allowed to think and feel about what was going on. You saw the way they walked, you saw the way they spoke and suddenly they were characters doing something that we found unpleasant and sad. It became a very happy marriage between behaviour, situation, character and information that we could respond to, which is that our farming is being totally destroyed.
  • SD _ Now, you also wanted to talk about behaviour and bringing out character?
  • MD _ Yes, just about how much has got to do with the way characters move and how they are themselves. The first character, Ian, in The Lie of the Land is wonderful. He is the one who has never really left Cornwall and he has got this way about him. It’s not really what he says, it’s more how he is - how he talks to other people - his body language, but there wasn’t enough authority about Ian, so it’s more observational and  quite a lot of the facts are delivered in voice over. Whereas the third character, a successful farmer, who charges around issuing instructions and pieces to camera was unstoppable in his flow of information, so that bit of the film is less observational and has no voice over. He is very interesting and very articulate.
  • MD _ There was almost too much to observe, I had to stop him talking and say to him ‘Actually, I want you to stop communicating with me and get on with your life – let me follow you’, whereas Ian would get on with his life and if anything I was having to extract words from him by throwing things out. Even then he’d talk into the fur as he skinned and he wouldn’t really be talking in that way. So an awful lot of how you shoot and how you treat a character has obviously got to do with how they are too.
  • SD _ How they behave for the camera?
  • MD _ Yes and it’s bliss filming people who haven’t been filmed, who don’t watch masses of television, who aren’t on your stage. A lot of people are so used to television and the blurred relationship between reality and documentary.
  • SD _ Politicians have helped make this situation but they are now damned by it as well.
  • MD _ They are so ill-advised. It is absolutely fascinating to me how there is nobody around politicians that explains that the way to be attractive is to be yourself, to be honest, to admit that maybe you don’t know the answer to something and that there are failings.
  • SD _ A shot needs eventually to have the right amount of time, be in the right frame and be able to help the viewer understand the emotional and or practical state of the person being filmed. Do you lengthen the whole phrase of a shot so that the edit scissors cannot snip it too quickly?
  • MD _ In The Ark there is a long tracking shot of an old duck keeper, a bird keeper. He is walking along with his bucket lamenting the closure of the zoo, his body language is hunched and resigned and I’m filming him from the side with the empty zoo in the background. Everything about his and my movement and the context is illustrating what he is saying: ‘It’s not my zoo any more, not the zoo of the 50’s and 60’s’ and he’s a wonderful old man.
  • MD _ There was absolutely no opportunity for getting scissors in, because you knew as you were shooting, it was this fabulous blend of him, walking slowly and bent with a bucket of food. He has got an empty zoo we are tracking through and every word he says is interesting. He is pausing and he is thinking and he is talking naturally – and you wouldn’t dream of giving a possible in or out point, because it just works. It is a very long shot.
  • SD _ I think that idea of having the time to see somebody think about and do what they do is extraordinarily important, if we are given the opportunity to concentrate in a film.
  • MD _ But that’s what I mean about filming politicians. It’s so basic, even if it’s hideously manipulative. If you could see somebody appearing to think on our behalf and genuinely listen and respond as opposed to thinking that everything has got to be ‘presented’, they might have more credibility.
  • SD _ A dancer has to earn credibility because movement languages can feel foreign to an audience and so how can that audience appreciate or discriminate what they are experiencing. I believe it has something to do with the tension between the knowledge embedded in the performer and the spontaneity with which they can bring that information to the live performance.
  • MD _ On tape the problem is spontaneity because the camera has to be on and running to be able to use that shot. Otherwise, if you just turn on when it gets good, then you will never be able to use it because it needs all that run up. All these things affect how much you can go with the flow. Watching rushes on tape you look at acres of material that could be just rubbish, but…
  • MD _ …I have to keep the camera running because when the moment happens I’ve got to be ready to go with it.
  • MD _ Once tape became technically the norm it became a wild indulgence to shoot on film, but the tape editing process is a huge problem for me because it completely contradicts the style I’m shooting in. On a computer edit suite you have to divide your shot up and label it. The way you load the material into the computer edit system fundamentally affects how you then look at it.
  • SD _ Tell me about that.
  • MD _ Because I’m shooting development and I’m being fragmented and labelled in the computer, so you never have the whole shot – there is no development. You look at it and it’s verbal too, whereas on a roll of film, you would put for example Ted Roberts, the wonderful editor on The Ark. You have big spools and what he would always do is put back on the roll what you are not using. Every time you want to find something you are whizzing past and you are constantly being reminded and also it is all physically as you shot it. So there is no question of a little bit here, a little bit there; that goes in that section. So far, the way I have worked, none of the continuity of thoughts that has happened on the shoot is reflected in the way the computer edit system does it. I have to find a way of saying ‘I want that five minute chunk digitized’. It is ‘the chunk’ that is the shot, so forget about shots. I now understand what is so horribly wrong about this for my way of shooting. It is painful if you have bothered to shoot something – say, Ian would drive into a farm, have a conversation through the window, get out, shoot a calf, load it in. I might have covered that as one, because there was natural continuity and it would have gone into driving shots, shootings, interview in car… it’s my fault, because I have not really got on top of the technology yet.
  • MD _ The brilliance of technology and what people have developed is obviously exciting, but I think we are going through such a tragic phase, we are almost legislating against human ability. We are somehow being retarded a bit, because all the time, what people have the potential to be able to do, either isn’t necessary or they’re no longer particularly encouraged to do that. For example, four men sitting outside a coffee shop together each on a mobile phone is a massive step backwards, because your ability to engage, to communicate, to entertain each other, to story tell – for it to be enough to be ‘in the moment’ – is gone.
  • MD _ That sounds hippy-ish, but I think it is fundamental.
  • MD _ That is why I admire Ricky Leacock aged 82 celebrating the advent of these tiny cameras.
  • SD _ Well with the whole person who is fascinated by movement.
  • MD _ And look at what they are capable of, it is extraordinary.
  • SD _ I think it is about bringing attention to a thinking body.
  • MD _ So don’t you look around then at modern life and see what technology is doing to the body, how sedentary people are? The lack of eye contact – anywhere you go, no one looks at you, they look at a screen and as you ask a question they are looking down under the counter and what’s more they are out of control, because something has happened on the screen – checking into a plane for example. I think there is a massive loss of human control in life.
  • SD _ There is a massive loss of authorship as well, of your own life. You hand it over a great deal, but I don’t want to be completely negative about technology.
  • MD _ This is really only the second time I have had the opportunity to discuss what I do in detail. I was up for a BAFTA craft award for camera work on The Ark and that is the only time before that I felt the conversation about what I do has gone into the actual mechanics of how you shoot. They came and filmed me filming and there was a lot of in and out of cages and areas you couldn’t go. In that case it was the monkey keepers and gorillas in their cage. So it was talking about movement and I remember being filmed trying to film Mick the keeper. It made me realise what I do and what I have to take into account all the time when I’m filming somebody. I wonder why it is so satisfying to discuss what I do in this detail?
  • SD _ Well we are mostly in the public eye and understanding when our work reaches an audience. But we are more conscious of the history of the whole making of that work, when decision-making was fluid and things go right or wrong. That submerged history is when we do a lot of the learning and I think we are fascinated by each other’s work practices, how we each build our pieces in order to reach the point when the work is ready to be seen.
  • MD _ You need to understand the principle of what you are doing and why.
  • SD _ Somebody might perceive that we are talking about ourselves, but I find that is where you lose your ego because your structures are put in place in order to liberate the thing you are trying to get across.
  • MD _ Because of the way I film, once I am there and I go into somebody’s space, their time, their body language, their movement, they dictate everything about what I shoot and how and when and from what position. They are actually in a certain amount of control and there is a sort of dual control going on. Also, when you film people that way, there is an appearance of being relaxed because I’m not forcing them into something. This principle applied more than ever in terms of how you shoot people in the film I did in London Underground (Heart of the Angel 1989), because in public spaces you want this intimacy. Nobody is natural if you hurtle up and point a camera at them. The artifice that went into creating such a natural appearance has got to do with the dance, the relationship, the time and there is an artistry to it. It appeared a bit home movie-ish, I suppose because there was no official ‘proper’ film language; it wasn’t set up. Actually The Angel was up for a documentary award and I remember one of the jury when he was congratulating me on the film said.. ‘just promise me one thing just carry on as you are, not really thinking about what your doing, letting it all happen naturally....’ I nearly had a seisure! Nothing is harder than trying to create a totally natural feel with a camera.
  • MD _ Except now I don’t think it applies. I think in television and in documentary they can look any way, there is an infinite number of ways. I think the problem is there seems to be a lack of understanding about how you create certain art forms and therefore the training has been taken away: the ability for people to learn and to fail, to be sitting there being taught how to do things. I spent a year doing Home from the Hill (1985), the student film I did that caused a big splash – a year! Now they get two or three weeks.
  • MD _ Schedules and budgets are now based on technology. Video is immediate and you can physically cut the whole thing in a day, therefore you give somebody eight days’ schedule to do a whole drama. But whatever the equipment, you need the same time for human thought, human intervention, intellect, emotion, relationships – the trial and error of story telling, but you struggle to get that, it costs money.
  • SD _ I see what you mean. We need to build up a language of learning and if we get used to very quick making times in film or in dance, that limits the learning processes, the discussions and the feedbacks that build up a body of knowledge.
  • MD _ But it shouldn’t suggest that it is an indulgence. It’s not that it is a rush. They don’t understand the thought process, that it’s not physically possible
  • SD _ Artists learn by doing. They investigate, grasp, play and pull together. Then they find the best way to lay it out in front of an audience. It is education in its biggest sense. An artist has found out something and an audience comes to explore it. But I sense this is thought of as elitist; an artist assuming a knowledgeable position whereas I enjoy their knowledge. I think of all the fantastic different perspectives I have experienced alongside art and artists. The joy of finding out about something I did not know even existed.
  • MD _ Maybe because all of that takes time and therefore money and generally speaking in life, it would seem everything has got to happen quite quickly, in the same way that as you grow older – again it was that wonderful moment about Leacock. There was an enormous cinema, packed with young film makers, on their feet applauding an 82 year old who they recognised as the master and he was still being innovative. That’s so unusual, because usually as you grow older and wiser you are inching towards the slag heap and you know it. The great people in television, on the whole, as they get older are axed and removed rather than kept there – and the same with the House of Lords. I don’t think I succeeded in illustrating that at all in The Lord’s Tale (2002), but what I wanted the film to feel was that it was the 92 year olds that were really worth listening to.
  • SD _ Unfashionable at the moment, to think like that – that horrible word fashion.