Acclaimed filmmaker: ‘It’s terrifying times’
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Luca Guadagnino is promoting his new TV series, but he's despairing for the theatrical experience.
"It's very terrifying times," he told news.com.au. "We are going in the direction of this mindless idea that everything that is involved with the entertainment industry - the front-end of it, the theatres, the theatrical experience, the live stage experience, live music - and it's as if we can live without it, and as if there isn't a huge economy behind it.
"I'm very petrified by this loss of protection for jobs. There should be a Marshall Plan for the entertainment industry, not only for the studios but also for the front-end.
"You've got to think of the people who are selling you the popcorn when you go to the movies that are out of jobs around the world. Who is thinking of the people who are putting the lights on the stage for your musical or theatre experience?
"It's a big industry and a lot of people work in this industry, and when you dry it up, that's the time to fear. I'm fearful now of this mindlessness, but maybe things are going to be managed in a different way once there is a vaccine. I don't know."
Guadagnino pointed out that his country, Italy, had shut down cinemas again - "even though the coronavirus has had zero detection in theatres" - in response to rising cases across Europe.
His passion for the cinema experience might seem discordant for a filmmaker who is putting out his first TV series, the intoxicating and languid coming-of-age story We Are Who We Are.
The eight-part miniseries, streaming now on SBS On Demand, follows a group of young people on an American military base in Italy. For one of the characters, Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamon), it's a journey of gender discovery, a story of fluidity.
The fact that We Are What We Are is a TV series and not a film was secondary to Guadagnino, who said he what he was most interested in was working with producer Lorenzo Mieli, the chief executive of Fremantle Italy, the production house behind the series.
He said he didn't change his filmmaking approach just because it was on a different medium.
Guadagnino wasn't part of the genesis for the series, which was an idea that came from Mieli and Paolo Giordano.
"They had discussed the possibility of something about gender fluidity in American suburbia, but once I had been invited to join, I took over and my goal was always to tell a story of behaviour, the behaviour of people on an American military base, which was my idea.
"In general, when you do a movie or a TV show, what counts is what is in the eye of the audience. I'm less interested in what is the origins of things and I'm more interested in how an audience can reflect their own experience, their own sense of life in what they see.
"For me, it's an art that deals with the way in which it is received more than the way in which it is conceived."
But the conception is important to the audience, and the thematic sensitivity, rich characters and visual pleasures Guadagnino brings to a project is what makes him one of the more exciting working filmmakers of today.
Take, for instance, Chloe Sevigny's character, a military commander who runs the base but is also mother to Fraser, one of the teenage leads. Screen culture has conditioned audiences to expect military figures to be tough both at work and at home.
But Sevigny's Sarah is anything but a stereotype, and the complexity of her inscrutable relationship with Fraser, both fractious and loving, is typical of Guadagnino's capacity to surprise audiences.
He refers to those screen tropes as "like processed foods".
"I hope that I don't come across as somebody who deals with processed foods!"
Asked if setting the story on a foreign military base adds a layer of duality to a story about gender fluidity, Guadagnino laughed.
"No, I would say what I was interested in was the idea that I could completely control the setting - so not just controlling the physical space but also what to do in the physical space."
To that end, Guadagnino and the production built their own military base to serve as the backlot for the series. It did give him total control over its 94-day production, which allowed for spontaneous changes in what was being shot that day.
"When you work on a movie, you have manage constant transformation - it's about a capacity to leave the door open to reality, and if you're well prepared, you have to be open to what is the possible contribution of reality, which can come from an actor or from the light in the sky. From anything."
And that sense of play and of being open to change is also what he welcomed from his collaborators.
"I believe that everybody has the opportunity and the great gift of bringing things that I have not envisioned. I believe that changing your mind is the real goal for any intelligent person."
We Are Who We Are is in streaming now on SBS On Demand
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Originally published as Acclaimed filmmaker: 'It's terrifying times'