AN INTERVIEW WITH GEOFF BY PETER BERG FOR TOTAL:SPEC

SO, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A MOVIE-MAKER?

I saw a Spanish film when I was 16 called Cria Cuervos by the director Carlos Saura.

We studied it at school and suddenly I learnt there was this whole other artistic and expressive side to movies away from Hollywood. I went from making film art to little documentaries and pretty soon to writing my own little stories.

AND WHERE DID YOUR INITIAL INSPIRATION LEAD YOU?

I watched everything from Saura to[Luis] Buñuel, [Pedro] Almodóvar, [Alejandro] Amenábar to Víctor Erice. When Ihad a chance to go to film school in Spain I jumped at it.

WITH REGARD TO ROOTS, WAS THERE A PARTICULAR WORK THAT INFLUENCED THE PROJECT?

The Dardenne Brothers', The Kid With A Bike - it blew my mind.

Just the way they handle their characters and the story they are trying to tell. It was so rich, but also delicate and amazingly realistic. It really moved something inside me.

FROM YOUR DEBUT, NO ORDINARY MORNING, TO ROOTS, HOW DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE DEVELOPED AS A DIRECTOR?

After No Ordinary Morning I think I grew up personally and professionally. I left the world of film school and realised I had to take a new approach and started seeing the film world differently, understanding better how it works and operates. I had to take everything more seriously, to look at myself and what I was doing.

WITH ROOTS, DID YOU SET OUT TO ESTABLISH A PERSONAL STYLE?

I like stories about real people and about those people going through situations which are different and unordinary. Everyone goes through those quiet moments of contemplation and thought that no one ever sees. I find those moments fascinating and beautifully mesmerising, so I try and look for them when I'm writing a story.

THE PERFORMANCES IN ROOTS ARE VERY NATURAL, ESPECIALLY THAT OF SIX-YEAR-OLD BRADY KELLY-WEEKES. HOW COME?

My old directing tutor at school always told us to sit down and have a coffee with anyone we thought might begood in our films. He said you'd know in that instance whether or not things will work out regardless of their qualities.

It's just like in any type of relationship. You tend to know pretty early on when you meet someone whether there is going to be something there or not. If I can establish that, the rest really just falls into place. I've worked with kids before, so I have some experience about how they work.

With Brady it was her and a lot of help from my First Assistant Director, Merv Lewis. Sometimes you get a bit of luck with these things, and she was fantastic.

SO WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEENA SHORT LIKE ROOTS AND A FEATURE?

For me, the best shorts are those that capture these intense moments where a character experiences or goes through something they've never encountered before. Features do the same thing but with more time to explain the narrative.

ARE SHORTS A STEPPING-STONE TOFEATURES FOR YOU?

Definitely it seems shorts are my way into making features.

I've got a few more shorts I'd like to shoot, but ultimately the goal is 90 minutes.

AND WHAT MOVIES HAVE REALLY KNOCKEDYOU OUT?

[Alejandro González] Iñárritu's 21 Grams. When it came out it was everything I ever wanted a movie to be as a young filmmaker.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH WRITER'S BLOCK, OR MOVIE-MAKERS BLOCK, COME TO THAT?

I like to have several projects ahead of me so I know when one is complete I can dive straight into the next. In my experience there's always something that can be done, worked on or re-written.

AND WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE BRITISH MOVIE INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW?

The industry is there and there's a host of brilliant, talented young filmmakers here in the UK, but I don't think there's enough investment in our system. It means the people out there giving public and government funding to the filmmakers can't take risks.

SO, ARE YOU A BRITISH MOVIE-MAKER?

I'm not sure I would class myself as a British filmmaker. Someone told me they thought Roots was 'Latin American in style in a British situation', or something along those lines. I think that probably fits me best. I hope to continue making films here in Britain, but I definitely want to expand out and make films across the world. I never want to feel constricted as to where I make cinema.

AND WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF HOLLYWOOD CAME KNOCKING?

I don't think I would ever say no to Hollywood. As long as I always have the chance to return to my own projects,then why not?

AND WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE AUDIENCES TO SAY ABOUT YOUR WORK?

I hope they'll be saying that my films remain challenging, gritty and truthful to their subject matter.

ARE ART AND MONEY EXCLUSIVE TO EACHOTHER?

I think film finds a good balance between art and commerce, especially in the independent sector. I always want my films to be considered commercial art house.

AND YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS?

Writing.

AS OPPOSED TO THE MOST FRUSTRATING PART?

The day after shooting finishes.

THE WORST MOVIE YOU HAVE SAT THROUGH?

The only film I ever fell asleep in front of was Pearl Harbor.

AND FINALLY, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING IF NOT THIS?

Running a little café in Madrid,making coffee and cooking chorizo. t:s

written by Mr Peter Berg

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