A short excerpt from the booklet
2013’s London Film Festival saw new films from Ben Rivers and Albert Serra - respectively, A Spell to Ward off the Darkness (co-directed with Ben Russell) and Story of My Death (Història de la meva mort) – that confirm their status as two of the most unique voices in contemporary cinema. Sight & Sound invited both directors to partake in a wide-ranging conversation about their ideas and working practices.
Serra works only with digital cameras and famously shot more than 400 hours worth of material on his new film. Rivers has hitherto worked exclusively with film. _________________________________________________________________
Albert Serra: You never thought of using digital?
Ben Rivers: I think about it most times, but there’s never been an adequate reason for me to do it so far. I’m sure at some point I’m going to want use it. At the moment I like the constraints you get with using film.
AS: For me it’s the same thing but opposite. I like the constraints of shooting digital. You don’t have a beautiful image, for example.
BR: But this isn’t quite true, because your film is beautiful.
AS: But that’s at the end, after a lot of work. You have to spend a lot of money in post-production. The reasons I use digital are the number of cameras you can use, but mainly the length of the shot. Shooting on 35 you get 11 minutes; for me, with my actors, that would be impossible. I would never even have been a filmmaker without digital, it would have been impossible.
BR: Because it’s so much about things that are happening in between?
AS: Yes, in between, and because you are shooting all the time, and things are happening all the time, so you’re following the inspiration. And with digital the camera can be further away, so the actor is less aware of the camera. Would that bring you to digital – working closer with the actors?
BR: Yes, what Ben and I wanted to do in the first part of Spell was these conversations with people, and that’s become much harder with film. We had two film cameras, but still we had only ten minutes. The conversations were just getting going and you’d have to go and change the roll, so it makes it really difficult. I feel like we could have really benefited from for digital for that part of the film.
AS: But don’t you think with a 35mm camera you already have a little more magic in what you are doing? Because sometimes with digital cameras I think you have to add the magic in the edit. I’ve never used it, but 35 seems to already add some kind of intensity and closeness, some kind of mystical thing in the image. It’s more difficult to get this thing with digital.
BR: Yes, I think that’s true.
AS: You feel you have something that is beautiful?
BR: Yes, but you have to be careful and wary of that, the inherent beauty of using film.
AS: You have to contaminate this beauty?
BR: It may be too easy to think ‘this is a beautiful image’. The film itself, the material, is going to carry it regardless of whether the content is good or not. I’m always trying to be aware of that, at the same time that I’m really excited by that magic, the light. So maybe it’s more of a challenge if you’re using some slightly dirty old video.
AS: It’s the same problem for me; if I shoot a lot, I will always find something interesting. I shoot two hours and I know I will get one or two minutes which will be good. You get comfortable, then maybe the magic disappears. If it’s easy, then it’s not so good. You need to give yourself some difficulties, such as something has to be done really fast. There has to be some tension always – maybe a time constraint, or some other, artificially created one.
It may be too easy to think ‘this is a beautiful image’… You get comfortable, then maybe the magic disappears
BR: There’s also the time between shooting something and seeing it. I find that interesting with film. Some people use a video assist, but I don’t, so I don’t know quite what I’ve got. So there’s this interstice.
AS: I never use a monitor or see an image before the end of the shooting. But why do you like that interstice?
BR: Various reasons. If you’re constantly watching back what you’ve done, maybe you’ll be thinking about it too much. Repeating or trying to improve it, which I think is a bad idea. You would lose that magic. But one way in which we differ is I shoot all my stuff, so I am looking through the camera. I set up the shots.
AS: So how do you control the actors if you’re looking through the camera at the same time?
BR: You get used to it, it’s what I’ve always done. I can talk to people while I’m setting up the camera, it’s the way I’ve worked. In fact I like to have this channel of the camera to look at stuff. Last night you were saying how much you hate this idea of composition, but I enjoy composing images.
The complete conversation, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the DVD release.
A short excerpt from the booklet
Uncut by Damien Love
CineVue by Ben Nicholson
Close-Up Film by Colin Dibben
The Skinny by Patrick Gamble
by David Paul Hellings
DVD Beaver by Eric Cotenas
The Arts Desk
by Tom Birchenough
World Cinema Paradise
by Dusty Somers
Little White Lies
by David Jenkins
The Geek Show by Graham Williamson
The Village Voice
The New Yorker
Seattle Intl. Film Festival
The New York Times
Melbourne Intl. Film Festival
Senses of Cinema
Little White Lies
(i) Interview with Albert Serra at Bomb Magazine
(ii) The Beauty of Horror and the Horror of Beauty: An Encounter with Albert Serra
by Mark Peranson
(iii) Albert Serra: Divine Visionaries and Holy Fools
(iv) Interview with Catalan producer Montse Triola
(v) Who was Casanova?
(vi) Press Kit
Spain-France , 2013
Length / Story of My Death:
Special feature: 18 minutes
Sound: Stereo 2.0 / 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround option
Original aspect ratio:
2.35:1 / 16:9 anamorphic
Subtitles: English (On/Off)
Release Date: 24 June 2015 Second Run DVD 101