//LWLies//: In the next issue of the mag we’re doing a feature about how CGI has changed the nature of the movie watching experience – has made everything more predictable and more comfortable. It would be great to see a fictional version of //Man on Wire// that didn’t succumb to the temptation to green screen everything.
Marsh: That’s a really interesting observation and one that I have as a consumer of films. When I see a big, splashy film, I know that it’s all virtual, do you know what I mean? And when I see a Michel Gondry film – not that I’m obsessed with Michel Gondry by any means – you know that it’s all real. Sand //Man on Wire// is the same kind of idea: it’s all real. There’s one or two visual effects in the film but they’re only trying to get you into the reality of what you’re trying to experience. This years very interesting, I think there’s quite a few really powerful documentaries that I’m aware of that are going to come out over the course of the next year and perhaps that’s in some way either a backlash or a response to that lack of belief in CGI – real stories and real emotions that you can’t argue with because you’re seeing them unfold.
And that’s the other thing about //Man on Wire//, it’s a very emotionally powerful film as well, and the people involved have very strong emotions about what they did and what they achieved and how they responded to what they achieved. So you can’t improve on any of that stuff, and they’re real and you believe them immediately. And I think that’s a very interesting development, if I’m right about this year being a very strong year for documentaries, I’m hoping //Man on Wire// will be part of that kind of wave, it could well be a very interesting response to the kind of plastic nature of contemporary filmmaking.
//LWLies//: Do you think there ought to be an element of risk-taking in cinema? Have you, in your own experience, seen that disappear over the last few years?
Marsh: The directors that I tend to seek out movie for tend to do things that are going to be unpredictable. I mean, there’s not that many of them. Certainly in America, there’s only a few that you get excited by when they’re making another film. I’ve just been re-watching //Zodiac//, the David Fincher film, it’s a really amazing film and it’s sort of antithetical to every single Hollywood rule about screenwriting and storytelling, but it works beautifully. So I think there are still directors that can surprise us. But where I’m most disappointed is in indie filmmaking, and the lack of formal ambition and inventive filmmaking in that part of cinema – that’s where I think I’m most disappointed.
There doesn’t seem to be that much going on that’s experimental or pushing the boundaries of how you tell stories, and documentaries have a kind of unusual role to play in that. Like //Man on Wire// is trying to be a really strong audience film, i.e. not to flatter or be dictated to by what the audience wants but to try and engage with the audience on a powerful emotional level, and that’s what I hope it’s doing.
//LWLies//: We’re doing a feature where we actually pick our five most risk-taking, ‘daredevil’ directors, which is harder than you’d think. We struggled.
Marsh: I’ll have to think about that myself just as an interesting reflection. One does. There are directors like Wong Kar-Wai, whose last film I found very disappointing, it felt like there was no risk-taking, it was just a formula, even though it was a formula I loved in previous work, you felt that it was just almost self-referential. But he’s made enough good films, by God.
//LWLies//: The one stand out character is Werner Herzog.
Marsh: Of course, you see he’s never, ever made the same film. He’s got a definite set of preoccupations and obsessions that you see play out but he’s put himself in the most unlikely parts of the world. He’s an extraordinary example, and maybe the best example of an older filmmaker who’s never stayed still, who’s constantly restless. But I think the thing is, is not to try and make the same film twice – that’s really the characteristic of that. It’s the sort of thing I’ve tried not to do with the three features I’ve made.
One is a film called //Wisconsin Death Trip//, which is a virtually unwatchable art movie. That was the first feature film I made and it’s a hybrid between drama and documentary. Then I made this film called //The King//, which was written with an American writer and it’s about, you know, religion and Christianity, a very cruel kind of fable. Then I did an observational film about a homeless soccer team in New York called //The Team//. Now I’ve done //Man on Wire//. So I’m not putting myself in that category by any means but I think the key for me is to keep leaping forward, and eventually you’ll fall, but better to fall than not to try.