Good Day and Good Night: A Conversation with Filmmaker Julia Loktev
Day Night Day Night
It is Friday morning, and rainy in Montréal. The 35th Festival du Nouveau Cinéma (Oct. 18-28) has just begun and as I enter Ex-centris, hundreds of moviegoers are packed into the lobby, some loosely adhering to this line or that – most just milling about. How am I ever going to find Julia in here, I wonder? I really should have been more specific: In the café, just outside the door, something to that effect. I quickly design my holding pattern of figure eights traversing the entryway. But as I swivel around, she is standing right in front of me. Good timing is often also good placing. We peek into Café Méliès, which is, of course, packed. I suggest that we walk up St. Laurent a bit. “How far?” she asks. It is raining, and we are both umbrella-less.
Julia Loktev is a rare filmmaker. After graduating from NYU, her first film –a documentary about her Father’s devastating and life-threatening accident– won the Director’s award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. In 2000, her installation piece entitled Said in Passing was featured at both the Tate Modern and PS1 galleries. Her most recent feature film, Day Night Day Night, won the Youth Prize at Cannes Director’s Fortnight, as well as the Cine-Discovery prize at the Royal Belgian Cinémathèque. No small potatoes for this young cineaste.
I had the good fortune of viewing Day Night Day Night at the Telluride Film Festival this September. Since then, it had lodged itself firmly into my memory. But what I remembered about the film was not what one normally remembers about films. It was more like the recollection of a dream: colours, sounds, an impression, a feeling. That was it –the film stirs certain emotions that had not been exercised recently for me by the cinema. It engages and disturbs, it waits on the details, all with a sense of democratic compassion.
Day Night Day Night is merely a reference to the span of time in which the film takes place. It just happens that within that 48 hour period, a 19-year-old girl (debuting actor Luisa Williams), whom we know nothing about, is preparing to become a suicide bomber –in Times Square. Why? To what political end is she so singularly committed? The film leaves us with more questions than answers –a formula seldom deployed by American filmmakers. So I focused instead on other questions. Following is an excerpted conversation I was privileged to have with extraordinary artist Julia Loktev at the Café Depot on Prince Arthur:
Offscreen: What are your first encounters – your first formative encounters – with cinema? What do you remember from the movies?
Julia Loktev: I have to think about that. I think the first time I was really aware of ‘film as film’ was when my Mom would take me to the University series at Colorado State University. I remember in High School watching films like Stranger Than Paradise and Blue Velvet and films like that, that they’d show for one night at the University. We didn’t have an art theatre. Suddenly they seemed more like something close to my mind, and very different from what I was seeing in the theatres. And then coming to school – at McGill, actually – and discovering Godard, discovering Eisenstein, and films like that, and having this whole world open up. Suddenly it seemed like you could make a movie. It seemed very possible.
Offscreen: You went to NYU for film production. What was the experience of film school like for you?
Julia Loktev: I had a very theoretical undergrad education and then I went to film school that was a production film school for graduate… I think that each year it depends on the students that are around you. I found it to be three years of boot camp. The great thing was that you rotated, and you learned all the positions. I can boom. Not very well, perhaps but… I heard somebody say that to be a good conductor you have to be able to play every instrument – a little bit, not well. I can do the different positions, and it’s ok. But for me, film school was an act of desperation. I didn’t know anybody who made movies. I didn’t know how to even begin to make a movie, and I couldn’t get a loan to make a movie, whereas I could get a loan to go to film school. So I always thought that if I’d had some other way of doing it, I would have skipped film school. For me it was very much lacking in thinking about why you’re making films, what you’re doing, and the aesthetics. Like creative decisions, there was virtually nothing. My experience of film school was a little bit like sex ed. for three years. Like, ‘here is the hole, and here is what goes in the hole’. Here is how you load the camera, and this goes in that hole. And I thought: How is that possible, that I’m studying this for three years? How long does it take to learn to load a Nagra? But we rotated, and we worked on each other’s shoots, and it was good for that.
Offscreen: Did you make lasting relationships in film school; do you work with any of those people?
Julia Loktev: No, unfortunately for me. There are people that I run into, and there are people from film school that have been successful. It was just luck of the draw. When I played the lottery, I didn’t find a lot of kindred spirits in film school. Our class in particular I think was like two-thirds guys whose formative film experience was Star Wars. So I was the weird girl in film school, and I thought this is supposed to be film school, damn it! I mean, I’m supposed to be talking about cinema. But it was not that at all. That was my fantasy of film school, was a kind of community, but that’s generally something that I find sadly lacking. My friends are sociologists.
Offscreen: Some of my best friends are in sociology.
Julia Loktev: Really? I feel like my closest circle of friends are all Ph.D. sociology students or recently-completed and started teaching so… And then again, it just happens, I think, so many of the people that come into your life are just circumstance. And I wish there was more of an atmosphere in school where there were kindred tastes and interests.
Offscreen: Your first film, Moment of Impact, is a documentary about tragic events with your Father. Did the camera, in some ways, mediate your relationship or experience with your family?
Julia Loktev: Moment of Impact was very much a film about a camera; about the possibility – or impossibility – of bring a camera into this very hermetic environment. And so the camera is almost a character in the film, and I was very conscious about that, and about highlighting moments. There’s one point in the film where my Mother actually taps on the lens. I didn’t want to make films with an invisible camera. But the camera takes on different roles in that film. Sometimes, it sort of backs away and has the illusion of being invisible, but then it becomes very active and intrusive at other points. In some ways I think that Day Night Day Night has a similar role of the camera. Sometimes you’re very aware of the presence of the camera. I tend to use the camera very… sometimes like a microscope, and sometimes like a weapon, I think. I shot Moment of Impact myself – and there are a couple of shots in Day Night Day Night that I operated, for different reasons. Where they had to focus on different things. And Benoît [Debie, who notably helmed the camera on Irréversible (2002)], my cinematographer said: “You know how you want this to go, you know what you want to see, why don’t you take it”? So they put the easy-rig on me and I operated. There’s another good shot when she’s in the bathroom like, looking. You can tell when I’m operating because the camera is slightly breathing – moving closer and further from the subject – it’s almost like pawing the subject a little bit. I can tell, there’s a slight difference. It moves in and out slightly like I want to just pet the subject with the camera.
Offscreen: I was thinking about that moment in the bathroom. There are moments like that, where it’s happening in real time, real space. We have to wait along with her; we’re trapped in there with her.
Julia Loktev: And you have to feel it. It was too difficult, and we were all trapped in a stall, and it was too difficult for me to tell Benoît, and he was very cool about that, actually. Some D.P.’s are very possessive but he was very much… it was his idea. He was like: It’s about a feeling; it’s about getting this thing onscreen how ever. But I do think it’s funny that I see this kind of movement, slightly stroking. That would be me. It’s not intentional; I think I do it totally subconsciously. But it’s definitely there in Moment of Impact.
Offscreen: I wanted to talk with you about public vs. private space. In your installation piece Said in Passing, and with Day Night Day Night, there’s this relationship with the private space, and its entry into the public. You don’t want your subjects to be listening to iPods. Do you find there’s a tendency for us to try and draw our private space into the public sphere, and to shut off the rest of the world in that way?
Julia Loktev: I’m fascinated by different relationships between private and public space in general. Sometimes these things come out almost recuperatively. I don’t really realize that I’m doing it in my work, but I’ve noticed that in my work, it all tends to be either in extremely public spaces like the subway Said in Passing, or Times Square Day Night Day Night – very ‘city’ kind of spaces; or in these hermetic spaces like the first part of the film, where there is no outside world. Moment of Impact was sort of like the first part of Day Night Day Night in that way, that the outside world virtually doesn’t exist, and so you’re sealed. But I am interested in the way that the relationship between public and private space changes. In Telluride, they had this stand set up with Mac [Apple is a major sponsor of the festival], where you could get an iPod if you talked about how you use Macs in your films. So, of course, all the filmmakers were like little puppies coming along going: “I’ll talk about Mac if I get an iPod, no problem”! So I got my first iPod. And I always thought that I would be a person who would never wear an iPod. I never wore a walkman; it made me uncomfortable, it made me paranoid in public space because I sort of felt that it imposes your own soundtrack, your own narrative. I felt too detached from the public space. I thought there were two kinds of people: people that can go out in public with an iPod, and people that just can’t. And I was in the latter category of ‘I want to hear the world around me’. But you know, this iPod fell into my hands, and I thought maybe I shouldn’t be so set in my ways. So the past few weeks I’ve been walking around New York and kind of experimenting with being in public while…
Offscreen: What are you listening to?
Julia Loktev: Strangely enough, I’ve been listening to a lot of Bach. Yeah, weirdly, I find myself out in public, and just listening to Bach. And I realize that this is something that most people do every day. You look around – I started being aware of it on the subway of how, like, 50% or maybe even more of the people around me were in their own world. Like, detached, completely, with this music. And I was like: I’ve become one of the ‘pod people’ now. I’m one of them. And you experience public space so completely differently when you have headphones on. I’m still – it’s still like a freakish science experiment. It’s very exotic to me, and I realize that to other people, this is very normal. I’m still not sure what to do with that. It’s very new and weird. And I’m afraid I’ll start doing something embarrassing. Like, I won’t be able to control myself because I’ll be so much in that private space.
Offscreen: And with cell phones, too now. People are just walking around looking down at their cell phones, or listening to an iPod and looking at their cell phone. People exist in, like, three different places at once.
Julia Loktev: And the way they relate to that public space. When you’re talking on a cell phone – somebody’s in a café and they’re ordering their coffee and they’re on a cell phone. The way that they relate to the actual public space is completely different. They’re quite oblivious, actually. The strange thing is in the film, the girl… the detonator is disguised as… we thought: what’s very obvious? Everybody’s walking around with wires sticking out of their bags these days. Everyone has a little volume adjuster and headphones. So she actually has headphones that she wears around her neck. But, of course, there’s nothing in the headphones. The headphones don’t work. She doesn’t have the option of escaping from the street into her headphones. At one point we even thought that she might put them on, but there’s nothing in them, you know. We experimented with that a little bit. But she’s standing there in the middle of the street with this volume adjuster, and it looks like she’s trying to play her favorite love song or something. And it just won’t play.
Offscreen: It speaks very much to that condition of making your own reality.
Julia Loktev: It’s a weird thing. And it’s shifting all the time. I was thinking on the subway the other day: how weird that all these people are in a public space, and then they’re in their private iPod space, and then they go home and they go into… they log onto their computer, and that’s when they have the more private interactions, or the more public interactions, in some ways, in some kind of chat room or forum, where they’re in public, but they’re at home. Those divides seem so strange.
Offscreen: Well, shifting now to congratulations – on 4 ½ stars in the Gazette this morning!
Julia Loktev: That’s really nice.
Offscreen: You must be happy with the reaction that the film is generating?
Julia Loktev: Yeah. Some people don’t read their press. I tend to read it because I think film is a form of communication so I’m always interested. Sometimes people see something in the film that I didn’t see, so it’s like a dialogue. I find that interesting. Most of the press has been positive, but there are people who hate the film. There are definitely people who hate the film, and they all hate it for the same reason, interestingly. When you read the positive reviews, they all talk about different things – the negative ones all talk about exactly the same thing.
Offscreen: Which is?
Julia Loktev: Basically the negative reviews all talk about the film teaching us nothing about terrorism. And that it doesn’t spell out the political motivations. It doesn’t tell you what to think. It doesn’t explain things in that way.
Offscreen: But that wasn’t your intention at all in making the film, though.
Julia Loktev: It’s not what the film is about at all. But I think the question is: Can you make a film about this subject without having those expectations met? I think people tend to expect films on political subject matter to teach them something good, and to make them come out feeling like better human beings, often, and like they’ve learned something. I think that’s very misguided because a lot of the films that tend to be “political films” – quote, unquote… in the current cinema, there are a lot of films that are “political films.” And you have this sense that you’ve learned something, except if you really think about it, very often you’ve learned what you already knew. You’ve learned the first paragraph of the newspaper article. That’s about as far as you’ve gotten. You’ve just gotten the lead sentence, but you knew that already.
Offscreen: I was thinking about Paradise Now, probably the most obvious comparison. And Hany Abu-Assad takes us through all the reasons why this character is going to do this. It’s not a justification; it’s an explanation.
Julia Loktev: It explains it, exactly. And I felt that film was too much. For me, it explained too much. It was a very different kind of film than I could ever imagine making. But it explains things that I’ve read in newspaper articles over and over and over… And of course, yes, I’ve done a lot of research on suicide bombings, but I’m assuming most people do read newspaper articles. And I think there’s sometimes a tendency that people have to say: well, I knew this, but someone else needed to learn that. But that ‘someone else’ isn’t going to this movie, most likely. Most of the audiences for these films are a reading audience; they read newspapers, they read books, and so I would prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt. They know certain things already. They know that people who set out to become suicide bombers are very often politically motivated. I don’t feel that I have to tell them that in the film. I’m assuming they came into the theatre with that knowledge. But it’s strange that I’ve been attacked for not spelling it out. In effect, I think I’ve been attacked for giving the benefit of the doubt to the audience that they bring their own information with them. The film, in no way, precludes a political motivation. I’ve tried very hard to kind of insist that this is a girl who believes in what she is doing. But the truth is, it takes place over two days and two nights, and I thought that these people are not going to sit amongst themselves and discuss: “So, why are you doing this; and why are you here; and what’s your motivation?” They’re kind of on the same team; they’re not discussing it amongst themselves the day before they’re doing it.
Offscreen: It’s already been decided.
Julia Loktev: Yeah, like the first thing she says in the very first scene is; “I’ve made up my mind”. So she’s at the point where she’s already come to that conviction. So I think if I would have inserted anything explaining how she came to that conviction, that wouldn’t be within the actual story of the film. That would be like talking down to the audience, and saying: here, for you, I will explain what’s going on. But some people get very uncomfortable. And I think part of that criticism does have do with, like: “Don’t touch that subject unless you’re going to go into the political issues around them.” And that’s fair, but I wonder about that kind of prohibition. That’s been the main… except for one guy on a blog who said: “they couldn’t afford an explosion.” I was really very pleased that he came up with that. It was so refreshing to hear something that was not: “This film does not teach us anything about the political motivations of terrorists.” Damn, if only we had more money, I would have had the big, Jerry Bruckheimer…
Offscreen: Did you ever wish you had more time, more money?
Julia Loktev: Every day I wished I’d had more money, of course. Not to have a giant C.G.I. effect sequence. But for me, I chose to do it with less money, because more money comes with a price. It’s not free money; it comes with a loss of control. I chose to do it for a very limited budget because I knew that getting into making it for more money would involve ceding a certain amount of control. And for that reason, I didn’t even try to raise money in the States, because… People ask me if I had a hard time raising money in the States because of the political subject matter, and I say: I didn’t really try. Not because of the political subject matter, but because I think there is a tendency in American films to want resolution, redemption, and closure.
Offscreen: The film offers nothing of that…
Julia Loktev: I wanted a film that would not have that. And so, in my mind, I played out all of the scenarios of how I might have to change the script. And people would say: “Oh, that’s a nice premise, now how about we do X Y Z”? And I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to have those kinds of pressures, so I said let’s make it cheap, and let’s do it my way.
Offscreen: Well, I’m quite glad. There are not many films made for whatever budget that have that kind of…
Julia Loktev: I think you can make a film, but the budget is such an expanding thing. You can make a film for a little money, for a lot of money, and it all somehow gets eaten up. No matter how much you have, it’s never enough. But I think if you… where there’s a will, there’s a way. That’s a very obvious thing to say, but if there were less money, I would have figured out how to make it for less. It would have just been different in some ways.
Offscreen: Do you wish you could have shot on film?
Julia Loktev: No. The first 50 minutes, which is shot on HD Cam, I’m not sure if people can tell the difference so much. I’ve had people – at Efilm, where we did the transfer – they said it looked like 35mm. But I never set out to make it look like 35 at all, I just was looking for the visual look, and we did a lot of tests, and I imagined it from the start not as video, but as video-to-film, which is its own kind of alchemical process. It’s a medium in and of itself. But I like the first part where it looks more filmic, whatever the hell that means. There are ugly films that are shot on film, and pretty films that are shot on video. But for the second part, it was almost a sociological decision to shoot on video, mostly. I wanted to be able to shoot kind of in a way that was very free, and also shoot with a smaller camera that you could move through the crowd where you weren’t reloading, where you didn’t have all these parameters, where you could just point the way that you would point at a news event that was unfolding in front of you – that had a certain immediacy. So I think video afforded that, and I also like the look of it. I like the kind of hyper-technical, oversaturated, almost falling apart look.
Offscreen: There are two distinct looks: The preparation, and the execution. The preparation is very muted and subdued, whereas it’s oversaturated in Times Square. It looks like two different films.
Julia Loktev: Yeah, it looks exactly like two different films, completely. I kind of like that though. It was nice to shoot it like two different films. Thinking of other films I’d seen, like Godard’s In Praise of Love, where it has two totally different looks. Much more extreme than this, if fact. There’s something nice, like 50 minutes into the film, to just change it – bam – and you go into a completely different movie. Once you go into the street, it’s a different world. Preparation has it’s own order; everything is clean, everything is clear, it’s like a schematic plan. Everything is sort of simple in its own way. There’s no extra information. The sound is mono; it’s very hermetic. And once she’s out on the street – things get messy in the streets. The colours, thoughts, everything gets a little too much; it’s a little too loud, too saturated, too noisy, too much information all around her. Too much stimulation.
Offscreen: I think that works with her explosive device. It’s total chaos; nothing works.
Julia Loktev: … That’s an interesting thing. Toronto didn’t even say what the film was about. They didn’t even say what our mission was. I was like, that’s going a bit too far. You don’t want it to be like The Crying Game, like a big surprise. To me, I’m always interested not in what happens, but how it happens. I could care less if people tell me the endings of films.
Offscreen: I was resisting telling people anything, because I felt like when I saw it in Telluride, I was the ideal audience – not knowing anything about it; just having the story unfold in real time in front of me.
Julia Loktev: That’s right, Telluride didn’t tell them either, did they? That was coming from them. Our description was: It’s a story about a suicide bomber, but Telluride and Toronto both said nothing. It’s like: Is she being sold into prostitution? But anyway, I tend to stop at saying it’s about a suicide bomber, but the problem with that description it makes it sound like a different kind of film. I get a certain kind of film in my head when somebody says that. I had the same problem with Moment of Impact because I always wondered how to describe it to people without it seeming like a ‘family-disease-of-the-week’ movie. And it’s not, but I thought about how to describe it like a film that I would actually go see. Because I’m pretty snotty, and I think it is a film that I would go see. But somebody tells me they made a film about a suicide bomber, and I say: “Oh God!”
Offscreen: Well, it’s another genre of film.
Julia Loktev: And there’s a lot of them around now. Most are very different. But in some ways, it’s not about that. It is and it isn’t. To me, it’s a film about this person who… I haven’t found a way of saying it, actually. There’s a way someone in Film Comment said it, that I couldn’t say as well as he said it. It had something to do with moral certainty, and the way the world works around you, and I tried to steal it in some way and rephrase it. But to me, it is a film about the dismantling of a person’s moral universe in some ways. This person is someone who believes in what she’s doing, and the world doesn’t quite cooperate with that. I’m interested in that, I’m not terribly interested in all the other things you can go into from that. I am, as any person who reads the news is, but I was interested in that particular tiny, tiny corner of the universe.
Offscreen: It reminded me too of Wild at Heart where they come across the car accident. Sherilyn Fenn is wandering around with her finger in her head, talking about her lipstick. It’s the last moment before she dies, and the thing she’s concerned with is her lipstick. In your film, before “She” goes to do this, she concerns herself with ordering pizza…
Julia Loktev: That’s the thing – when most people remember the most traumatic moments of your life, often you focus on some stupid, little, tiny thing. Like people remember what they were wearing. Like after 9/11, they were running, but they were obsessed with losing a shoe or something. You focus on the concrete; you focus on your lost shoe because the other thing is too big to think about. I found that in my personal life. In the middle of these huge events, what stands out in my memory is… for instance, I remember my Father’s death, and what stands out is in the midst of finding out that he had just died, the dog running around barking and shitting on the floor in this nursing home. And that is forever associated; this tiny, ridiculous thing is forever associated with this very large event. I think that’s very natural; that’s what stands out.
Offscreen: So in the film, you have Luisa’s character clipping her toenails, washing her stockings… these sort of banal details.
Julia Loktev: And the banal details take on a different meaning because she’s doing them for the last time. I think somebody recently asked me at a festival if she was obsessive-compulsive. I was like: she’s not just washing her underpants, these are the underpants she plans to die in and these are the underpants she plans to meet her maker in, whatever fate she has. So they’re special underpants, and it’s a special washing of the underpants. Everything takes on a different meaning. If you’re eating and you think you’re eating for the last time, it has a different meaning. And a lot of this also came from research that I had done. I read a lot of articles on suicide bombers. You know, on Palestinian suicide bombers, Sri Lankan suicide bombers, Chechen suicide bombers, and every once in a while there were stories where it doesn’t work, and you have people who survive to tell the tale of what was going through their minds. Particularly, a lot of it was based on this one Chechen girl and she would describe things like the outfit she was wearing. She got dressed up for the mission – very often the men will dress up the girls for the mission in these clothes, so she’ll fit in in a certain way. She went on and on about the baseball cap and the sunglasses and her matching cardigan that she was wearing, and how she’d never seen herself in clothes like that. And it was a makeover; it was really strange that in the midst of this event she was talking about something like this. She was like: “I was really sorry to give up my cell phone even though the only people who called me on it were the organizers, but it was still a really nice cell phone, but my screen saver wasn’t as nice as the guys’”. And you get these stories… One of the ones that keeps coming back to me is a different Chechen girl, and I don’t know very much about this event. All I know is that she stopped on her way to ramming a truck bomb into an army convoy – she stopped at the market, and she got some bananas. And there’s lots of stories like that because obviously, they’re people. They’re real people, very often young people, very often very vulnerable young people that carry out these acts and so they’re not professional hit men. It’s not Tom Cruise in Collateral, it’s not someone who’s trained to do this and leaves no trace. They’re just ordinary people who submit themselves to this larger cause and to this event, and often there’s a kind of division of power that takes place. The people who organize this, and the ideologues are not the people who are blowing themselves up. Those are just kind of the people at the lowest end of the hierarchy. They’re at the lowest end of the totem pole, and they’re just the mechanisms of delivery, and they’re just ordinary people.
Offscreen: Subject to human impulse…
Julia Loktev: Subject to human impulse like having a candy apple.
Offscreen: That was so present. The sound of her eating this candy apple…
Julia Loktev: I find when you’re scared, a lot of sounds become so exaggerated. I guess more movies play on that, but in a different way, but time gets so suspended for me. Like if I’m ever afraid; if I think I hear a noise in my house, I’m suddenly aware of every tiny little sound. Thirty seconds will take forever. I’m so aware of everything that takes place around me and one of the things for me was how to bring that out in the second half of the film. Because her nerves are so raw, so that every little thing kind of scratches across them.
Offscreen: You stared in sound design?
Julia Loktev: Yes. So I came to film through sound rather than picture. For me, sound is a very crucial part of film. It all kind of came together in the sound design. It was sort of naked, and there was half a film there before I did the sound [with Leslie Shatz, who has worked consistently with Gus van Sant].
Offscreen: I wanted to ask you a little about your experience with Luisa. You went through 650 people before you got to her. It must have been grueling, but the way you describe it in the press notes, it’s almost like a romantic relationship.
Julia Loktev: It was a sort of romantic relationship in a way. We had a really interesting relationship that developed over the course of shooting. She came to me, and she had not acted before, and so she was very raw. What was there in the first test – I cast her based on a screen test. We played out some scenes and I really wasn’t sure, but one of the things she did really beautifully was she ate beautifully. And she listened beautifully. So when we started to play the scenes, it was a whole different story. And I thought, you know, I think we can work together. What was amazing about her is she completely was so willing to trust me and to give herself over to this process. Even if at times she didn’t entirely. That was an interesting thing that we talked about this a lot. Like our relationship was like her relationship with the organizers. That she wanted to… I hope it was a bit more warm than that.
Offscreen: You didn’t wear a mask or anything like that, did you?
Julia Loktev: No no no, I didn’t put on a mask, but I mean, I could… But she was looking. She was not sure what she was doing. She was working as a nanny. She had always wanted to do something big in her life, and I think that she found that in the film. So she gave herself over to it so completely. I gave her a few articles to read, and she came back to me a week later with a three-inch binder of stuff that she’d collected, of research. So she’d thrown herself into it so absolutely. I mentioned to her Dryer’s Joan of Arc, and she came back and said: “I watched Jeanne d’Arc and Ordet and Day of Wrath.” And I’m like, who is this girl? She was just giving herself to it in the most dedicated way imaginable. And there was this interesting kind of relationship between us as a director and an actress, and later we became friends and it took on a different tone. But during the shooting, it was very, very intimate. One of the things that we used to do that was fantastic; she has this incredible concentration. So a lot of the time while we were shooting the scenes I would talk to her the whole time. I would talk her through it. It was almost like hypnosis. And I’d be like: “Run to the window. Run Run Run Run! Throw on that skirt! Faster, faster!” Sometimes, if she needed to be nervous, she’d say: “Yell at me – make me nervous”. And we would do it, and we had a certain trust that would allow for that. I wouldn’t necessarily do it without consent from the other person. We had a sort of consensual relationship that way. But also, she could be sitting still, for instance, in one of the bathroom scenes where she’s sitting there and I remember directing her as we were shooting: “Move your pinky a little bit more, bend your middle finger, reach up to your shirt, put your hand in your lap, reach up again.” And she could do it completely without breaking concentration. It was almost like a kind of hypnosis. She had that level of intensity and that level of concentration. I think for some actors, they’d be like: “Get out of my hair, let me do it myself.” But it was this interesting relationship where the performance was very much through a relationship with my voice and her body and her responding to that. That had to shift a bit when we got to Times Square, because often I was not able to concentrate on her in the same way as I was in the hotel room. We shot pretty much in order, so by that point, we’d developed this certain kind of relationship where we almost didn’t have to think, and I could trust her to be on her own. In the same way that she goes out on her own, away from the organizers. As an actress, she was much better on her own in Times Square; often because I just was busy trying to get the D.P. from falling on his face moving through the crowd. I was pulling him along by his jacket; sometimes I couldn’t see what she was doing when I was telling some extras to cross. So by that point, we’d developed the character to such an extent that she could really be alone, and I didn’t have to say very much. We researched together in all phases. We location-scouted God only knows how many bathrooms together. She had some time on her hands. She was coming along with me because a lot of the time, I was doing all of this myself. Like, when she needed jeans, she and I went jean shopping together. I think it was this weird sense of therapy that we did all of this – we really built this from the feet on up. We bought her socks together, we bought her sneakers together, we figured out which shoes she should wear, together, the two of us.
Offscreen: That’s really sweet.
Julia Loktev: It was really sweet. It was. It was such a small crew, so we didn’t have tons of hair and makeup, so I spent half of the shoot managing her hair and bangs. That was my other job: curling her bangs. I felt like I was directing Luisa half the time, and directing her hair the other half.
Offscreen: What are you working on now?
Julia Loktev: Poking around. Writing. I’m slow. Something very different. It’ll be a feature film, but I want to do something radically different. I tend to go to extremes. But then, I try to do the opposite, and it comes out with some thread of similarity from project to project, no matter how hard I try.
Offscreen: If you weren’t making films, what would you be doing right now?
Julia Loktev: Before I was a filmmaker, before I even went to film school, I had planned to become an architect. That was my plan, after I had finished my undergrad; I was going to go to graduate school in architecture. And then I went to Telluride. I, somehow in the midst of this, realized that I’d be an awful architect, and somehow hoped that I’d be a less-than-awful filmmaker, and gave up on architecture.
Offscreen: There are a lot of connections
Julia Loktev: There are a lot of connections – some that worry me.
Since our conversation, Day Night Day Night received the Louve d’Or at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma. I would like to extend congratulations, and very big thank you to Julia Loktev for her extraordinary generosity.
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