Interview with Tilda Swinton, part 2

In which Swinton denies that she wants to become a director or carpenter but doesn't close the door on being the Countess Bathory.

PK: Do you plan to direct yourself? I read somewhere that you and the director of "I Am Love" had a project in mind which you were writing and also perhaps directing.

TS: I'm not planning to direct. I now and have been actively producing, but I'm not planning to direct, no. I'm writing and I'm producing, but I'm not planning to direct.

PK: Why is that?

TS: It's the same reason that I'm not planning to be a carpenter.

PK: Oh, well that was my next question.

TS: I have no plans. It doesn't call me.

PK: But you have organized your own film festival in Scotland, can you talk a little bit about that?

TS: Yes, where do I start? We made a film festival here two summers ago in a small, old, disused bingo hall in the village where I live. And it became a sort of international phenomenon. And then the following year, we were asked by the Scottish government to make a festival of our own design of Scottish films in Beijing, which we did. Then last summer, we made a pilgrimage film festival, which was a moving film festival that went from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland. We pulled a mobile cinema across the Highlands. And these are sort of cinema interventions that I'm involved with making with my colleague Mark Cousins. Mark and I are in the process of this year, we're just about to launch at the Edinburgh film festival, our foundation, the Eight-and-a-Half Foundation, which is being launched as a Scottish initiative but then in the fullness of time, I would like to think of it as a global initiative if we can get global finance for it. We want to establish a birthday for children, the "eight and a half" birthday, as their cinema day. We're setting up a website which children can go into where they can see a menu of films that we've curated that are relatively rare. Maybe old, maybe subtitled films that they wouldn't normally have access to. Then they can see thirty second clips of these films, then they can choose which they like the best. Then they can send us their address and work out when their eight-and-a-half birthday is and we will send them a birthday present on their eight-and-a-half birthday of a film by Mohammed-Ali Talebi or even "The Red Balloon," or a Jaques Tati film or a Michael Powell film that they wouldn't normally have access to.

PK: So they wouldn't be going out seeing "Marmaduke" or something like that?

TS: People can always go out and see "Marmaduke." We have nothing against "Marmaduke." We would just like people to know that there's more out there besides Disney and Pixar and the big multinationals, and that there is more to cinema going that just the multiplex experience.

PK: It's very depressing as a film critic to notice the increasing amount of cinema illiteracy as the years go by, that people don't remember films beyond the previous weekend. And people actually scoff at the thought that films have some sort of intellectual or artistic basis. So to intervene when they're that young...

TS: Well, you know, it's about training a palate. The one thing that I find very difficult to hear is when people say "Oh no, that's not my kind of film." And our cinema adventures, our festival adventures have shown us that you can show, as we did in our first film festival here in the village of Nairn, which is a little fishing village and it has a certain amount of holiday traffic in the summer, but very, very little. It's mainly people who watch the television or go to the multiplex half an hour away to see "Harry Potter" or "Transformers," and that's it. And we showed them Fellini and "Singing in the Rain," of course.

PK: "Burden of Dreams?"

TS: "Burden of Dreams" on our Pilgrimage, yes. And Fassbinder's "Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" was the best screening I have ever seen of that film. And I've seen many screenings of that film in cinematheques and film course study groups and I have never seen an audience work so hard, and I've never seen that film work so hard. Nobody left, and they all came to the next screening. It was amazing.

PK: And these are just regular people, basically?

TS: Absolutely, completely. A lot of them over 70.

PK: So when they say that people won't go see movies with subtitles, do you think it's kind of a myth?

TS: I think it's a myth, and I know it's myth. When we ran our Eight-And-A-Half Foundation pilot scheme in Nairn, which is, as I say, to call it a town is not really correct in American terms. It's a town in Scottish terms, it's a big village in American terms. When we ran our pilot scheme in the primary school there, and we had this selection of films and we showed them to these children, we asked them what they wanted, the one that they all wanted, the majority wanted, was not the one in English, it was the Chinese one, "The King of Masks,"  with subtitles. And that's what these eight year olds wanted. So it's absolute nonsense to say people are frightened of subtitles or that people don't want to watch black and white films. It's just that we are bullied by the whole paradigm of the whole marketing ethic that says that this week's film is the only film that exists. It's all rubbish. The joke of course is, that we are living at a time when we have over a hundred years worth of cinema available to us and we have the great glory of DVD now. So there's nothing to stop us and there's nothing to stop people from setting up their own little festivals or their own little cinemas and I don't know about America, but certainly here in Europe, people are starting to do these little festivals. Almost every little town now, we were very much part of the vanguard of this movement, but it's caught like wildfire now. Apparently, someone was telling me while I was away in the states shooting that there was some big article on "Front Row," which is a kind of important cultural program on BBC radio, about these little cinemas. They were saying that almost every little town in the UK has it's own little cinema club doing exactly what you and I are asking for. You don't have to have a film degree, or even be a film critic to be a film fan.

PK: Better, I'd think. Provincetown sounds a little bit like what you were describing. I don't know if you know anything about the festival. It's this artistic enclave on the tip of the cape and every year they do this festival which, as you'll see yourself, is kind of low-key. In terms of your other films that you'll be making, there's a list of people that I've seen your name connected with in terms of performances, like Nico [late chanteuse once lead singer of The Velvet Underground], is that going to happen?

TS: That's a seed that's in the ground. We occasionally water it. I don't know what's going to happen with it, but I have to say we haven't mentioned it for a while. That's a project that I've been talking to David McKenzie about. But to be honest with you, we haven't really talked about it much recently. So I really don't know. It's not showing much of a shoot at the moment.

PK: Did you see "Nico Icon," that documentary?

TS: Yes, yes.

PK: Did you ever meet her?

TS: No, never.

PK: And I'm sure you didn't meet Countess Bathory? [16th-17th century Hungarian aristocrat rumored to have bathed in the blood of countless slain virgins to attain eternal youth whom Swinton has expressed interest in portraying on screen]


TS: Well, who knows? She's immortal. She might be anywhere.

PK: You could be her, who knows?

TS: Well, you could be her.

PK: True.

TS: That's also a seed in the ground, that Ulrike Ottinger and I have been occasionally watering. But again, I don't know when or if that will come up. But yeah, that's something that we've been playing around with the idea of.

PK: Here, this is an interesting pairing of two possibilities: Auntie Mame


and Conan O'Brien.

TS: "Auntie Mame" is a complete extravagant joke that Luca and I played on each other when "I Am Love" was first screened in Venice. Luca celebrated the success of  the screening by announcing to Screen International that he and I were going to do "Auntie Mame," which is something that he and I have joked about late at night. I woke up to see it on the front of Screen International  that I was apparently confirmed. Of course, it's a hoax. We have no rights. We have the desire. Who wouldn't have the desire to do "Auntie Mame?" But I wouldn't take it too seriously if I were you. I wouldn't hold your breath. And as for Conan O'Brien, I suppose I'm responsible for that one because I've always said that I thought Conan O'Brien should stand in for me since people were joking about the fact that he and I looked alike when I had red hair. But again, I wouldn't hold your breath. Who's saying that I'm going to be playing Conan O'Brien? He is, I think.

PK: Well he's seems less busy than you are at the moment.

TS: I think he should play me.

PK: He could use the work, I think. So the next project that is a concrete, is "We Need to Talk About Kevin?"

TS: Yes, well, that's the last of these films that I've made. I'm like a farmer. We've just had a bit harvest and I'm going to be going back to the drawing board for the next year or so.

PK: Terrible question, but I've read other people asking you it. Your fiftieth birthday is coming up, but that doesn't seemed to have phased you at all.

TS: No, I can't understand why people get so excited about 50. I think 49 is the one, isn't it? I mean, I'm still enjoying the whole license that 49 gives you. The seven times seven, the whole feeling that you can actually draw a line in the sand and make great declarations like, "I'm going to have a two year sabbatical," and things like that. I'm not really expecting anything to happen when I'm 50. I think 49 is the moment.

Next: She isn't a duchess, either
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