French Canadian director Francois Girard‘s Toronto International Film Festival ’07 feature “Silk” is based on Italian author Alessandro Baricco‘s novel of the same name. Married silkworm smuggler, Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt) travels to 19th century Japan to collect his clandestine cargo. While there he spots a beautiful Japanese woman, the concubine of a local baron, with whom he becomes obsessed. Without speaking the same language, they communicate through letters until war intervenes. Their unrequited love persists however, and Herve’s wife Helene begins to suspect his affair. Girard has directed experimental shorts and music videos in addition to operas and plays. He directed features “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” in 1993 and “The Red Violin” in 1998.
What attracted you to filmmaking and how has that evolved?
I came to filmmaking through the video art experimental route and also music was a big component at that time. I had music projects and I was very involved in the music community, but what ultimately attracted me is the thirst for the world, for other cultures, for the beauty that hides everywhere and that thirst is not going away.
How did the idea for “Silk” come about?
“Silk” was presented to me by a friend who wanted to produce it. I read the book and was struck by the depth of the sentiments and the universal quality of Herves journey and by how cinematic the book is. The book is the reason I got involved and it remained my reference for the entire journey. We all had it under our arm as we were filming and we were making that book.
“Silk” is visiting Asia and a new culture and if you want to be true to the Premeiji Era in Japan you have to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture, and that means first and foremost surrounding yourself with Japanese artists, starting with the actors and all of the other collaborators. You need to know them, you need to trust them, you have to look at the world with their eyes.
What were the biggest challenges you had in creatively developing the project?
The biggest challenge was to remain true to the literary object and yet make it into a film. With that regard, the book was actually a comfortable book to adapt. It had cinematic qualities; it had density of film; and the characters speak loud and clear in the book. But there is one character, the character of Helene Joncour, that in the book had no scenes although she is crucial to the story. We had to make changes so she had flesh and that was the main effort in the writing process, giving her a life she does not have in the book.
How do you define “independent film?”
Independent film in my understanding is film that can protect itself from the dominance of the studio. Yes it has changed because that is a very volatile milleau and its subject to all sorts of rules, co-production rules banking fluctuations. It’s the real world, it’s a jungle, but it’s beautiful because this is where you can achieve the most creative freedom.
What general advide would you give to emerging filmmakers?
Don’t let others decide your future. Create the environment in which you can grow. Small is beautiful.