Director Julien Temple‘s doc “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten” takes a look at the frontman for British punk band the Clash. The film explores not just the legend and music of Strummer, who died four years ago, but also reveals him as a true communicator of his times. Drawing on both a shared punk history and the close personal friendship which developed over the last years of his life, Temple’s film is a celebration of Joe Strummer — before, during and after the Clash. Temple won an audience award at the 2000 Sao Paulo International Film Festival for “The Filth and the Fury.” “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten” screened in competition at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and will open theatrically Stateside Friday, November 2 via IFC First Take in limited release.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
Hello, I am a punk rock filmmaker and my name is Julien Temple. I initially began making films because I literally hadn’t seen any movies whilst growing up. My parents didn’t have a TV in the house and when I finally got to see movies at college I found them entirely magical, overwhelming and wanted to make them from then on. I am only interested in making films that make me feel I am starting out all over again, that I know as little and as much as when I began. Unless it is a voyage of total discovery it’s not worth the effort and grief involved. In that sense, I guess I am an eternal absolute beginner as far as making movies is concerned– or would like to be anyway.
How did the idea for “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten” come about?
TFTIU was never really planned. It came about by terrible accident and was fundamentally an attempt to come to terms with the loss of a close friend. To help deal with feelings of anger, incomprehension and loss. To reach out to other friends of Joe and bring people together.
Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
I’m the man without a plan. The main thing for me was to approach the film with no plan going in. No conscious influences. I like to find the personality of a film from within the material itself rather than try to impose it from above beforehand. Too much of a plan cuts down your options, prevents you being light on your feet and inures you to chance, the greatest component of cinema. Also the insecurity which results from the absence of a plan seems to be a great creative energy, giving an edge of desperation and adrenalin to the work. People often work best with their backs to the wall.
What are your overall goals for the film?
I wanted to show Joe and what he was all about in a way that people who had never met him might understand. I wanted to help pass on his ideas to a new generation to whom I think they may be very useful. I also wanted to make a film about the time I have lived through. Doing this helps me try and make sense of it.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
The industry prejudice at what they narrowly perceive as ‘music’ films was the only real impediment to financing the movie. They are obsessive about pidgeonholing things and don’t understand them if they don’t. The idea that if people really respond to a film regardless of what it’s about probably means there is an audience for it. [This] seems to be a hard one for them to grasp.
How did the financing and “casting” come together?
We had a great Irish co-producer called Alan Maloney who seemed to snap his fingers and make the money we needed appear (although I’m sure it was more complicated than that). I was always of the opinion that the best person to play Joe Strummer was Joe Strummer himself.
Who are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?
The Kinks, Jean Vigo, Coleridge, Marlowe, Byron, Wilde, Bunuel, Godard, Coppola and Scorcese (when they took on Hollywood in the ’70s), the Sex Pistols and Joe himself.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
I am only interested in doing something I haven’t done before, hopefully in a way that hasn’t been done before. I am working on a period thriller at the moment, trying to break down all the rules of the genre and make it both accessible and intensely relevant to the presnt.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker?
Visionary rebel action movie/musical.
Any more insight on your next film?
It’s a thriller based on the death of Christopher Marlowe.
What is your definition of “independent film?”
Doing only what you believe in. And doing it only because you believe in it.
Has that changed at all since you first started out?
No way… Death or Glory, man.
What are some of your all-time favorite films?
“L’Atalante” — It nails love and independence.
“The Sweet Smell of Success” — It tells the truth and looks beautiful.
“Le Samurai” — Less is more.
“The Girl Cant Help It” — Jayne Mansfield
“Out Of the Past” — Robert Mitchum
“Contempt” — Brigitte Bardot
“Taxi Driver” — New York City
What are some of your recent favorite films?
“London to Brighton,” “Made in England,” “Control”
What are your interests outside of film?
Sex and gardening.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Never give up.