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Lost at Sea: The Morbid Fascinations of Fishing Doc 'Leviathan'

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire March 1, 2013 at 3:17PM

Nature documentaries tend to be relegated to a fixed format that conforms to National Geographic standards, but "Leviathan" violates such expectations in remarkable ways. In this interview, the filmmakers explain their unique approach.
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Sweetgrass
Lucien Castain-Taylor's "Sweetgrass."
The movie does invite a lot of high-minded descriptions, but it's a very tangible experience. It has a conventional feature-length running time. How did you decide on the structure?

VP: This is the most difficult thing to remember for me -- the editing process. There was a willingness on our part to keep it very fluid as long as we could. We didn't have a strict narrative plan that we had to respect, which made us free from some conventions that provide constraint. But we had to go somewhere, and the question was where to end and where to start. And that was a big, big discussion.

LCT: The editing happened oddly, quickly and easily. At the end, the schematic was to me that we start with the underwater shots, the ones no one has any idea how they could've been shot. They're so dark and so frenetic, and then progressively in this very wild, untamed night, humans do enter the frame more and more until we get to this conventional shot of a human being.

Watching some TV show.

LCT: We could've ended there; a number of people thought, "Oh, this is the last shot, on a human." But we made the deliberate choice to go back to the seagulls. We thought it was important to allow us to go back to the water and stamp it with the resurgence of life and the diabolical, submarine abyss.

You made this project, as you have others, as part of Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab. How does that framework inform the kind of projects you make?

LCT: Well, we both work there, and collaborate and teach there. And we would like to continue to work together. But I don’t think there's such thing as a dogma or principles governing us.

VP: No, but...

"One of the most exciting things is trying to find the specific way to convey a reality."

LCT: You think there is?

VP: I think we have our own...ideas, but not dogma.

LCT: Well, right. It's not a cult.

VP: We should have our own!

A manifesto?

VP: One day, I think we should do that. I think every film is like an encounter, so for the next film we should try and do something radically different. One of the most exciting things is trying to find the specific way to convey a reality. So in that way we don't have any dogma, we don’t have any approach -- nothing except our body and our willingness to do something.

LCT: We're interested in revealing the world in a way without expectations, and that defies expectations, including our own. We had plenty of ideas about what we wanted and where we wanted to go, but we didn't know how it would work itself out, or what aesthetics would be at play.


This article is related to: Interviews, Reviews, Leviathan, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, Sweetgrass, The Cinema Guild, Foreign Parts







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