Tilda Swinton kicks off the Qumra Master Classes
by Vassilis Economou
- The British actress and artist regaled the audience of the Doha industry event with tales from her entire career while also discussing her collaborations with various directors
The fourth edition of Qumra, the industry event organised by the Doha Film Institute, commenced on 9 March with the first in a series of Master Classes, focused on Tilda Swinton. Moderated by Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, the two-hour-long Master Class was aimed at emerging filmmakers and film professionals, as Swinton showcased some of the most important highlights from her career, which spans three decades. The audience also had the chance to follow the path of her professional evolution through the screening of excerpts of films such as Orlando, Only Lovers Left Alive [+see also:
film profile], We Need to Talk About Kevin [+see also:
interview: Lynne Ramsay
film profile] and Okja.
Starting with the initial period she spent working with Derek Jarman, which lasted until his death, Swinton mentioned that that was when everything changed for her, as she had never envisioned herself as an actress. “I don’t think of myself as an actor; I never did. I came from the world of art and writing. I wanted to be a writer, not a performer.” Moving onto politics, as they were working together during the turbulent Margaret Thatcher era, Swinton outlined the importance of the support received from the British Film Institute, which is still actively backing independent filmmakers today.
As she is now co-writing her upcoming film, Swinton, who is unsure if she will also perform in it, then focused more on her various collaborations. She mused that when she writes, she is all alone, whereas when she makes films, it is a conversation with many others. The key ingredient in a successful collaboration, in her view, is to create a real form of communication with the filmmaker. For her, it is magical when she has the chance to act for communicative filmmakers who are interested in working with the performer in a dynamic collaboration. Indeed, this is important for her in order to commit to a project: “A script is a script is a script; but the person you are working with matters,” she opined.
Regarding her approach to her characters, Swinton was quite frank as she explained to the audience: “I visualise my role as a portrait, rather than as a character, and generally, I draw more from my imagination than anything else. I try to imagine what the person would have been like, and keep that part of the DNA [the imagined backstory] at the bottom of the portrait.”
On her latest film, Okja by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, Swinton mentioned that he works “in a really political way, and works with politics in a fantastic way. That yin and yang makes him really outstanding. He approaches politics through an emotional fantasy.” In addition, she and Bong enjoyed a great collaboration, as they share a love of the work of Japanese director and animator Hayao Miyazaki. “Bong reminds me of all of the directors I have worked with,” was Swinton’s lasting impression.
Finally, commenting on the recent discussion and subject of the gender balance in cinema, Swinton urged, “We need more women to have the energy [to make films] – not courage – because energy is what it takes. We can all be what we want to be.”
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