Workshop with Alfonso Cuarón: Long Takes in Microcosmos of Hysteria

radionica kuaron

Following the screening of Children of Men, the author of the film, Alfonso Cuarón, conversed with young filmmakers whose movies compete in this year’s Küstendorf as well as with other participants of the festival. Before the workshop, Emir Kusturica handed the Future Films Award to the Mexican director, which is the most prestigious Küstendorf recognition. Professor Kusturica described Cuarón as the director who had not lost the auteur feel regardless of the size of production of films which he had shot.

The very discussion was divided into two parts. In the first part, the director and the host talked about the film and then a short film by Jonas Cuarón, Aningaaq, a companion piece to Gravity, by Cuarón Sr. was screened. The other part dealt with Gravity.

Describing his work on Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón said that this movie was conceived more as an essay than as a narrative film. He noted that arduous research preceded the writing of the script although he himself never read the novel which served as the gist.

“I was offered the gist of the novel, some half a page of the text. I liked the thesis very much… I decided to shoot a film about modern-day hedonistic society in which personal satisfaction is the basic purpose of existence… I wanted to root the film in reality, not to make a fantasy. This disappointed the people who expected to see flying cars and people wearing plastic suits”.

Cuarón said that the atmosphere of nausea and paranoia which characterized the film was a product of the atmosphere which prevailed in the western world at the time of the World Trade Center tragedy in New York.

“At that very moment, we were at the festival in Toronto with Y tu mamá también! After the attacks, all flights were cancelled and we could not move for week. The claustrophobic feeling which then prevailed could be described as a ‘microcosmos of hysteria’.”

Cuarón said that he chose London and England for the setting because this is an old imperial center with strong institutions and “a façade of multiculturalism” as well as because Britain is an island.

Asked if he could have perhaps made the film in Cuba, Cuarón said:

“I did not want the plot to take place in a dictatorship. I wanted everything to take place in a democracy. I wanted to bring conflicts which take place across the globe into London. It seems to me that something similar is taking place in reality these days (in Paris; writer’s note).”

Cuarón spoke in great detail about the selection of actors and he described his cooperation with them as well as with the cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, his long-time associate. Taking questions from the floor, Cuarón described his vies of cinematographic techniques, long takes, depth of field, relationship between the foreground and the background, and he spoke about the importance of rhythm for a film. Cuarón said that he saw film as music, noting that for each film the most important thing is determine the theme (in the sense of a music theme).

In the second part of the discussion, dedicated to Gravity, Cuarón answered to numerous questions from the audience and spoke about techniques of his shooting. Among other things, Cuarón explained how he was filming only faces of the actors in a large number of shots of this film while everything else was CGI.

This evening’s workshop was special because young authors had an opportunity to talk with a director who has an auteur approach to cinematography while working in a production framework of large Hollywood studios.

see photos here

see video here