Watching new films before anyone else or those that may not get a wider distribution is only one benefit of the many Film Festivals that take place around the world, but one key experience is the chance to hear from filmmakers themselves, the creatives, writers, directors, producers and actors who explore and explain their work in panel sessions and screen talks. As part of the We Are One Festival, Guillermo del Toro was the focus of the Marrakech International Film Festival’s In Conversation series in 2018.
A lot of film festivals are not open to the public, so the We Are One Festival is a chance to see events normally only available to the movie-making community and the Press. Del Toro proves a warm, fascinating and often hilarious interviewee who talks with enthusiasm about the influences on his life and work with a philosophical perspective on the meaning of his filmmaking and its role in society.
Naturally the conversation begins with early influences and viewers will be fascinated to hear how del Toro’s father won a life changing $6 million on the national lottery in 1968 which brought libraries of books into his childhood. As well as encyclopaedias of art, and great literature by Twain and Hugo, there were also books on health which left him “the youngest hypochondriac of all time.” Contrast this with the religious influences of Catholic Mexico and a grandmother who stuck upturned bottle caps to his shoes that made his feet bleed on the way to school and del Toro’s decision to embrace the beauty of monsters from Frankenstein to the Creature from the Black Lagoon makes a lot of sense.
Famous for his fantastical style and the incorporation of fairy tale references, del Toro explains that humanity is made of two types of stories which even cavemen knew – there were ones who reflected real life by painting men hunting buffalo and the ones who painted dragons using imagination; this sits at the heart of his approach to storytelling.
Nothing, then, about del Toro’s movie making is casual and this insightful discussion is everything you want to hear from directors, covering the detailed decision-making and thought that goes into every aspect of the film. Five questions govern his approach to the visual experience of creation – Who, Where, When, What and Why? del Toro writes an eight-page biography for each character and distributes it to actors and crew, telling them to use anything they like but they must explain what their decisions mean in the context of film and character. So, when del Toro uses colour, like a painter constructing a canvas, each choice has an important resonance, the difference, he says, between eating protein and candy.
And this, del Toro goes on to explain, comes solely from experience, a level of trust and collaboration that he has learned over time. Talking about staging, the director outlines the ‘dance’ between the actor and the camera, and where earlier in his career he was more specific about where actors should stand or look, he now humbly admits learning to respect their instincts as they act as ambassadors between the perspective of the filmmaker and that of the audience.
At the same time, del Toro is honest about the struggle within the process of movie-making even as you become more successful, stating “making films is a sandwich of sh*t, the only thing you get is more bread”. Even then he argues there is a tyranny of perfection, an unliveable standard in society. But the director is fascinated by the imperfections of people which he finds liberating as a filmmaker, giving a different kind of depth to his characterisation.
So often, going to the cinema is an act of consumption, but interviews and screen talks with creatives is always a highlight of any film festival, a chance to think about the real skill and meaning behind every decision you seen on screen. This utterly fascinating session with Guillermo del Toro is as insightful a discussion on the business of filmmaking and its role in life as you will hear; unmissable inspiration for any film lover or future filmmaker.
Available here until 7 June 2020. Donations welcome.