The film that
changed my life
by Steve McQueen (2008)
Interview by Amardeep Sohi
Sunday 4 April 2010
About six months ago, a friend sat me down in his living room and said: "You have to see this film, you'll be forever grateful." I felt it was the most truthful film I'd seen in a long time. It's so under-written and it's not literary or theatrical, just purely cinematic: it reminded me of the full potential of cinema.
It influenced me as an artist in that it made me feel that I can trust my instincts and that in fact I must and I should.
McQueen had such a unique, singular vision for the film, which he followed through. I felt like he didn't lapse into more conventional ideas of how to tell a story.
The scene that really made an impression on me was the one where we see the prison guard washing the blood off his hands. It's so powerful, simple and understated. You realise what his day is filled with and why he has that look on his face. You understand so much from that one simple scene. It was absolutely brilliant film-making.
McQueen has an innate trust in the audience, in his own vision and in cinema itself. Sometimes, when you're trying to formulate or develop a film, there's a fear that you're going to lose the audience or that they're not going to stick with you, that you can't sit in a scene for the amount of time that the moment of humanity or interaction deserves. He also demonstrates that you can understate and that under-writing is possible - as opposed to overexplaining and overshowing things. The film reminded me of a book that I read a couple of decades ago called Sculpting in Time by the great Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. In the book, he talks about how sad he is that when cinema was born it adopted the model of theatre for its form. He thought that cinema had more kinship with poetry and called it the most truthful of art forms.
In the last year, I experienced a really monumental shift in my life, specifically in my life as a director. All of a sudden, there were more external influences bombarding me, people telling me I should make my film (Humpday) more commercial, should cast these people and so on, all of which I have never had to deal with before. So I saw Hunger at a point that I needed to see it – I needed to be reminded that I am an artist and that ultimately I do have to stand firm in my own vision.
Lynn Shelton is an American director
Bernardo Bertolucci / La Règle du jeu by Jean Renoir (1939)
Nick Broomfield / The Gold Rush by Charles Chaplin (1935)
Daryl Hannah / The Wizard of Oz by Victor Fleming (1939)
Sussana White / The Piano by Jane Campion (1993)
Lynn Shelton / Hunger by Steve McQueen (2008)
Daniel Auteuil / We All Loved Each Other So Much by Ettore Scola (1974)
Lone Scherfig / East of Eden by Elia Kazan (1955)