Still from ‘We Have an Anchor.’ Image courtesy BAM.
What drew you to Nova Scotia for We Have an Anchor? A lot of your past work seems to focus more on cities and urban environments, so this seems like a bit of a departure.
Cities, country — I like the whole world, but especially places that are wild, and that can be an urban thing or it can be the woods, ocean, sky. Cape Breton is very beautiful, but also tough, and both qualities drew me. There isn’t a lot of development there, which is a great relief, but they’ve seen very hard times. Anyhow, I can’t be in cities all of the time. I miss the night sky.
I’m curious what made you decide to make a film like We Have an Anchor as the followup to Museum Hours. What was it like to make the transition from a drama you wrote and directed to a work where you’re collaborating with musicians again?
Museum Hours was made in a stripped-down way, with just a few people around, and Mary Margaret O’Hara is of course a great musical presence, and both projects combine documentary with narrative and are trying to portray an environment in a way that is visceral. So, the projects do have a lot in common, and in a way it’s all the same road I’ve been on for almost 30 years. Sometimes the forms and venues become more accessible to people. Of course, Anchor isn’t trying to do the same thing as a film — it’s a live thing, it’s an experience that works as an environmental journey, and it’s more collaborative, so I allow myself to take different kinds of chances, to let go of some things. I wouldn’t use music the same way in a single-screen film, and I’m trying to learn from the presentation to plumb that territory between film and concert. It’s not improvised, but it’s less controlled than Museum Hours, and so in some ways it’s a different experiment with different pitfalls and pleasures.
Still from ‘We Have an Anchor.’ Image courtesy BAM
You shot Anchor with 16mm film, and it’s been described as “an elegy for a disappearing medium.” Do you see the decline of film, in favor of digital video, as negatively impacting the art of filmmaking and photography?
Well, something is getting lost and other things are becoming possible. I’m not a purist, and I shoot all kinds of material — in fact, it’s all mixed together in Anchor. But my work, my life, came up with film, and it’s very close to my heart in a way that digital isn’t really, at least not yet. I like rougher edges. In this one, I was able to use digital technology to preserve and celebrate those rough edges, so it’s fully a bridging of the two.