The Tribeca Film Festival, in their Directors Talks series brings together unlikely pairs of artists to discuss their careers. On Saturday, world-renowned Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic sat down to interview multiple Oscar-winning Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu in front of a packed house at the School of Visual Arts theater.
Despite some heavy topics like immigration, Trump, and the inevitability of death – the crowd got in some laughs when Abramovic started off her hosting duties by telling Iñárritu: “I read somewhere a few days ago you are the king of pain and I always thought I am the queen of pain. Should we torture each other?”
The conversation continued in a free-flowing manner with Abramovic even reading the run of show including the explicit directions for when she was to allow the audience to ask questions and when the house lights were to go on signaling the end of the panel. The consummate performance artist conceded, “I don’t follow instructions” and proceeded to turn the schedule completely upside down and let a member of the crowd ask Iñárritu the first question.
Here are some highlights of their lively chat.
On Why His Films Focus on Emotional Pain
I think pain, in a way, is a road to happiness. It is the great master. They are both complementary. If people want to avoid pain with artificial things unfortunately find themselves in this limbo of never finding happiness. It’s like compost, without it no flower can grow. No pain, no happiness. I don’t think pain is a constant but I think it is a truthful way, for me at least, to represent what I have seen. I like when a film or art – first it makes you feel and then it makes you think.
On the First Movies That Moved Him
“It’s a big problem that people don’t see the films on the big screens.”
Iñárritu: In Mexico, when I was a little kid Mexican films were non-existent because very few were being produced and they were very bad. The government controlled the industry and the unions. There were few people who were allowed to do those things. It was a terrible period in the 70s until the 90s. There was none of our own culture that we could consume. So, like many other countries, we depended on American films. And then when I got older, I went to the Cineteca and the C.U.C., which was a cool thing where you would see girls, cute girls and then you would pretend to be intellectual and see Fellini. I would say in the very early days, I remember Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a funny English film about kids in cars. With my Spanish [accent] it means another thing. [Repeats himself and exaggerates his accent] Sheety Sheety Bang Bang. There was another English film called Friends with an Elton John song at the beginning. There was a couple and this guy steals a car with his girlfriend. They were 16 years old and they escape their homes and then they go into the fields, and then she got pregnant. When I turned 16 I did exactly the same thing. I went out of my house with my girlfriend. She didn’t get pregnant, thank God. I was so moved by that film.
Abramovic: And Mexican television, what was that?
Iñárritu: Telenovelas, the melodramas. I cried a lot. That’s where the pain comes from.
On How Birdman Almost Started With a Fart Joke
I have never done a film like that and never will again. Birdman originally started with a fart joke and as soon as I heard the line come out of her mouth, I knew I couldn’t start the film with a fart joke. If I did, it would only go down from there. So I cut it and lost a day of shooting.
On Watching Movies on Your Phone
It’s a big problem that people don’t see the films on the big screens. When you go to the museum and you see a [Diego] Velázquez and you bought the postcard… to see a film on an iPad, that’s the postcard of the painting. ‘I saw The Revenant on my phone!’ You didn’t see The Revenant. You saw the postcard of The Revenant. The new generations are not used to the complexity of sound, the latitude of the image.
On Creating the Virtual Reality Film Carne y Arena
It’s an idea that I had four years ago. It’s called Carne y Arena: Virtually Present, Physically Invisible. I found myself really close to the stories of immigrant people from Mexico and Central America. I think we need to know their past and the reason why they came. Immigration and terrorism has really blended since 2001. There is this ignorance and fear about who these people are. The idea was to interview them, to see their realities, to document a piece of the undocumented and to do that in the desert. It has been an amazing journey exploring new technology.
One of the biggest mistakes of V.R. is that it’s been interpreted as an extension of cinema, but it’s not an extension of cinema. I would say that V.R. is everything that cinema is not, like a radical kind of thing. Cinema is this little hole we look through and all the things that are not in that frame, we have to just basically create in our own minds… In V.R., you don’t have that frame in a sense. We’re learning how to explore the narrative space. I think we are in the baby steps. Nobody knows anything. I don’t know anything. It’s completely an experimental period. I think the possibilities are amazing and the dangers are enormous.
On What He Wished He Knew Early in His Career
Most importantly to learn to enjoy the ride and be aware. When you’re younger your mind is so fast and you’re not allowed to be present. So it all becomes like a dream because you weren’t present and able to enjoy.