Each genre in the cinema can be characterized using a few selected titles. A few years after its release – En Tu Ausencia (the independent feature film of the French film director, producer and musician Ivan Noel), earned its place among the films that first comes into one’s mind when the coming of age genre is mentioned. The film attracted a lot of attention and interest, which resulted in its becoming one of the Spanish films with notable sales in North America. True to its mission to report on the achievements in the coming of age genre, TheSkyKid.com contacted Ivan Noel with an interview request. We had many questions, both inspired by the film and the comments and suggestions received by our readers throughout the years. Below, you will find this exclusive interview:
TheSkyKid.com: Your debut film, In Your Absence (En tu Ausencia), became wildly known among the people who follow independent cinema around the world. Was that the result of a marketing campaign? And did the film popularity translate into sales when the DVD was released?
Ivan Noel: There was no marketing campaign at all. Not of any sort. The reason for its relative success I guess has to do with the fact that I told a story no one would ever touch with a 10-foot barge-pole. Talking of preteen (and even teen) sexuality is wrecking your film’s chances at larger release. The odd thing is that, in actual fact, many people seek out the different, the true, the honest, and also pretty boys, though they don’t admit it. And the very few films that avoid those adult, socially correct, and moralistic filters tend to get noticed.
The kind of interest in this film reminds me of a story that goes: an old lady sees from her window that there are nudist boys on the riverbank. So she calls the cops, they come over, and ask the boys to move further, not to bother the old lady. So, the lady stands on her sofa, and …she can still see them! ‘It’s horrible!’ she says. So the police ask the youngsters to move a lot further away. The old lady then goes on the top floor of her house, stands on her chair, forces her neck terribly and …she can still see them! She calls the cops, etc.
TheSkyKid.com: Many viewers (probably those not too familiar with European cinema) refer to In Your Absence as a controversial film. Would you say it can be categorized as such?
Ivan Noel: I find it as controversial as Bambi, and less violent. And so do many people. Just recently, a critique wrote about a festival in South America I was invited to: ‘Ivan Noel was the most controversial figure in the festival: a pity his films are not controversial at all’.
And I agree with him!
So why is my film deemed controversial? …Dear God, today taking a picture of your own baby child in the bath is controversial! Silly, silly values of a society gone slightly nuts: complete loss of references: hysteria that is causing voluntary amnesia about what being young was about. Again, the predominance of morally regressive values, from a bored and overly wealthy society that has nothing other to do than point fingers just to exist, and score more socially correct points than the neighbor.
The worst of it, the most inexcusable and shocking, is that even artists these days partake of that silly game. We live in a new type of Victorian age, and as we now laugh at how they used to cover the legs of pianos, and dress horses up, we will be the laughing stock of future generations.
TheSkyKid.com: Do you think that the coming of age stories are better told in the independent or the mainstream cinema?
Ivan Noel: You have to categorize ‘coming-of-age’. If it refers to any film where a child is the protagonist (which is how the term is used widely, and which I reject: it is as though a youngster can live nothing other than a ‘coming of age’ episode, as though they can’t live a real fully fledged drama in its own right), then you are more likely to get a better film with a bigger budget.
If you mean by coming of age that moment in life when one ‘discovers life, sexuality, betrayal etc.’, then of course it is quite impossible for a mainstream film to portray that. Telling the truth, in some instances would have the director shipped off to some shock treatment. I mean, tell the truth about preteen’s discovery of sexuality? Impossible! There’d have to be at least five masturbation scenes daily for it to come close to any sort reality.
Or have we conveniently forgotten shy mum’s cooking oil always disappeared?
When I was 11, me and all my friends would spend weekends happily playing with each other. When’s the last time you saw that in a film? To put in film what young teens ACTUALLY think, feel, and do is something probably not yet fully achieved, and will be for another country, in another age, on another planet, with another religion.
TheSkyKid.com : The father-son relationship plays an important role in your features films. Can this be attributed to a personal experience of a kind?
Ivan Noel: It’s predominant in more than both my films (they are present in my four films so far). Why? Well, the truth is, I’m not really a film-maker, I’m just going through various stages of a self-inflicted psychotherapy through film-making. It could have been written, or sung, or in photography with me. Just recently I decided to try out films. I don’t like making films. It’s just the best way to express myself so far. I didn’t have much of a meaningful relationship with my father, so maybe I’m compensating, who knows? Though I’m weary of saying my films are autobiographical, I mean… there’s quite a healthy dose of incest in my new feature. …better drop the subject for now. :-)
TheSkyKid.com : In your Wikipedia profile, it is listed that you made your first short film at eleven-years-old. What was it about?
Ivan Noel: It was not about the above activities!
I started taking pictures when I was about 9 or 10. Then I bought an 8mm camera, and started shooting immediately. It was a very violent film about social injustice, acted by a crazed (11-year-old) beggar who had had enough. He took out his frustration by banging his head against tree trunks. It was a rather loose script and involved about 200 children from my own school, and was shot during playtime. It ended with the protagonist’s insane run through town and forest, ending when he (my best friend) bangs against a dead-end traffic sign.
I showed it to my school at an assembly. But since the splices were not strong, I had to use one hand to make sure they went through the old projector properly. I used the other hand to play the piano (I was already very keen on using music in my films, even though I didn’t actually play any instrument back then). When I had to use my piano hand for another task, I would use my head instead. I remember a strange silence after the projection. The school director asked my parents into school, and requested I be taken to a child-psychologist, which they did (they then fired the psychologist, I guess they thought he was not up to the task!).
TheSkyKid.com: Your IMDB filmography includes three titles – En tu Ausencia, Brecha and Primaria. Yet, you are currently working on your fourth feature called Vuelve. Can you share a bit more about it as well as about your third future film Primaria!?
Ivan Noel: Primaria is my answer to the French film Entre les Murs. It’s the primary school version of it. It is the condensing of 20 years of school teaching into just 100 minutes. Shot almost as a documentary, it celebrates the insane and unbridled creativity of 7-8 year-old kids and examines, with a darkly humorous take, the innards of primary school, the students, and especially their teachers – this time humorously, but still never shying from delicate themes.
Vuelve is my first trip into psychological and supernatural thriller territory. It visually depicts the various stages that a boy goes through after his unstable mother commits suicide in front of him. Not a comedy.
TheSkyKid.com: The trailer of your second future film Brecha has been on YouTube for quite a while. However, many people are having trouble finding venues where it can be purchased? Is the DVD out or is the film still in the festival circles?
Ivan Noel: That’s a long story — too long for here. It has to do with the total and utter rejection of any new talent in Spain where the films were made. They shun independent projects, because there is a large sum of European money that arrives in that country that they need to share among the same very few talentless directors. New talents are a nuisance to them. In three features, over five years, I have not had a single showing of a film of mine in the country of their origin. Brecha suffered from this. It suffered also because I did not have the means to finish its post-production (due to the above), and that I had already started with Primaria!
But the good news is that I am now creating a website where I will offer the films (and photos and music) for free! I will let you know when it’s up.
TheSkyKid.com: Most Spanish people will note the immense amount of realism in your movies. The images in them seem to be taken from their ordinary world – one they know and are familiar with. Is this your goal when you direct your films?
Ivan Noel: Not really: I don’t know of any other way of directing actors than having the very same people who are in those roles in real life, and have them act as they would. I am probably a terrible director of actors. I rarely work with actors. No, the only thing I have in mind is how to portray the story in the most honest way possible. If I lived as a king, my settings would be sumptuous, but I’m rather simple, and live simply.
TheSkyKid.com: As TheSkyKid.com mainly focuses on coming of age films, it would be interesting to know if you have a favorite coming of age film that you can recommend to the people reading this interview.
Ivan Noel: I’m sorry to have to mention again my slight aversion to the term ‘coming-of-age’ when speaking of any film where a youth is the protagonist. I know plenty of serious dramas with young boys and girls that are not coming of age tales, but real dramas. And one of them is probably the most exquisite film ever made: the Colour of Paradise by that quiet genius from Teheran, Majid Majidi, who follows the long tradition of beauty and sensitivity for which Persians have been renowned now for centuries.
TheSkyKid.com: Where one can find more information about your films and purchase them?
Ivan Noel: Purchase? Wow! That can’t be the intention of many of the readers! We sold about 15,000 copies (mostly to video rental shops) of In Your Absence, and estimate about 500,000 free illegal downloads.
So I will give my films away. Better than everyone else giving them away! I will let you know when my site is up and running. It should not be long now.
TheSkyKid.com: One of the best features of En Tu Ausencia is its wonderful music – composed and performed by you (and the young actor that plays the lead role in the film – Gonzalo Sanchez Salas). Can we expect that we will hear more of your music accompanying the films you will be releasing in the future?
Ivan Noel: Of course. That’s the reason I make films! As I’ve already said, I’m not really a film director at all. That was an accident. In fact, I’m a musician and composer. I studied composition at the university level. I was a professional classical guitarist. And not finding any films to my taste, I made them myself! My films are pretty much a showcase for my little tunes. I write the music before I shoot. I often shoot to fit the music.
My fourth feature, Vuelve, is slightly different as it was created not around a piece of mine, but around the music of another composer: the Agnus Dei from Arvo Parts Berlin Mass. WhenI heard that music, my life changed.
TheSkyKid.com: Is there anything you want to add?
Ivan Noel: You deal with films starring youths. Your audience is sensitive and empathetic towards such characters and stories. The complaints are always the same: there are too few movies that actually tell REAL stories. Too many ‘candy floss, peck-on-the-cheek’ stories, which in actual fact, only nuns relate to. Real films are subject to too much ridiculous censorship. My message is this: make the films anyway!
Make REAL films! To hell with the stereotype nonsense. You enjoy movies, make one yourself now. In case some have not noticed, cinema has just undergone a fabulous new complete makeover. A major event has happened, a turning of the tables. The one most important moment of history of cinema has just taken place! It’s called ‘digital’! You can make a feature, and an award-winning feature, with a simple SLR camera (I did, in all my films!). You don’t need an army to make a film, that’s nonsense invented by an industry that had too much money on its hands. I’ve never made a film with more than five people on the tech team.
No film of mine cost more than the price of a ‘Ka’ car. Brecha in fact, cost less than nothing, as I had to steal the DVD tapes to make it. Never has making films been this accessible, and with such outstanding tools at our disposal. Let’s not complain anymore, let’s not find reasons not to make it (moral reasons, finance reasons, etc.). Create a new purely 100% indie market which will, finally (since the 70’s and 80’s) offer us some REAL stories, daring ones, necessary ones. Art changes things in life more than anything else!