Filmmakers on Film: Edward Watts

In order for us as humans to advance, we need to look to the past. This is something that we as a people have had trouble with, and it is astonishing how few film students have any knowledge of what came before, despite having a limitless amount of films at their fingertips. Thus, I reached out to notable industry members and asked them to recommend one film to film students and young filmmakers and explain their choice.

Edward Watts is a filmmaker best known for co-directing FOR SAMA. The film won the SXSW Grand Jury and Audience Awards as well as the European Film Award for Best European Documentary. It has been nominated by the PGA for Best Documentary Feature.

The following is his recommendation:

Edward Watts: The film I really recommend people watch is LA HAINE, which is an incredible French movie from the mid 90s, and it’s the story in a day in the life of three boys who live on one of the Council Estates, one of the very deprived council estates on the outskirts of Paris.

It’s just an incredible piece for so many different reasons. It’s unbelievably cinematic, like he turns this council estate and the lives of these boys into a piece of moving art. He has all these kind of cinematic tricks: incredible cutting, incredible movement of pace in the film, from capturing the kind of lethargy and the emptiness of the boys’ days but still having this driving narrative urge, you know something terrible is coming, and you just can't look away from the screen. And not only that, I think it’s one of the things because I’m a doc maker, and my interest has always been in telling stories that are real from the actual world, and this is an incredible example where a narrative, a fiction piece, is so pertinent and relevant to the real world because the director, Mathieu Kassovitz - they lived on the estate that the film was about for I think about a year. They immersed themselves in the people they were making a film about, which is really important, but they also highlighted this relationship of French society to these estates on the outskirts of Paris to this ethnic melting pot that existed outside Paris, and just the rage and the discrimination that people in that space felt. He depicted this world where there was this huge tension between the police and local people which eventually you knew would explode into some kind of riots. Ten years after the film was made, exactly what the story was about happened in France: a police officer killed a boy, and there were these unprecedented riots across the whole country.

I just think that as a piece of cinema that was relevant to his country and his world, it’s just incredible because he was pointing out the storm that was coming, and even though it took ten years to come, it did eventually come, and people could really understand why it came when they went back to that film and saw the dilemmas and the characters he was focusing on. It’s definitely in my top five.

JH: In addition to the relevance that LA HAINE has had to you, what value do you feel young filmmakers or film students can get from this film?

EW: Specifically I think young filmmakers can get all sorts of things. Simply in the cinematic techniques that he uses and mixes up like it’s an incredible visual feast and an incredible example of using all the techniques of the camera and composition and different angles and movements in order to turn this drab world into a cinematic and extraordinary landscape. I think in terms of the narrative as well, it’s so well-written, it always feels very real, and the characters feel incredibly real, but it has got this extraordinary narrative propulsion that I talked about.

I think the writing of things is the most important thing that young filmmakers have to think about. Kurosawa said that great thing, he was like, “If you want to direct, you need to write every day because I think it’s in the writing that stories are told and characters are born," and that is the skill that is most important in moviemaking I feel. In this world we live in, with the technology that we have, it’s so easy to make things look beautiful, but it’s very hard to make them touch people and to have an emotional heart. The emotional heart in the fiction and the narrative comes from the writing.

Thirdly, and I think this is again one of the most important messages that I say to young filmmakers when I’m with them is you’ve got to have something to say. In this world, with the world in the state it’s in, all of us, the artists, we have to say stuff about our world, that’s what I believe. We need to know what our position is on the stories that we tell, and what is our view of humanity, like what is your view of humanity that you’re trying to convey through your work. Film is the ultimate medium for saying stuff about human beings. I see it in my documentary students, but I think it’s across filmmaking – people make films but they’re just sort of empty, they don’t have a soul to them, and you end leaving thinking, “Well that was a visual treat, but it hasn’t touched me, it hasn’t inspired me, it hasn’t made me think,” and I think that is something I really encourage young filmmakers to do. Know who you are and know what your take on the world is, and put that into your art. And I think this guy in LA HAINE, the whole team, had something very, very powerful to say, and that is what makes the film so strong.