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A conversation with…Paul Haggis

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“The director's job is to disappear”

The Canadian filmmaker is the first screenwriter to write two Best Film Oscar winners, back-to-back: Million Dollar Baby and Crash which he himself directed. On Tuesday, he gave a masterclass to 80 filmmakers, movie lovers and cinema students.

Why he makes movies

To try to explain myself to myself [Laughs]! I haven’t explained myself to myself yet, and I’m not even close to it... [More laughs]. I like to explore questions that truly bother me and confound me, and hide those inside popular entertainment. Why do people do this or that? Do I do the same things? To this question, the answer is generally “yes”. Of course, you hope that if you ask the right questions, an answer will come, but I don’t think films should be about answers. It would be boring.

About his camera techniques and style

I love all the tools. But I believe that a director shouldn’t have a style. For instance, I love cranes, I’m mad about them, but I have to avoid using them all the time. To me, the director’s job is to disappear. A movie should have its own style, though. And the style has to be dictated by the story. In Crash, the camera is always moving, staying very close to the characters and the action. While in In the Valley of Elah, the camera never moves: I was telling an American tale, and I wanted the feel of a classic American film, like John Ford’s westerns.

About Morocco

It’s not my first time in Morocco. A few years ago, I came here to shoot In the Valley of Elah. I was very impressed by the way Morocco seems to have figured out what we haven’t figured out in the rest of the world: religions and cultures seem to coexist quite peacefully here. I’m even more impressed this time. When I’m here, I feel no tensions.

About the Marrakech Festival

This Festival is beautiful but also relaxed. Just like another festival that I really like: the Ischia Film Festival [in Italy, editor’s note] where I go all the time. It’s not like Cannes, Venice or Toronto, where you are always rushed and you don’t have time to really meet people. It’s what I look for in a festival, a chance to meet other directors and screenwriters, actors, to share ideas and… drinks! [Laughs]. That's why I came to Marrakech. I really enjoy talking to Béla Tarr, I meet really interesting Arab filmmakers. But it’s a longer process than the seven days of the Festival. I take people’s informations. I’ll be looking at their films; we’ll stay in touch and talk. It’s just the beginning.

About racism and fear in his movies

America is particularly insular. We’re only interested in our own ideas, our own movies. When you're not confronting ideas and trying to see other people’s points of view, you end up stereotyping others, like I showed on Crash. It shows how people make rash decisions based on assumptions and fears. The fear of others? It's a theme I am still interested in. I just finished a miniseries for HBO last year, called Show me a hero. It’s set in the nineties in New York and tells the story of a white middle-class neighbourhood's resistance to a federally mandated scattered-site public housing development. It shows there were still problems of segregation, fear and racism, in the nineties, in a city like New York.