Interview: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, directors of Leviathan
'We wanted the sound to be as immersive and intense, as acoustically untamed and monstrous as the image'
These two anthropologists and filmmakers won the Michael Powell Award for their bold documentary Leviathan at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. Set on a trawler in the seas off the New England coast it’s a memorable immersion into the fishing industry.
How did you decide on the title of the film? It hints at themes and a socio-historical context beyond the documentary itself.
Leviathan was just our provisional, working title. Somehow it stuck. We’re both wary of over-explaining the film or the title. Both because, as Alain Cavalier once said, ‘it’s next to impossible to make a film that’s equal to the intelligence of its spectators,’ also because it’s precisely the intelligences of its spectators that make a film.
You used innovative methods to capture the images and sound. Was there a lot of risk involved in this approach? Did you expect the final results?
The biggest risk is slavishly, formulaically repeating what one has done before. Cinema, like all art, only advances by overthrowing received conventions, in order to reveal the world anew. We tried to do this with both image and sound. In this case, we were after, in the image track, a new coupling of objectivity and subjectivity that had not occurred before in cinema. And we wanted the sound to be as immersive and intense, as acoustically untamed and monstrous as the image, and as the sea, boat, and elements are themselves in reality.
You both have backgrounds as anthropologists yet people feature only occasionally in Leviathan – was that a deliberate decision?
Yes. Anthropologists suffer from various maladies, including an excessive attachment to humanity, and also a terribly debilitating respect for meaningful propositionality.
Do you find contradictions in working in the area where observational documentary and experimental film meet?
Plenty, otherwise we wouldn't be working there. The challenge is not to solve the contradictions, but to create new ones.
Leviathan is screening at the GFT, Glasgow, Fri 29 Nov–Thu 5 Dec.