Ahead of our screening of The Anchorage as part of the Kicking Ass: Middle Aged Women On Screen season, Jo Blair, Senior Programmer & Arts Manager at Picturehouse interviewed one of the film’s director’s C.W. Winter.
Can you tell us some more about the central character Ulla – who is she as a character and as an actor? What were her views on this project?
Ulla was the catalyst for The Anchorage. At one point while co-director Anders Edström and I were shooting a documentary in the Stockholm Archipelago, Ulla came out to the island for a visit. One night over dinner, she told us a story of a time when she had been alone on that island many years earlier. And, in the evenings, she noticed that there was a moose hunter who was walking around her cabin at night. This small piece of information seemed like enough of a starting point for a film. So, after some delay, we set about making The Anchorage.
Ulla wasn’t a trained actor. She was Anders’ mother. And as this was her story, it just seemed natural that she should appear in the film. This was her cabin. A terrain she knew well. A place where she knew how to catch her own fish, grow her own vegetables, harvest mushrooms, saw down trees, chop firewood, drive the boats, and so on. And she enjoyed swimming in the cold sea. Ulla had such a strength and grace and presence and know-how. We wouldn’t have wanted someone to come in and imitate that when we had the real thing. So we presented her with a rough outline of the film – we don’t use scripts – and she agreed to play the lead role. She was very supportive of the film from the beginning. She also has a small role in the film we are making now, Occident’s March.
You have spoken before about using ‘weak images’ in The Anchorage. What do you mean by that? Can you give an example of a ‘strong image’? And how might this relate to portraying a middle-aged woman on screen?
When we refer to weak and strong images, of course that needs some explaining as that could be taken to mean any number of things. It’s shortcut language we use between ourselves. What we’re talking about there is doing our level best to offer some resistance to the dominant economy of images. And by that, I don’t just mean advertising and Hollywood, I also mean Indie films – which is a faux-position to begin with. Indie isn’t a resistance to Hollywood. It’s almost always just auditioning. I’m also referring to most art-house films. This sense, when one is on a film set, that the aim of each image is the creation of the greatest allure. It’s commodity production. Our aim isn’t to react to that or to be contrarian. Our aim is simply to offer an alternative. Something more straight-on. More matter-of-fact. And so often this means discarding or just not filming images that would be too alluring or too stunning or too finished. That said, these borders between commodity and non-commodity are never fixed. Those commodity traders are tireless co-opters. And so the best one can do is provide a document, create a record of the time that the film was made. And then with the next film, modify the record to reflect that time.
Our aim with this isn’t to be perverse or difficult. To the contrary, we would hope that a certain audience would find this pleasing, to be some kind of relief. And to be clear, this isn’t a solo venture. There’s a minor history here. You had someone like Robert Bresson letting loose with aphorisms like ‘defeat the false powers of photography,’ ‘a whole made of good images is detestable,’ ‘not beautiful photography, not beautiful images, but necessary images and photography,’ and so on. And we find that sort of spirit sympathetic.
Getting to the theme of this particular screening series and our featuring Ulla, a woman of 69 years, as the central figure in the film… it seems somewhat astonishing that in 2017 we should still need to have this conversation. For us, her inclusion just seemed natural. Just as the new film we’re making is centred on a woman who is 70. Of course, we recognize there is a politic to this. It’s a resistance to the types of corrosively ageist and sexist casting choices that pervade popular film. Though I can’t self-valorise and say that this was our intention. Our aim is to combine fiction with actuality. And so with that, we’ll just naturally gravitate towards people who most interest us in real life. People of a certain age are simply more likely to have greater accretions of character, history, story, and fatigue and more virtuosic relationships with struggle, resilience, simple joy, mortality, the human condition. Part of me finds this all too obvious to have to say out loud. But I suppose if we are to take an accounting of the dominant choices made by films, this obviousness seems somehow elusive. Or more likely, I suppose, it just fails to advance the ulterior motivations of film careerists. I dunno. I’d prefer to remain somewhat inexpert in that sort of thinking. We’re just following our interests. And we hope that that can translate into something personal.
How would you describe the kind of cinema that you make? Who are your forebears and your peers?
Well, so much of filmmaking is problem solving. It’s going into a situation and working out the best way to access and record what interests us. So, for much of the work, ideas of inspiration don’t really apply. It’s more a matter of inventing our own way of recording that’s dependent on a given geography or social dynamic. It’s a lot of nuts-and-bolts kind of stuff. For most fiction filmmakers, the goal is coming up with the best story they can. For us, it’s not about that. It’s about coming up with a new approach to production in the first place. Some of this is as practical as boiling the crew down to three to five people and then abandoning traditional on-set roles by having each crewmember wear many hats. It’s a flatter hierarchy and a smaller footprint that allows us more agility and more access to actual intimacy than a standard fiction cinema crew and all their attendant apparatus. From there, it’s a matter of working out formal ideas that, on the one hand, are our own, and, on the other hand, are self-reflexively grounded in the material, the situation, etc.
In terms of inspiration, we’re more interested in music, art, and literature than we are in thinking about other films. Back when we first met, some years before making The Anchorage, we were listening to things like Henry Flynt, Alvin Lucier, Earth, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Charlemagne Palestine, Terry Jennings – minimal composers with arrayed interests in duration, austerity, repetition, drones, field recording, this sort of thing. We knew we liked the feelings this music gave us and wondered if we might be able to get something like these feelings from narrative film. And then, also we were listening to more song-ish stuff like John Fahey and Neil Young. So maybe some of that sort of sensibility is somehow in there. That said though, of course some movies do work their way in there too. We revisit Yasujiro Ozu and Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet maybe more than anything else. And we liked Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies and some of Bruce Nauman’s ‘60s videos. That sort of thing. And maybe some novelists like Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor, B.S. Johnson, etc. Frank, plainspoken, recursive accounts. We’re also interested in some kind of Venn diagram of Jean Epstein, Jacques Rancière, and Histoire(s) du cinéma Jean-Luc Godard – this idea of a cinema that isn’t simply illustration of pre-written texts but that acts to capture moments and incidents as they occur.