One of the most talked about films from the first LCIFF was "An American Piano". It told the try story of a young girl who played the piano for American POWs during WWII. This film went on to garner multiple awards at festivals around the world. The writer of that film is back with a film he directed this time. The man is Hamish Downie and the film is "Silence".
LCIFF Intern Joseph Lewis conducted an interview with Mr. Downie. Let's read...
LCIFF: What inspired you to title the film "Silence"?
Hamish Downie (HD): The original title was actually "The Last Time", but it was changed at the suggestion of Paul Leeming, the cinematographer and colorist on the film. As the film is about same-sex domestic violence, which is shrouded in silence in the LGBT community, we both agreed that the new title really fit the story we were trying to tell. The other nice thing about the word 'Silence' is that it is the same in both English and French. "Silence" is a film with no dialogue, so in part it is a nod to that, but also, with a French title, it is a little nod to the great French Animations that also don't use language. I remember the great Silent Film star Gloria Swanson once saying that we lost something special when films moved to sound. With language comes limitations, whereas silent films were universal, something that could bring the world together.
LCIFF: Does this short film reflect your background at all? How were you inspired to do this short film?
HD: Yes, it does. The film is inspired by two events that I went through during a toxic relationship I was in. As a member of the LGBT community, I felt that it was an important issue to talk about. There has been some great articles done in recent years on this topic, but nothing has been done on film. And as film is an audio-visual beast, I believe that it's a more powerful communication tool. Plus, an added bonus is, making the film was cheaper and more cathartic than counselling. I got the idea to make the film while we were having our first screening of 'An American Piano', and luckily, the incredible actress Qyoko Kudo, who was in both films, was very open to the idea. So, I felt some confidence to pursue the idea. I initially wanted Paul Leeming to direct again, but he encouraged me to try my hands at directing, so I set out to follow in his footsteps. What made it easier is that I'd worked with everyone on the set before and they really supported me and the film, as it was a very emotional experience for me, especially as a first time director.
LCIFF: What made you decide to make this film in black and white with an old film style?
HD: It's all in service of the story. We're telling the story of a person trapped in a toxic relationship. Usually, in these relationships, the abuser restricts every aspect of the victim's life. So, we wanted to tell this visually. Through the restrictive fashion and hair styles of Japan in the early 60s, the restricted color of the film noir style in the 1940s, the mask, and through shooting the film in a old ghost town. In order to be true to the period we were portraying, I believe Black and White was the way to go. Paul spent a lot of time getting the color right, to truly reflect the old film stock of the era, which produced very high contrast images.
LCIFF: Do you get inspiration from any other directors? If so, how did they influence you on making "Silence"?
HD: The film was definitely influenced by Yasujiro Ozu, specifically "Tokyo Story". The look, the feel and the cinematography was mostly from Ozu. Also, Howard Hawks directing "The Big Sleep". I'm very influenced by David Lynch in telling a story set in our dream life, rather than our waking life. I love the world of "Silent Hill", the games and the first film. The idea of setting a film in purgatory is very interesting to me. But, mostly, I'm influenced by my mentor and friend Paul Leeming, who directed the short film I wrote, "An American Piano". The way I direct, and managed a set is directly influenced from him. Also, I remember going to a talk given by Ridley Scott where he said that directing was 80% choosing the right cast and crew. And, I think I definitely lucked out with very talented group.