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Lucien Castaing-Taylor talks Leviathan

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We caught up with co-director Lucien Castaing-Taylor to hear more about this stunning documentary which has become the talk of the Festival – just one day after its UK premiere.

Leviathan is an immersive experience, drawing the audience into the voyage of a battered Atlantic Ocean fishing trawler. The mesmerising and abstract film is a sensory experience, a documentary without the hallmarks of narration and interviews.

The film held its UK Premiere here at EIFF 2013, and it is the first time one of Castaing-Taylor’s films has featured in a British film festival.

“It’s the first time ever,” said Castaing-Taylor. I don’t think of myself as nationalistic or whatever, but it’s the first time that anything I’ve made has been accepted in a UK Festival so it’s super exciting.”

Co-directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, Leviathan was announced today as the winner of the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film. I asked how he felt about the win.

“It’s too early to tell. I’m honoured, flattered, weirded out – it’s great. I’m British but the film doesn’t take place in the UK. Even though it takes place in the middle of the Atlantic, it’s more of a universal film. It could take place anywhere. It’s very meaningful to me because Chris Fujiwara told me who the committee members were – so it’s very moving that this jury would think it is worthy of this prize.”

The film is shot entirely at sea, aboard a trawl fishing boat. Rather than being about fisherman, or the fishing industry, it’s an exploration of life at sea, mirroring the experience of being aboard, and losing a sense of time and place.

“In typical cinema fiction or non-fiction humans occupy the pride of place. They loom large, the films are about the humans. Nature or the city might be there as a backdrop but the protagonists or the characters are humans. In our films I guess we always try to relativise the human and to make them be as, I think in reality we are, part of a much larger sphere of nature.

“I suppose we tried to situate the human in this much larger, ecological, post-human kind of cosmos which I think we all inhabit in our day-to-day lives but we forget that we are a part of it.”

The film simulates this life at sea, using extreme close-ups and shots filmed on tiny sports cameras strapped to fishermen’s arms, the front of the ship, held on sticks below the water or high in the air to create a sense of place – all in a place that is without time or space.

“Having extreme close-ups fragmenting space and fragmenting time in that way were all part of our efforts to not give a sense of that continuity. Not only did we lose our sense of time and space out there, but I guess we feel that the conventional ways that cinema – both fiction and non-fiction – create an illusion of continuous time and space.

“In real life, when you’re living an experience, you’re living it in ambiguity. We’re constantly trying to make sense of our lives as we’re living them, so we tried to film and edit in such a way that that inability to make pure sense out of experience was reflected in the aesthetics of the cinematography and the editing.”

Castaing-Taylor hopes that audiences will embrace the film and the fresh experience that it offers.

“We don’t give them many of the stables that they would expect – through documentary or from fiction. If they’re able to summon up another kind of attention that would allow them to engage with a different kind of art making or a different kind of filmmaking grammar, that would be rewarding or defamiliarising in a way that’s productive – that would be good.”

Leviathan screens tomorrow, Saturday 29 June, 2.40pm at Cineworld. Buy your tickets online, by phone on 0131 623 8030, or at any Film Festival Box Office.

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