Claire Stewart: You're listening to 'Film Buff's Forecast' on 3 Triple R, and with me in the studio is Zack Winestine, whose film States of Control is screening at the Capitol tonight at 6:45, and tomorrow at the Forum at 3:OO, as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival. Zack, welcome to the show.
Zack Winestine: Thank you.
CS: Now, this is a very dense and intriguing film, and I mean dense in a kind of layered way, rather than a...
ZW: Thickheaded way!
CS: [laughs] Is this story something that you've had with you for a long time?
ZW: You know, these things start out simply and then mushroom into increasingly complicated forms. I started out being fascinated by a character (Lisa) who feels the need to take her ideas to their logical conclusion. She has strong beliefs and unlike most of us isn't willing to keep her beliefs separate from her everyday life. She feels this compulsion to understand the consequences of what she thinks and then act on those consequences. Then I asked myself, what else do I know about this character? where does she live? what does she do? who are her relationships with? It becomes kind of a mesh, a web of interests. And I hope it becomes a convincing tapestry, and conveys something of the texture of who this person is and the world in which she lives.
CS: Lisa is actually in the beginning of the film a writer and a storyteller, and the process of storytelling seems to be quite important during the film. I particularly liked that shot early on in the film where she's literally writing on the screen, and I felt like that was an indication of the director's intent to kind of write on the screen yourself, because there are ways the film works that seem to be specifically related to playing around with the idea of the way stories are told.
ZW: I think, oddly enough, it's a story about the risks of telling stories. Lisa had past ambitions to be a novelist, but at the beginning of the film she's already very cynical about the whole notion of telling stories. I think she feels this tremendous fear that telling stories can become a substitute for actually living. A fear that her fantasies, her ambitions, will all be transposed into an imaginary world instead of being lived in her actual world, whatever that might be. I think she's at a point where she wants to throw all this aside, it all seems like a huge distraction to her. And what becomes increasingly important is her desire to find an action that will transform her own life. Everything else seems a substitute, something which gets in the way and diverts her from what she feels is really important. I mean, yeah, it's a little ironic because obviously I have written a story, I have made a film that I hope tells a convincing and intriguing story. I'm not Lisa. I suppose if I were Lisa, I would have burned the negative and gone off... [general laughter] ... and done something useful!
CS: I think what is quite telling, if we can use that word safely, is the emergence of her reconnection with a sort of, I don't know, a bodily existence in the world. Initially, that only comes through accidental gestures or small gestures of protest, like the moment where she bangs the lock off the rehearsal room door. And then by the end of the film you actually have very little dialogue at all.
ZW: Lisa's a very verbal, very articulate person. I mean, I'm glad you brought that up, because there is a lot of talk in this film, particularly in the first half. I was very interested in trying to create this movement between someone who's initially very articulate and very verbal, and who then essentially gives up on words about half-way through. The last third of the film is an attempt to try and convey her experience through non-verbal means, which is obviously one of the wonderful things film can do. I came up as a Director of Photography, and before that I was a Camera Assistant, and I've always been fascinated by the incredibly rich possibilities which the film medium has for conveying emotion, and for conveying states of mind. It's frequently frustrating for me when I go out and see films in a theater, it's so rare that these possibilities are really made use of fully. Occasionally you see a film in which they are fully used, and you just say, ahhh, wow, this is fantastic, this recharges my faith in the abilities of the medium. And I certainly don't want to say that I completely succeeded in doing this, but it was something I tried hard to do.
CS: I think that your background as a Cinematographer is actually quite evidenced in the film. The look of the film, the way that the film is actually shot, it's got quite a bleached sort of palette in some ways, and it seems to be I think quite integrated with - I don't know how to articulate it perfectly - it seems to be quite integrated with the sense of distance and connection that the film fluctuates between. For example, throughout the film there are quite beautiful shots of clouds in different formations and with different flashes of color running through them. They seem to express quite beautifully the change that's going on in Lisa, until you get to that final moment which is the darkest moment for her in some ways at the end of the film, and it's also the moment where the clouds have actually cleared. And there seems to be something quite strong being suggested by that.
ZW: The whole film is almost Lisa's point of view. The film is an attempt to bring the viewer inside Lisa's head, to enable the viewer to experience the world in the same that Lisa does, and to understand what she's feeling at any given moment. And these clouds, to me they're an indication that there's something else out there, there's a greater world beyond the world which she's living in on an everyday basis. It's a constant reminder that there's something bigger, something larger, something more meaningful somehow, and it's this other world that she's so desperate to make contact with. It drives her throughout the film, in increasingly determined ways, to get rid of the nonsense, to get rid of all the stuff that seems to be in her way, and break through to that other dimension. And the odd thing is that at the end of the film I think she does make contact with that world. It's just in a form very different from the form that she might have expected at the beginning of the film, and certainly I hope in a form very different than the audience would have anticipated at the beginning of the film.
CS: Yes, absolutely.
ZW: One of the things I was interested in doing was creating a film that does constantly surprise the audience. At the beginning the film sets up a certain set of expectations -- small American independent film, there's a fair amount of talk, it seems to be about relationships -- and then maybe a third of the way through it veers off in a very different direction, in a way which I hope will make people catch their breath a little bit. And then near the end of the film it once again goes off in what I hope is a surprising direction. I'd like... I've always been drawn to films where you're on the edge of your seat, not out of suspense, not because you're wondering who's going to jump out of a dark closet and hit somebody over the head with a club, but because the tone shifts, and because you're constantly having to reevaluate the world that you're being shown and learning new things about that world. To me that's exciting.
CS: There're a couple of films that are actually highlighted within your film, first one being Summer With Monika, the Bergman film, and the whole dialogue that Lisa's husband has with her in the boat about Harriet Andersson, and how obsessed he was with Harriet Andersson when he was a teenager. And I must confess that to me just came out of nowhere, and I was wondering, oh my god, what sort of connections am I supposed to be making between this film and Bergman's films.
ZW: [laughs] That's interesting. Have you seen Summer with Monika?
CS: I haven't seen Summer with Monika. I've seen Harriet Andersson's performances in other Bergman films.
ZW: Well, I certainly hope the scene works even if you're not specifically familiar with the film it refers to! Summer with Monika is actually a film I am very fond of. It's a film about rebellion, it's a film about two kids who just throw over their lives and go off on their own to an island and live out their fantasies for a summer. And it's beautifully done, and Harriet Andersson gives a truly amazing performance. I was... oh gosh, I don't want to read too much into this. I think that if Lisa were to see that film, she'd identify really strongly with that character. In a sense she's almost an older version of that character, because the Harriet Andersson character is maybe 18 I think, and Lisa's in her early thirties. She's an older character, a better educated character, but emotionally in a similar place. Just at a later stage in her life.
Interestingly enough, when I wrote the script there was originally a scene later in the film where Lisa actually watches a clip from Summer With Monika. It's a scene with Harriet Andersson and the boy going off to this island and there's gorgeous nature photography and a sense of freedom and release. I did try to get permission to use this clip from Bergman and from Svensk Filmindustri, but didn't succeed. Bergman apparently hates allowing clips of his films to be used in other people's films, which I completely understand, and I ended up having to abandon that idea.
CS: And of course there's the porn film!
ZW: One of the huge issues that I think Lisa has is this whole problem of pictures and images replacing experience. And pornography is maybe the most literal, concrete example of this. She's very aware that she's living in a world that's becoming increasingly artificial, and this is something that she's very disturbed by. She's looking for some kind of honest experience, some kind of very direct connection with the world, and she's finding that the world in which she lives is making this increasingly difficult. Instead of going out and spending a couple of days in the woods, people look at a book of pictures of the woods, or go to a movie that's about a wilderness adventure. And there's a tremendous force in our culture that is increasing the artifice of the way in which we connect with the world.
CS: That's also... I mean this is something that I'm not going to make any assumptions about, but there seems to be something being expressed in terms of the relationship between New York and LA in that way as well. Without wanting to tell listeners too much about the film -- they should go and see it!...
ZW: It's a running gag in the film...
CS: It is a running gag! I felt quite astounded that there was a running gag in the film [much laughter] because it's a serious film on so many other levels.
ZW: I mean yeah, it is a serious film, and I am trying to play with some serious ideas in it, but humor's an essential part of that. It's an intrinsically funny situation when you have somebody who is increasingly living in a world that doesn't quite jibe with the world that everybody else is living in, and whose experience of events and experience of places is becoming just a bit different from everyone else's. You know, I worked extremely hard to bring out the humor in this, and one of the most rewarding things for me is when I see the film with an audience and we get the laughs. I think there's maybe nothing harder than having a room full of people and getting them to laugh, getting them to let go. Few things feel better than hearing that. The LA gag also came from my own experience. I live in New York, I work in the film industry in New York, and there was a terrible time in the late 1980's when almost the entire New York industry picked up and moved to LA. Every week I was saying good-by to somebody, and it got to the point where I literally knew almost nobody in New York and I knew a tremendous number of people in LA.
ZW: LA's just not a place I feel very comfortable with. I don't want to get into all the cliches about Los Angeles, but there's a surprising truth to a fair number of them! So for Lisa, at least, I think LA represents an extreme vision of a world she doesn't want to be part of.
CS: OK, so anyone who's interested in seeing States of Control, I'd just like to remind you that it's on at the Capitol at 6:45 tonight and at the Forum at 3:00 tomorrow. Zack, thanks very much for coming in.
ZW: You're very welcome!
BOXOFFICE MAGAZINE review of States of Control
filmcritic.com review of States of Control
DVD Verdict review of States of Control
ARTS TODAY (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) interview with Zack Winestine
FILM THREAT interview with Zack Winestine
FILM FORECAST interview with Zack Winestine
PRINCETON Magazine review of States of Control
INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER article about States of Control
WIRED Magazine review of States of Control
FILMRUTAN (Sweden) Ron Holloway's review of States of Control at the Mannheim International Film Festival