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An interview with filmmaker Charlie Lyne

26 May 2017 Will Rathbone

London Calling speaks to filmmaker Charlie Lyne about his new short film, Fish Story, as well as his creative process, his previous films and why he sent the BBFC a ten-hour recording of paint drying on a wall.

Charlie Lyne, whose new short Fish Story is debuting as part of Sundance Film Festival: London, is a filmmaker and critic for The Guardian and Sight & Sound. He’s excited to speak to London Calling because “its novel to do an interview for a short. I think this is the first, and probably one of only two, interviews for this I’ll ever do. It’s quite exciting to talk fresh about something.”
 
Lyne’s films encompass both pop culture and art-house influences. His 2014 debut, Beyond Clueless, is “a collage film built from hundreds of different teen movies” which revisits the genre and views it afresh – re-appraising with the benefit of hindsight. His ability to look back and reflect on work honestly can also be seen in the short essays accompanying each of his films online. They are “the very final step of the process where I realise what I’ve made and attempt to rationalise it. It’s a useful exercise at the end to try and put into words what you’ve attempted to create.”
 
So you don’t really know what you’re making when you start out? “No! I’d like to pretend I start with a grand vision for each film, and then realise that vision methodically and perfectly, but actually its much more the reverse. All of my films started as the germ of a thought, and were incredibly underdeveloped. I rush headlong into making the thing before I really understand what it is. Then somewhere in that process I find something that works and slowly reverse engineer the point of the film.”


Image courtesy of Sundance Institute
 
Although he is clearly very smart, there’s no pretence to Lyne – he makes films according to hunches then reflects objectively on what he has made, before releasing. “I like filmmakers who take chances and produce a bulk of stuff: someone like Hong Sang-soo, who has been restlessly making stuff for decades. Some of it may not necessarily be the best quality – but at least they’re experimenting. I love the impulse of always working and making new stuff, as opposed to producing a film every five years and creating this perfectly precision-tuned back catalogue. I find that whole approach very artistically stifling.”
 
So what about Fish Story? There’s precious little information available online about the film. “I’ve purposely tried to be a bit vague about it because the whole film slightly hinges on a mystery. The crux of the film is an investigation into whether there was a gathering in the 1980s, in North Wales, of all the people in the local area who had fish-related surnames – Jim Haddock, and Maureen Cod and so on. It’s a story that a friend of mine told me a long time ago that I’ve always found incredibly intriguing, and bizarre, so I’m investigating whether there’s any truth to it. I’ve been trying to keep that mystery going for a little bit – at least until the film winds up online. Then everyone can know for themselves!”

 
Image courtesy of Sundance Institute
 
Lyne’s open approach to his work and his clear sense of humour seem to contrast with two of the more challenging films that stand out from his back catalogue. Paint Drying is a ten-hour long shot of a freshly painted wall, whilst Blackout is a 3-minute montage of ten scenes, all in complete darkness, from different horror movies. Are they companion pieces? “They actually came from quite different places. Blackout is something that I hope people will actually watch whereas Paint Drying was very much not intended to be viewed other than by the two members of the British Board of Film Classification for whom it was made.”
 
“With Blackout it was my intention to try and reveal something artistically by juxtaposing all those pitch-black scenes from different movies. Paint Drying is about this strange blind spot in society. We abolished the censorship of literature and theatre halfway through the 20th century, yet we still labour under the same film censorship policy we’ve had since the advent of the medium. Nowadays we have very few egregious examples of film censorship but, while that power is still in the hands of a government-mandated organisation like the BFBC, then the potential for that kind of thing is boundless.”
 
So you sent the BBFC a ten-hour long film that you don’t even intend to release? That seems deliberately provocative, and there’s definitely a slight element of piss-taking there, surely? “It is a provocation to some extent. For me the art of Paint Drying was more the experience of it being screened rather than the literal, 10 hour shot of a wall – which isn’t that stimulating, to be honest.”


Image courtesy of Sundance Institute

 
What is he looking forward to at Sundance London? “I’d like to see Icarus, which I’ve been waiting to see for a long time, and I’ve heard amazing things about Bushwick – a Precinct 13-style film set in Brooklyn. There are a few I’ve already seen – I’d really recommend Dina, one of my favourite films of the year – and I’d really like to see the David Lowery film Ghost Story as well.” How about outside of film? “I saw a singer called Aldous Harding at Omeara in London Bridge – who was amazing – and I’m going to see Daniel Kitson’s show at the Roundhouse too, which I’m very excited for.”
 
Fish Story is being screened as part of Sundance Film Festival UK Shorts on Sunday June 4 at 12:30pm. Tickets are £16.
Sundance Film Festival: London runs at Picturehouse Central from June 1-4.
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