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Another Year - Mike Leigh interview

Mike Leigh directs Another Year

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MIKE Leigh talks about his latest film, the critically acclaimed Another Year, what inspired it and why he loves working with many of the same actors over and over again. He was talking during a press conference held during the 54th BFI London Film Festival…

Q. You’ve said during other interviews that Another Year is one of your most personal films to date. Could you expand on that in terms of which of the many themes are most personal to you and why you wanted to explore them?
Mike Leigh: Well, it is a film about togetherness and loneliness; it’s a film about family and parents and children, and it’s a film about growing older. And all of those things, not least the last, are things that I identify with quite closely. It contains all kinds of things like kindness, warmth, giving, taking, disappointment, emotional loss, yearning, caring, nurturing and the relationship between life and work, and the difficulty of where you draw the line when you give and you open yourself to other people and they overstep the mark… There’s a whole lot of things which, in different ways, resonate with my own feelings and experience of life.

Q. Where did you attain such a grasp of the pain that women of a certain age feel about loneliness and family? I’m particularly thinking of the way you depict the pain that the Lesley Manville character felt with her loneliness…
Mike Leigh: Since I presume that your question is based on a premise that it’s in some way extraordinary for a man/artist to understand women, I think that’s absurd myself. The history of art, literature and film is full of male artists who have understood women and vice versa. So, as far as I’m concerned it’s about being sensitive to how people are. That’s what motivates it and what drives it.

Q. What do you like about working with actors such as Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville over and over again?
Mike Leigh: Well, as you will have experienced over the course of this press conference, these guys are extremely nice people and I do exploit the freedom I have in who I work with. Apart from looking for very talented people, which they are, it’s also good to have kindred spirits around and people you actually like… because otherwise what’s the point really?

There are plenty of actors around, and plenty of good and famous actors, but these guys are special. They’re not just actors, they’re creative artists; they’re versatile, they’re plugged into the world and they can deliver serious investigations and representations of the real people out there in a very responsible, mature and intelligent way. They also have enormous senses of humour and they’re just special… so that’s why.

Q. How much will the axing of the UK Film Council affect you?
Mike Leigh: I think it is a short-sighted decision. Obviously, the jury is out until we know how it’s going to be replaced, or how things will work in lieu of the Film Council. The government has said that there won’t be any less funding from those sources for films, but even that is starting to sound a little bit confused. We don’t really know what’s going to happen. So, for the moment it sounds and feels like bad news. This film, Another Year, is part-funded by the Film Council, of course, as virtually all British films are.

Q. What do you think of the London Film Festival and its importance as a showcase for British film in particular?
Mike Leigh: This is the 13th film of mine that’s been in the London Film Festival and I regard it as a kind of home. I’m also a very avid and regular audience participator in this festival and have been for almost 50 years. It’s very special and it’s very close to my heart as a film festival. It is always a privilege to be selected for it. Why it’s a great festival apart from the fact that it’s on our doorstep is because it’s such a fantastic, comprehensive view of the year’s world cinema. The London Film Festival healthily embraces world cinema as world cinema, which is to say that it’s not just Hollywood orientated and it’s not parochial about its British content. Both of those elements always figure very strongly when they’re there to be drawn from, but it is a world review festival.

Personally, I’ve always thought its great strength was that it has no prizes or competitions. That’s slightly changing, but I hope it doesn’t change too much because the great thing about the London Film Festival and its integrity is that it’s concerned with the celebration of film and not the gratuitous nurturing of the competitive spirit. The other thing that’s worth saying about it is that now, with the way it’s grown, is that it’s a fantastic audience festival. In a way, the London Film Festival used to be a much smaller event. But there are festivals where there’s not much of an audience. But this is a massively popular event and it’s very, very exciting to be in any of the venues… not just at the Southbank. This venue, The Vue West End, is a new venue for the festival but the place is buzzing. It’s an audience event and it’s really exciting.

Q. Can you talk about why you have decided to cancel your visit to Israel to receive an honour in recognition of your contribution to film? You have said it’s against your conscience to come?
Mike Leigh: That’s absolutely right and when the time comes that Israel behaves respectably and when there is a just peace for the Palestinians and Gaza is returned to humanity then I will be first in line to go and share anything, if anyone wants to, with my colleagues, the Israeli filmmakers and other artists. Until that happens, I think it’s appropriate for all of us to leave a very clear message that we shouldn’t and can’t do that.

Q. What kind of response to your films is most important to you now: audience, critics, friends or family? And has that changed over time?
Mike Leigh: For me, in the end, a film only has any meaning… it only lives, when it’s in front of an audience. Critical reaction is important, the reaction of one’s friends is important because it’s an indication of something but actually it’s audiences that it’s all about; that’s where a film has a meaning. When it resonates with an audience, an audience reacts positively and the thing about my films is that they all raise reactions and each audience is a little bit different because they’re very complex. So, that’s what’s rich and that’s where it matters. So, that’s the most important thing.

Read our review of Another Year

Read our interview with Ruth Sheen