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An Interview with Mike Ott, jury member
Mike OttMike Ott

Mike Ott: „I like taking realistic people and shoot them in a cinematic way."

Mike Ott is a film director and he's part of Comedy Cluj International Festival 2014's main jury. People talk about him as 'the next big thing' in the independent American cinema. In the last years, he made a trilogy, which won him some important prizes, like 'Someone to Watch Award' at Independent Spirit Awards, in 2011. He once said his movies are about „someone trying to achieve the american dream" and that „all my films are named after locations".

I.I.: How do you see the independent film industry in America and worldwide?

M.O.: I think in America, 'independent' doesn't really mean anything. It's like a word used by corporations to make a movie sound cool. (...) The term was taken away from what was independent, I think. So, the state of things, in the US, the gap gets bigger between the independent film and a bad studio film. Getting money is getting more difficult.

I.I.: Does the state in your country have a relationship with filmmaking, in terms of financial support?

M.O.: No. Not at all. We are totally on our own, in America.

I.I.: How do you see the battle between independent cinema and the commercial, blockbuster type?

M.O.: For myself as a filmmaker, this blockbusters are just about plot and the other ones are about story and characters.

I.I.: I watched a part of your trilogy and i made some research. I understand you are the type of filmmaker who seeks for magic realism. How hard is it to make it and why did you choose this type of cinema?

M.O.: I sought for this magic realism especially in my latest movie (Lake Los Angeles, 2014). This trilogy I've made (Littlerock, 2010; Pearblossom Hwy, 2012 and Lake Los Angeles, 2014) is dominated by realism and only in this last one there is a magic realism. For me, realism in cinema is the most interesting. My favourite films deal with realism, like Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990) or Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1977), which are blurring the line between fact and fiction, narrative and documentary. (...) In Littlerock, a boy we found is playing a version of himself, so I like taking realistic people and shoot them in a cinematic way. (...) I like French New Wave.

I.I.: How would you define yourself as a filmmaker?

M.O.: I feel like I'm still a student.

I.I.: What do you search when you make a movie and how do you make a movie?

M.O.: For these movies, we found the location first and after we wrote the script around the location. So, if there was a truck stop or a swimming pool, we would write scenes around what existed. I like starting with the place. There is a way to find a truth in that.

I.I.: Once you said a pretty logical thing: „as an artist, you have to know when and when not to listen to criticism". So, when do you and when do you not listen to criticism? Do you have a group of trustees in this sense?

M.O.: Usually, during editing, when I figure out what to cut out and what to keep in, I still meet with my mentor Thom Andersen, and I have a couple of friends I listen to. For me, I try to stick to the things are most important and to hold on to them.

I.I.: From what i've read, your protagonists are insecure and are searching for something. They are in some way intruders or at least social outsiders. Is this a trademark of yours?

M.O.: I think so. I'm interested in movies like people that society has totally forgotten about.

I.I.: Is it something which was in your past? So, did you live in a 'forgotten' place?


Best film - Jacky au royaume des filles /
Jacky in the Kingdom of Women

Best director - Lionel Baier
(Les grandes ondes (à l'ouest) / Longwave)

Best script - Riad Sattouf (Jacky au royaume des filles /
Jacky in the Kingdom of Women)

Best acting - Elise Schaap (Afscheid van de Maan /
Farewell to the Moon)

Best short film - A hardworking robber

Best student short film - Goodman

Special Mention - Studies on Hysteria

M.O.:Sure. But I mean you can make that argument about anyone, because at a point, everybody is an outcast or an outsider; sometimes, we are total insiders. I think that growing up and getting into filmmaking and into music and stuff... before that I was like a lost outsider. Cinema helped me getting out of all the things I was feeling insecure about.

I.I.: Cinema for you can be read as a therapy?

M.O.: Totally!

I.I.: Do you see yourself as 'the next x director' or you are just Mike Ott, a still young director who wants to be known for his own style and ideas?

M.O.: I just feel lucky if I get to make another movie. Everything will happen as it happen.

I.I.: To be more clear, do you want to go on some director's paths, or you seek for a path as original as possible?

M.O.: I mean in all of my films I stole stuff from my favourite directors, but ultimately there's not a director I would like to be like. I would hopefully like to create my own path, but I think I'll always steal from the ones who inspired me.

I.I.: Do you know Japanese of Spanish?

M.O.: No.

I.I.: So, was it hard to see if the actor's lines were natural? Because they speak in these two languages.

M.O.: I think when you watch performances, you can tell if the act is bad or good even though you don't know the language, you can read on their face. I was allways nervous if they weren't saying what they were supposed to say, so we always checked. (...) With my thesis for grad school I was traveling to festivals and I was always in other countries; like being here, where I don't know what everyone is saying. It is interesting how language can help you or hold you back.

I.I.: In film theory, Andrew Sarris borrowed the auteur theory from the French Cahiers du Cinémaand he said that to be classified as an auteur, a director must accomplish technical competence in his technique (1), personal style in terms of how the movie looks and feels (2), and interior meaning (3). So, do you consider yourself an auteur?

M.O.: I mean I would hope I'm considered an auteur, but it's not really for me to decide. I would hope that someone could see something from my movies and know that it was the same person who made the other films. I think I make movies about the same kind of people, the same kind of milieu.

I.I.: How hard is to meet the expectations and to do the path that you are doing?

M.O.: I think it's extremely hard. I mean I always thought that making films would get easier as I went along, but I found that is as hard as the one before. And especially make the kind of movies that I make. It's an independent American movie, which is spoken in a foreign language, so it's like a foreign film, which makes it even harder in America. Every step is difficult.

I.I.: How important is it for you the criticism and film criticism?

M.O.: I don't really read film critics. I mean, I don't listen to criticism that much. I try not to think about it. Either way, if you believe the bullshit in that sense or you believe the good thing it's a kind of bullshit anyway. It's the same. It can screw your point of view if you want to impress a person or think about what film critics will say. (...) I mean, I like to discuss with someone, but at the end of the day, if someone watches my film and hates it, I won't try to convince him to like it. Also, I met very many film critics, who have an all-knowing idea about cinema and than I actually talked to them and they didn't know shit about cinema. When I started to make movies, I was very reactive to criticism, because I assumed everyone was smarter than me and knew more than me, but now, after I actually met the critic who wrote review for my movies, it's like some dipshit who doesn't know anything. So why would I be afected by their opinion?

I.I.: I'm sure not all the film critics are like this.

M.O.: Some are geniuses, of course. But I say you have to have some perspective about it.

I.I.: As a member of a jury, what do you search for in a film?

M.O.: I like something which speaks to me. Like more than a comedy than can be funny, but has something to say. I mean that's what's great about cinema. You can go beyond what you can see.

I.I.: How hard is it to reach an agreement with all the members of a jury regarding the winning movie?

M.O.: With this jury I don't know because we haven't talked, we talk tomorrow. But in the past... it depends, there can be a lot of personality and sometimes it's like super smooth. (...) I had some long debates.

I.I.: What are your impressions about Comedy Cluj?

M.O.: I didn't know what to expect, but I'm surprised how well it's put together. They've treated us so well. Many times at festivals you don't know what to expect.

I.I.: Okey, so thanks for the interview.

M.O.: Yes, good questions!

Ion Indolean


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