The U.S. director, screenwriter and producer Todd Haynes is known for shaping out an original universe in which his familiarity with U.S. and European cinema go hand in glove with a modern sensibility. His characters – often with extraordinary performances by the female leads – bring back the magic of great cinema, of art that achieves the sublimation of reality without lapsing into disenchantment.
You've been described throughout your whole career as an “independent” filmmaker. What does this label, and independence, mean to you?
Independence is really about the ways in which we keep on pushing against the boundaries of what the medium prescribes and hopefully, in doing so, keep the medium alive. When you're questioning conventions, things don't get stuck, and that's what keeps creative experiences vital, even in the best forms of popular entertainment. People used to attribute the “independent” label in regards of the way films were financed, not getting money from the studio. That very quickly became a very limited way to describe works, because many times this “independence” resembled studio filmmaking in style and sensibility. They just wanted to get in the club. Instead, I always wanted to question the club.
What kind of filmmakers inspired you and your style?
The kind of art, literature and film that formed me and always made me think was the one where you'd question society, and see things in a new way from a different angle. I was coming out from an experimental sensibility and ended up re-examining the formal traditions of classic Hollywood filmmaking in its heyday. A lot of filmmakers, who have attracted me, like Fassbinder, made the same journey. He started from a radical sensibility and then discovered Douglas Sirk, looking at the conventions of melodrama. It is the same kind of outsider's sensibility that you can see in the works of Alfred Hitchcock as well. He wanted the audience to be in his grip, and yet he was able to speak about the universal conflicts inside all of us, the danger and illicit. He could be radical and popular at the same time.
You made 7 feature films in 26 years. Would you have liked to make more different and larger films?
Definitely not larger, I wouldn't want to move towards a more commercial landscape. I am content with my level of fame. I would still want to be able to live my life otherwise I would lose contact from the world. I want to stay connected to what drives me, and not just turn into a product maker; check boxes of success and enter the award machine. Especially the process of award campaigning is a strange distortion; a marketing reality that I accept and understand, but that destroys something inside you every time you go through it. But festivals, I love.
Frequent collaborators throughout your career include producer Christine Vachon, cinematographer Ed Lachman and actors like Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett. Did you consciously try to create a family to work with?
As a family, we are indeed a very dysfunctional one (laughs). But of course, we are a very functional one when it comes to work. They help me with their ongoing vitality, with their creativity, and also in bringing new things into the fold.
Reprinted shortened interview taken by Massimo Benvegnu for PardoLive, the Newsletter for the Locarno Film Festival