We had a lovely conversation with Ed Carter a British filmmaker based in Boston. On Illambra we are streaming his three short films – THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR, LETTERS FROM ENIWETOK and SPRING II, you can find them HERE.
ILLAMBRA: Why film and what were your first experiences with this visual sort of art?
EC: We had the 1973 Robin Hood cartoon on VHS and my brother and I watched that so many times when we were little. My grandparents had stacks and stacks of Laurel and Hardy tapes and we’d watch those a lot as well. That was when we were very young kids.
A big moment when I was a bit older was seeing Taxi Driver on TV, without knowing anything about it. I thought the atmosphere of it was completely hypnotizing. I like how certain films will hook you into these moods and atmospheres, and that’s what I want to explore with my films.
ILLAMBRA: Is making a script important part of your creative process, or you tend to improvise and experiment during the production?
EC: The feel of the film is something I want to imagine in advance. I write a script and shot list and it helps me to develop that. I think the length or tempo of the scenes is something I process more on the day. Some ideas come to life in ways I don’t expect and I have to respond and understand what’s right and what isn’t.
ILLAMBRA: Instead of using the classical narrative style, you chose to experiment with different means of storytelling, extracting the narrative and associative potential from every included element. Does this style offer more freedom during the creative process and interconnects with your chosen motifs?
EC: I’m interested in the uncanny and the absurd. You can find strange perceptions or sensations around the edges of films, in the crevasses between the edits, subtle dislocations in physical or universal orders. As a filmmaker you can be an explorer and go looking for these, and one way to do so is making and breaking rules about how things are associated or how they’re supposed to go together.
ILLAMBRA: Camerawork plays very important part in your films in creating a dreamy, surreal atmosphere. The analog film also adds to the materiality of the depicted emotional states, blurring the border between the inner and outer world. Could you tell us more about the reasons behind this visual style?
EC: The camera has to let you into the world, it’s your window, so how you set it up and run it, and what format you use, will be the fabric of the film’s reality. The reality of Letters From Eniwetok is HD Video – in my view, it just could not be constructed from any other material. I liked working with that and with the analogue static from a textural perspective.
Digital photography looks to me like presence and vacuity, and it has a visible negativity about it which I think is really interesting – while on celluloid film, you could just be filming thin air and it would look full of life and tactility. In Spring II, the air had to seem thick enough that the characters could drink it.
ILLAMBRA: In your later films, you entirely quit on verbal narrative elements. How does it influence your work with the actors, who have to express themselves using other means in your scenes?
EC: In the later two films, I did not use professional actors, so maybe that made things easier because there were no preconceptions. Hazel Rodes, who was in both Letters From Eniwetok, and Spring II, is a former ballet dancer, which helped, because a lot of the work was physical.
ILLAMBRA: It seems that (re)establishing connection to the collective memory, to one’s past and oneself is an important motif in your work…
EC: In films I like seeing moments of reflection and memory. It’s human apprehension, I find it very moving. You have to be awake and receptive to beauty, to the beauty that comes to you from the world and from your own history.
ILLAMBRA: Could you tell us about the influences on your art? Do you draw inspiration from literature, works of other cinematographers, paintings?
EC: I like many artists, among those I’m sure have influenced me are Maya Deren, David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky and Robert Bresson; JG Ballard, Franz Kafka, Flann O’Brien and Samuel Beckett; Lee Hazlewood, Mary Lou Williams, Burial and The Fall; Jose Luis Sert, Le Corbusier, Luis Barragan and Paul Rudolph; and many others, of course.
ILLAMBRA: Could you imagine yourself conveying your ideas using another medium? What would it be?
EC: I am working on some short pieces of writing, you could call them flash fiction or prose poems, although I don’t think those are very good names. I would like to say they are in the style of Daniil Kharms, Max Jacob, Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen, Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, etc (I like Ballard’s term for the pieces in that book: “condensed novels.”) I like writing them, but I don’t know yet how any of them might come out.
ILLAMBRA: What do you feel is missing in the film nowadays?
EC: If you’re looking at popular cinema, this isn’t a difficult question to answer. In 1969 the ten highest-grossing films here in the US were all original visions with different styles and ideas. Of the ten highest-grossing films of 2019, none were (there were two remakes, six sequels, and two franchise spin-offs; Disney made seven of them). It’s fairly plain to me that we’re not just missing a touch of artistry or daring, here or there — we’re missing our entire popular cinematic culture.
It’s gone. It’s sad, but, in a way, it’s also very invigorating for people who do what we do — because it means that the independent or amateur filmmaker, as well as curators and programmers like Illambra, have never been so necessary, so in demand. The appetite for good films will always be there, and audiences are more starved now than ever. That’s a real purpose, a real motivator, for us all.
ILLAMBRA: Are there any upcoming projects?
EC: I am working on scripts for a web series that I intend to start filming this summer.
Thank you for the interview!
The films of Ed Carter are available for streaming on Illambra – click HERE to watch.