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Director Jack Bond on Latest Documentary An Artist's Eyes

27 November 18 interview: Ashley Carter

We caught up with the legendary director ahead of the release of his latest documentary, An Artist's Eyes...

Behind the scenes on An Artist's Eyes

He's the only director to have filmed with Salvador Dali, he made films for the South Bank Show on Werner Herzog and Roald Dahl, he brought Spike Milligan to present a children's edition of Points of View, and his feature documentary work includes films about Wilfred Owen and Adam Ant. There aren't many directors in the world with a canon of work as eclectic and incredible as that of Jack Bond. Now, the legendary filmmaker is back with An Artist's Eyes, his new film about British expressionist painter Chris Moon.

What made you want to make a documentary about artist Chris Moon?
I first met him at an exhibition of his work in Spitalfields where his agent Liam West suggested I might like to make a film on Chris. What attracted me, besides him being a great artist, was that he lives right on the edge. He lives through events and conditions that would kill most people. I love that kind of fearlessness. There was a lot of behavioural stuff to deal with, like his extreme panic attacks, but what is inside him is really sturdy. The more we shot, the fonder we became of him and his wonderful eccentricity.

Is there always an element of autobiography in a film about the creative process?
Often there are large elements of oneself that emerge in the work. One tries to be objective to begin with, but that's an impossible task given the complexity inherent in the nature of film. Who you are is bound to emerge, from the way the camera and sound are used right through to the subsequent, all-important editing process.

Has it brought back any memories of making a film about Salvador Dali?
An Artist's Eyes is only the second film I've made about a painter. I was the only person ever allowed by Salvador Dali to make a film with him.

But, of course, being around Dali was very different – to be around him, was like being around a stick of dynamite that could go off at any minute, and it often did. Moon was easier to work with but he didn't like the camera near him, whereas Dali fed off it, and that presented its own difficulties. Dali wanted to be in charge and so did I - the result, collisions. For instance, I put the feminist writer, Jane Arden, in the film to interact with Dali. In one scene, Dali asks her to do up his cufflinks, which she does. Then he tells her, 'Now you are my slave!' She firmly tells him she is not his slave. Dali explodes, throwing his hat at her, and charges off shouting, 'Everybody is my slave!'

Jack Bond and Salvador Dali filming in New York City

Wilfred Owen and Adam Ant are amongst your other documentary subjects. What is it about creative people that make them interesting subjects?
They have a strong depth of character and see the world in different ways from most of us. They can often be difficult to work with due to their artistic temperament, but personally I enjoy this challenge. Of course, Wilfred Owen was dead when I made the film on him and this made him easier to deal with, but I like to think he would have agreed with my version of him ultimately. 

Forget the fads of the day, they will pass, but your film will live on.

What is your own creative process when beginning a documentary? 
To empty my mind for a while and let the possibilities of approach flood in. They will come, but you know not from where. The next stage is to put together the all-important team who will help you carry the project through, no matter what the difficulties are that always present themselves. These could be anything from lack of production time, lack of enough money to get the project through or, even worse, the presence of doubt in oneself.

What has been the biggest change in the landscape of documentary since you made your first film? 
Personally, I don't think there's been any real change in the landscape of documentary. There will always be the greats such as Pennebaker, the Maysles Brothers, Robert Elfstrom who set the benchmark. Above all you need to avoid the tv-doc format of talking heads and let your imagination run free. There is an illusion that the digital world has brought greater accessibility and facility. These minor illusions have not and never will change the landscape of documentary. If you have a story to tell, just tell it truthfully, the way you see it. Forget the fads of the day, they will pass, but your film will live on.  

An Artist's Eyes is screening at Broadway Cinema from Friday 30 November

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