You have had an eclectic career to date which embraces documentary filmmaking, playwriting, and installation art. Does your work in one form influence the way you approach the others ?
Yes, I think very much so. For me it has become a dance in between. My first project started out as a theatre piece based on interviews with two Swedish men in their 60s who regretted going through sexual reassignment surgery and becoming women. This became a play called The Regretters (2006) and then I made a documentary (released in 2010) based on the same idea with the two actual men. But the play influenced the way I decided to stage the film. It looks very stylized and theatrical. I use documentary methods in my theatre work and then in my documentary work I use theatrical methods. For my last film (The Raft, 2018) I used scenography. I built a big set design to use as a prop and storytelling device. That ended up being an installation at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Being active in several different art fields affects the different processes.
"The Staged Documentary" is the subject of your current doctoral studies. To what degree should a documentary ever be staged ?
You have to acknowledge that all documentary work is staged in one way or another and it might be more or less visible or more or less intentional. My project is looking at how you can work with techniques from fiction film-making like screenplays, costumes or even re-takes, which is a method that is not considered completely kosher in documentary film making. With creative documentary film making you are establishing a contract with the participant. I feel they become liberated as subjects when they understand that the contract is a certain way.
You are in France for a residency through the program of the Institut français at the Cité internationale des arts. Could you tell us about the project and how it originated ?
A few years ago I saw some photographs by the French artist Claude Cahun. She was part of the Surrealist movement in the 1920s but was too queer and radical for her time and got kicked out and ended up living on the island of Jersey with her partner. I was really inspired by her photos and texts, one of which was called The Invisible Adventure. I thought that was a fantastic title and wanted to make a theatre piece with that name. It started with research into Cahun in Jersey and developed into a project that became more about identity and transformation. It ended up being interviews with three people: Sarah Pucill, a London artist who has dedicated her career to interpreting Cahun’s photos, Jill Bolte Taylor, an American brain scientist who had a stroke that erased her memories and then spent eight years reconstructing herself as a person, and Jérôme Hamon, a facial transplant patient here in Paris who went through two quite extraordinary facial transplants. The interviews have been made into this fictionalized conversation where they talk to each other about their experiences.
Your play, L’Aventure invisible, supported by the Comédie de Caen and the T2G - Théâtre de Gennevilliers, was performed for the first time at the T2G – Théâtre de Gennevilliers within the framework of the Festival d’Automne between October 10th and 17th. How has your time in Paris enabled you to develop your ideas ?
It was essential to be here. A lot of the pre-production work needed to happen in Paris. I was able to have meetings with the scenographer, the lighting designer, and producers. I was also doing the whole casting process here before and after lockdown. And last but not the least, I was able to meet Jérôme Hamon.
Claude Cahun, the queer artist and writer who was the initial inspiration for L’Aventure invisible, had ideas on gender identity that were decades ahead of her time. You have said that you wonder if the inscription on her gravestone, "And I saw new heavens and a new earth", is a message to future generations that it is possible to have a happy and fulfilled life outside societal norms, and that you created this piece to find out if that were true. What conclusions did you come to ?
In the play the performer who plays the artist is himself a trans man and decided to tell his own story on stage. He had his breasts removed but decided not to go for penis reconstruction and take hormones, to stay in between. His interpretation was that maybe this thing that Cahun saw was the possibility of living a fulfilled life without making any choice. Maybe the greatest choice you can make is not to make any choice at all. I thought that was quite mind boggling. I thought maybe this is the answer. That is something that comes from the gay experience at least. You have to make this choice of coming out, and there is this before and after narrative about transformation. And in a sense with the trans experience as well. But now there is this new queer generation where there is a fluidity, where you don’t make very clear choices about your sexuality or your body or your identity in general.
What draws you to the subject matter of your work ?
When I look for stories it should be something that has sensational value, but it has to have a poetic dimension as well. Of course, I am also interested in ideas around identity and transformation because that’s so close to my own story of being queer. I think I am always searching for my own story in other stories in a sense, a way of telling my own story by choosing other people as representatives.
Story telling is obviously important to you in both your documentary work and playwriting. Do you have any desire to venture into feature films ?
I am not against them but I would still need to be connected to my process, doing interviews or research and adapting reality into fiction somehow. I am not really comfortable sitting down in front of a blank page and inventing from scratch. It would need to be a more conceptual fiction project.
You have said that you would like future projects to challenge the limitations of documentary forms. Do you have anything specific in mind ?
I had this idea that I wanted to make a trilogy of studio documentary films – The Regretters was going to be the first, The Raft the second and then I would go into the studio again. But now I am not so sure about the studio anymore. Maybe I want to move out of the studio and do a road movie or something; move out of the theatre box maybe.
Supported by the Comédie de Caen and the T2G - Théâtre de Gennevilliers, L’Aventure invisible was presented as part of the Festival d'Automne 2020.
Winner of the Cité internationale des arts residency programme, Marcus Lindeen is in Paris for his residency.
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