Gus Van Zant (Director - 'Elephant')
'Bowling With Elephants'
Softly-spoken American director Gus Van Sant started out in indie movies, gathering praise for off-kilter dramas 'Mala Noche' and 'Drugstore Cowboy'. 'My Own Private Idaho' cemented River Phoenix's star status, while 'Good Will Hunting' launched Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as actors and Oscar-winning writers. Daring experimental arthouse flick 'Gerry' re-established his independent credentials, while Columbine massacre movie 'Elephant' won the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Why did you decide to make 'Elephant' - were you influenced by 'Bowling For Columbine' perhaps? "It's inspired by the school shootings. There's Columbine and a few others. There was one up near Portland, Oregon [where Van Sant lives]. It wasn't influenced by 'Bowling For Columbine'. I'm sure that Michael Moore made that for the same reasons. I think that his film, unlike maybe 'Elephant', is searching for direct answers, like, "Too many bullets", "Too many guns". These specific things were what Michael was after. In our film we were thinking of those things but we were never really like trying to label it or spell it out. I guess because of the intensity of the event. It's too big to maybe just stamp it, like "Alienation", "Guns", "Bullets". It's too amorphous. We wanted our film to work around that and have ideas floating around and have the viewers involved in that as opposed to just telling the viewers what to think."
When did you decide you wanted to do something on this? "The day it happened. It was such big news that I thought that making a piece about it was an interesting prospect."
The film is very detached. Isn't there a risk the audience won't care about the characters? "Yeah, [but] hopefully we're attaching to the characters. We don't set up dramatic situations to feed you into emotional situations, so that you - like in a 'Gone With The Wind'-style movie - care for the characters when they die. It's not so much of a pantomime movie. It's more of a portrait. There's a risk, I guess. There's always a risk if you don't do things the way you've done things before."
You were criticised after you remade 'Pyscho' for making a movie which everyone had seen. As many people have seen the actual footage of the Columbine killings, weren't you afraid you weren't going to be able to tell anything new? "I think it's sort of a song about Columbine. And the real footage, it's true, everybody has thought lots about it, everyone has seen documentaries about it, they've seen news items or magazine reports. This is a song about that - using all the information that you already have as viewers. It allows that information to exist in our film. I think the information is good. It informs the film. I think if there wasn't any information it would be a different film."
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