Ahead of our screening of The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers and director Q&A on 6 May, Maya Caspari caught up with filmmaker Ben Rivers to hear about what first inspired him, filming in Morocco and his desire to reflect on the process of filmmaking itself.
The title The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers comes from a short story by Paul Bowles. How did you first come across Bowles’ story and what drew you to it? How do you use it in the film?
The film's title comes from a short story by Bowles called He, of the Assembly, which is in a collection called A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard - four short stories based around kif smoking. The phrase was something Bowles overheard in a cafe and decided to base a story around it.
"The film is an attempt at questioning what we perceive in films - particularly films of lands that are not the filmmaker's own."
I think for the same reason, when I read it, the words somehow summed up how I was thinking about this film, the first part signalling a sense of dread in the landscape, and the second part about dualities. This is at the heart of the film - not least Oliver Laxe, who we see making a film in Morocco, and myself, filming what he's filming from another angle. It also seemed good to use these words as they came from Bowles, who also wrote A Distant Episode - the short story that the second half of the film is based on.
Your film creates an interesting blend of documentary and fiction. What is behind this decision?
I would not have filmed the second half of the film without the first half - what is interesting to me is the idea that when filming another film being made, the viewer is unsure which things are set up and which things are observational. So when the film moves into more deliberate fictional storytelling, the first part of the film is still in the mind and calls into question what you are seeing - the memory of film construction stays while you are still carried into the fictional world.
In what ways did your aim to reflect on the act of filmmaking itself shape your creative choices?
It shaped the whole film - the film was born out of a desire to make a film about filmmaking, which is a small genre that I have always been interested in. In the end the film is an attempt at questioning what we perceive in films, and particularly films of lands that are not the filmmaker's own. In some senses the second half of the film could be the fever dream of the filmmaker who knows they are walking down a dangerous path but also encourages it.
In what ways did the process of making this film, and your aims for it, differ from your previous work? Did anything surprise you during the process?
I'm always hoping that films surprise me when I make them, otherwise the experience might be too formulaic. This film, at least the second half, had a clearer trajectory and narrative than many of my other films, so there was a fairly rigid shooting schedule for that part.
"I'm always hoping that films surprise me when I make them."
But I still tried to allow for changes to happen within the scenes, so I set up the parameters of the scene and then film it in an observational way, without figuring out the shots until I'm actually looking through the lens on set. I also had a bigger crew than normal for this film, about 15, including dog and horse wranglers, which was new. They were all experienced Moroccan film crew and great to work with. Also the four main actors are normally stuntmen, doing horse scenes for big productions, so they really enjoyed being in the foreground, with lines and close-ups.
What do you hope audiences will take from the film?
The film is intentionally ambivalent and is meant to provoke questions, so I hope it does that. ■
The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers is on from 6 May. A Q&A with Ben Rivers follows the 6 May screening.
The Sky Trembles… was commissioned by Artangel, the Whitworth, The University of Manchester and the BFI’s Film Fund, with the support of Arts Council England. It was originally commissioned through Open 2013 by Artangel, in association with BBC Radio 4.
Some sequences in the film also form part of an installation currently open at the Whitworth, The University of Manchester, The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, co-commissioned by Artangel and the Whitworth, The University of Manchester, which is part of The Artangel Collection.
Tagged with: Ben Rivers, Film, Filmmaking, Artists' Film, Artists' FIlm Club, Maya Caspari, Cinema, Director, Film Director, Director Q&A, The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, Morocco, Colonialism