Interview : Jonathan Caouette

8 Nov

When Dirtbag first tried to catch up with filmmaker Jonathan Caouette last week, Caouette did not answer his phone. However, when he called back an hour later from New York, he had a good reason: he accidentally fell asleep while working on post-production of his next film, a documentary enhanced with fiction.

Technically speaking, even when he is sleeping, Caouette is still working. Much of this 37-year-old’s experimental filmmaking is based on cinematically exposing what it feels like to dream, so every ‘z’ caught is another footnote in his research. His latest film, All Flowers in Time, is a whimsical 13-minute short starring Chloe Sevigny, Caouette’s grandfather, a French cowboy, and an evil Dutch television show. Caouette’s son, who is 15, appears as well, if only for a few seconds at age eight with blacked-out eyes.

“I’m hoping people walk away from the film feeling like they’ve just gone through an emotional experience that they might not be able to put their finger on, and that they’ve actively participated in a nightmare or a dream,” said Caouette.

There also seems to be an underlying theme of identity weaved into the film like sexual innuendo in every Maroon 5 song. An old man asks a young girl repeatedly, “And who do you think you are?”, a French cowboy on TV pronounces, “I’m not of this place,” and a red-eyed Sevigny plays a game of ‘who can turn into the scarier monster’ with a young boy.

“Identity, to me, honestly is a bit of an illusion. I think we’re all—in reality—automatons and we mimic what we see,” Caouette said. “I’ve seen people in my own life morph in and out of being several different people or several different fragmented ideas of themselves.”

It’s his first official short film, but that doesn’t mean it took a short time to create. All Flowers in Time took four years to come together. In fact, the film is an amalgamation of pieces from two different projects edited into one: footage from testing out a new camera on his grandfather and two friends in 2006 and B-roll from a 42-second film with Sevigny from 2008. It was only in the last year that he decided he should put all of the footage together to make another movie entirely.

“I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to shoot things in vain and let them sit for awhile. I am willing to try to figure out ways to reconstitute or re-use anything I’ve shot in some form or fashion,” he said.

Caouette had met Big Love star, fashionista, and girl-about-town a couple of times since 2005. These run-ins were enabled by working in the same industry and having friends in the same social circles, but it was only after exchanging phone numbers at a club in downtown New York that Caouette expressed he wanted to work with her one day. And after exchanging text messages a year later, they did set up exactly one day to film at Caouette’s apartment. Caouette said Sevigny is very easy to work with, professional, and cool.

“I think she is known for doing things that are kind of renegade and outside of the norm, and I think she likes to take risks in roles,” he said. “It’s really commendable to see somebody who can do what she does; being on this very cool TV show and being able to divert her energies into more experimental things and with such a balance that it just works for her.”

All Flowers in Time made it to the Cannes Film Festival in May, where it was scouted and brought to the Phi Group in Montreal for distribution. Phi also became producers of the finishing touches of the film. Caouette—who is of French-Canadian decent on his father’s side yet grew up in Texas—has travelled to Montreal four times in the past six months.

“I love Montreal. I love Canada, period. You guys have an amazing country and I think the U.S. has a lot to learn from it,” said Caouette. “I wish the way you guys function there could spread over here in so many ways. Socialized medicine, gay marriage, all of that… everywhere I’ve ever been in Canada has been wonderful.”

His favourite Canadian band is Arcade Fire because he believes they are genius singer-songwriters who have a fresh sound influenced by everything Caouette found cool about the ‘80s. He is a self-proclaimed vinyl junkie and even chose all of the songs featured in All Flowers in Time himself. The title of the movie, however, has no connection to the Jeff Buckley song of the same name; he just liked the title (“It’s sort of the way ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ had nothing to do with The Cure song”).

“I’m all about cutting film to music, and music being the common denominator of anything I do,” he said. The last documentary he shot, 2009’s All Tomorrow’s Parties—which is about the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in England—is definitely a testament to that belief.

Caouette sees All Flowers in Time as a “dress rehearsal” for going into making narrative feature films; the “Social Network” to his Andrew Garfield pining after the role of Spider Man.

And he’s not just talking about making a feature film, he’s already got it in the works. Everything Somewhere Else will be Caouette’s first feature film, and it will have his signature dream-world tone. His go-getting nature has been influenced by acclaimed director Gus Van Sant, the executive producer of Caouette’s documentary from 2003, Tarnation, who once in regards to if you want to make a film but haven’t already, “There should be no excuses anymore.”

“Look at people like Xavier Dolan. He’s a remarkable example. We live in a day and age where you can just grab a camera now… As long as you have a story to tell and you let the story be the real backbone of whatever you are doing, you should make a film. And you can,” said Caouette.

“I don’t think you need a lot of money to do it anymore. It’s becoming as accessible as writing a book or painting… I don’t think everyone’s a filmmaker but I think everyone can try.”

Everyone—or at least everyone who is a musician—can also try to send Caouette their music (“I think the best gift of all is receiving music. If anybody just wanted to send me music at all, I would love that”). His e-mail is

All Flowers in Time will be playing at the Mix NYC Film Festival in New York this month and at the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia in December.

Posted by : Melissa Kim

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