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‘Don’t wait. Tell your story now,’ says Tangerine director Sean Baker

Acclaimed filmmaker talks movies, iPhones and India, at the Mami film festival in Mumbai.

mumbai Updated: Nov 01, 2018 21:48 IST
Madhusree Ghosh
Madhusree Ghosh
Hindustan Times
MAMI,Film festival,Sean Baker
Young filmmaker today must take advantage of all the opportunities that advanced technologies are giving us right now, says Baker, 47.

He surprised the world by shooting a full-length feature film on an iPhone, then earning worldwide critical acclaim for it. His ability to get soul-stirring performances out of first-timers is also legendary. On Thursday, the concluding day of the Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival, American filmmaker Sean Baker discussed filmmaking, new media and evolving modes of storytelling, in a discussion that was candid, quirky and full of self-deprecating humour.

The message should always come before the medium, said Baker, 47, best known for the 2015 film, Tangerine, shot on an iPhone 5. He chases rainbows while shooting but turns into a vampire when he edits, he added, laughing.

“The biggest advantage of shooting with an iPhone, to me, was that it wasn’t intimidating to the people who were non-actors performing for the first time,” Baker added. “But a medium should complement or elevate the subject of your film. Any art should be democratised, anybody should be able to make film anyway they want.”

His films, from Starlet (2012) and Tangerine to The Florida Project (2017), tend to have strong female characters. But, Baker said, that’s not about ticking a box. “I think all of my films are reactions to what I’m not seeing on big screen or TV in Hollywood,” he added. “How often do you see friendship between two women on screen; it’s almost always [male] buddy films. There should be greater diversity, to hear more voices. Having women protagonists makes the stories I want to tell stronger.”

This is Baker’s maiden visit to India and he said he was inspired by the love of cinema he saw in youngsters here. “It’s kind of a rarity in the US to see teenagers or people in their 20s queue to watch a movie, like they’re doing here,” he added.

Nimble, secure, creative, cutting-edge... directors in India are inspired by Baker and it was important that we get him to Mumbai, said Smriti Kiran, creative director at Jio MAMI. “He embodies the spirit of the creators of today, and we had to have him watch the fantastic work our directors are doing and get him to talk to the legions of fans he has in the country.”

So what was the filmmaker’s advice to those in the crowd? “Don’t wait,” he said. “Take advantage of all the opportunities that advanced technologies are giving us right now,” he added. “Surround yourself with other filmmakers. My film school contacts became my future collaborators. You don’t have to be your own lonely island.”

Baker, whose next film will be a critique of the US’s war on drugs, said he regrets that he only got three days to experience India. “It’s not enough, so I’m definitely coming back,” he added.

First Published: Nov 01, 2018 21:48 IST