Vincent Moon / An Interview

 Vincent Moon was born Mathieu Saura in Paris in 1979. At the age of 18, while studying the theory of film and photography, he decided to absorb as many influences as possible, even at the price of absolute oversaturation. In photography, he was most inspired by Michael Ackerman and Antoine D’Agata. Some years later, his discovery of the work of Peter Tscherkassy led him to film.
In 2006, influenced by the film Step Across the Border – a documentary about English guitarist Fred Frith – he and his friend Chryde decided to create the music- and film-themed podcast The Take Away Shows, a series of short music documentaries about musicians improvising in unusual places. Thanks to the speed of the Internet, this podcast became a worldwide sensation within a few weeks. Over a number of years, he managed to shoot about three hundred music videos, short films and documentaries. REM, Beirut, Grizzly, Caribou, Wicleff Jean and Sigur Rós are some of the protagonists of Moon’s films.
His longer work includes documentaries about REM, Mogwai, and Arcade Fire. He filmed Little Blue Nothing, a documentary about Vojtěch and Irena Havel, in the Czech Republic in 2008.  Then, in 2009, he contributed to the feature-length documentary All Tomorrow Parties, which received highly positive reviews.
Moon distributes the majority of his films via the Internet, blogs, and social networks. His style as a filmmaker is defined by his efforts to experiment with form and his specific affinity for the musicians he shoots, giving his films a tangible closeness and intimacy. The last few years has seen him travel with increasing frequency to exotic countries (Bolivia, Argentina, and Cambodia) to look for talented, local musicians. He sees the main goal of his work as catching the authentic atmosphere around the musicians he loves and discovering new music that he can pass on thanks to film.
How did you come to start making films?

I guess it was by accident. When I was 18, I started studying film at school. At the time, however, I didn’t know anything about cinema, photography, or art for that matter. Honestly, I was rather uncultured (laughter). Nothing really inspired me at first, but then something clicked from that sudden contact with all that culture. I met a lot of people my age who were fired up and talked about things that I didn’t have a clue about. When I was about 19, I gave myself five years to learn everything that I had ignored until then. I spent five years absorbing, reading, thinking, and trying to move forward. I was very lucky to be living in Paris, as everything I wanted to see and experience was just around the corner. Since then, I have been thinking a lot about how to work on myself, how to set goals and go after them. Another piece of coincidence and luck was that I started studying photography at the same time as cinema. I feel closer to photography than to film direction: I couldn’t imagine doing films like John Ford, not being very much into him. During my photography studies, I encountered two very important photographers: Michael Ackerman and Antoine D'Agata. Their approach to photography completely blew my mind and changed my life.

What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a webdocumentary, Boomtown Babylon.
This is my first encounter with this document genre, so I am trying to experiment as much as possible, even though I am not so interested in the concept as a whole, being more and more interested in preparation and contemplation and less and less in the technical parts, i.e., the concerts and recordings. At the same time, I’m working on smaller films, which I usually make on the road.

Smaller films and videos seem to be where your heart is...

It certainly is. I’m most happy when en route somewhere. Essentially I’m homeless, someone who meets people, talks to them, films them, and exchanges experiences with them. The really short films – I call them “little things” – are little souvenirs, moments in time, like a little drawing made on a piece of paper late at night and forgotten in a bar for the next person to sit at your table.
I also do longer formats. I’m working on the final version of the film La Faute de Fleurs, a film about the unique Japanese musician Kazuki Tomokawa. It is one of my favourite projects so far. But those smaller films – I really put my heart and a whole lot of myself into them.

I have always been interesting in how you distribute your films. Is it strictly DIY or does someone help you?
That depends on the scope and length of the project, but the majority, especially the smaller formats, are totally DIY. I usually don’t make money on them - I usually just put them up for free on the Internet and blog about them. I sometimes say to myself that a little help with promotion would be appreciated. Actually, this is the only part of the process where I actually need help. I can take care of the rest myself.

So, do you have complete control over the final result of the film?

Not all the time, unfortunately. The good thing about being someone who has always worked with Internet tools and is a DIY addict is that I almost never sign any contracts. I usually don’t need to. I base my work on trust in the people I work with, as I usually work with musicians whom I truly respect and love. It’s simple, albeit a little naive. I don’t want to change this, however, as then my work would lose its authenticity. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t always pay off.

I have heard about that were problems with Miroir Noir, a documentary that you filmed for Arcade Fire...

Yes, sometimes it would be better to have a contract. When I did the film about Arcade Fire, I asked for a contract at the time, but their manager – by the way, probably the worst person I have ever met in the music industry -- absolutely refused. In the end, I lost the final cut to the band’s lead singer who wanted to finish it himself. I hate this final film in general and refused to be credited as the director, so I appear as “filmed by Vincent Moon”. Nevertheless, there are certain sequences in it that I love. The final live show, despite all the interferences, is amazing I think.

Your films have a special tactile quality and come across as very intimate. They remind me of American photographer Nan Goldin, who once said that she doesn’t want to be the eye that observes, but the hand that touches the surface.
You like Nan Goldin? I love her. Not only her work, but the whole legend surrounding her. I guess that I have always been attracted more to the possibility of meeting the musicians that I admired the most than to the music that they produced.  I have been always been interested in how they express themselves, in their inner soul. That dynamic always differs depending on the person. I “work” with them, even though the word “work” is not quite right – it’s more like having a chat or a drink with someone, where you discuss things, exchange thoughts, and try to bring each other somewhere else. My work for me is mainly a social experience, where everything, hopefully, takes place softly and subtly.
The possibility to pass on something from the discoveries that I make while travelling is the most important to me. This is my main goal and the thing that satisfies me the most.

Nan Goldin has certainly influenced the two of us. Who else has inspired you or helped to form you? Have you ever had any idols?
Who forms you? Whom do you allow to shake your world, move you, and influence you? These are important questions. But I think that we live in a time – and I have arrived at this conclusion quite recently – where specific influences do not mean anything anymore. Due to new technologies, the Internet and so on, we have access to a whole array of visual experiences, images, sounds, and creations. Now it is more important to know how to navigate through the clutter, sift through it, and tame it. If you can manage this, you can be well rewarded. So, at this time, I can no longer say that I am influence by one or ten artists, but by thousands of experiences all around us. Of course, in the beginning, I was influenced by specific artists – Peter Metler, Tscherskassky, Bela Tarr, Koudelka, Jia Zhang Ke and Goddard – but I never stopped my quest. If you live a similar nomadic life like me, any new, unexpected encounter can change you substantially. I have absolutely no idea what influences me anymore – the world itself has become my main inspiration. And experimenting with natural drugs is another possibility. Not long ago I took some hallucinogenic mushrooms just before going to see Avatar, and this made the film into a fantastic experience (laughter).

How do you work? Are you the type who works fast and intuitively or do you need hours to think over every cut?

This varies considerably. Sometimes I don’t even need to cut the film. I’m both – I tend to be fast and a perfectionist at the same time. My main benefit is my excessive energy. That is why I never stop thinking about film, experimenting with form. Sometimes I can get stuck with a whole project because of one or two cuts.  I try to find a good balance. Sometime I realise that the raw footage is less important than editing and selecting the right moments, and when I do, I then tend to work very fast.

Do you know how many films you have made so far?

Do you mean the longer documentaries or the “little things”? To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I have no hierarchy of which film is of greater importance. I do think I have shot over 300 films. One day someone should help me count them...

When do you think the breaking point came, when people started recognising Vincent Moon and his films globally?
That probably came after I filmed the Arcade Fire video in the elevator. After this film, people started to talk a lot about the Take Away Shows project that I started with my friend Chryde, who created the La Blogotheque Internet project. After this video, people saw me as “the guy who films musicians playing in weird places." At first it irritated me that people have the need to label me, to reduce me to one line to remember me. That is a disadvantage of this information age, but now I take it as part of the game. For me it was important to get musicians to play somewhere without cheering fans, just for fun, for the love of the music itself.

I assume that you have reached the point where bands or musicians call you themselves. Do you still contact musicians who interest you to work with them?

It’s a bit of both. I am becoming increasingly interested in musicians who do music far from the fields of rock or pop. Most of the people I want to film these days have never heard about me. And this makes it all the more interesting. One of my last filming sessions was with Kong Nay, an old, blind chapaye (a very special type of Cambodian guitar music) player. This musician had never heard of me of course. Most musicians who contact me are indie-rock players, and this is a world I am becoming less interested in.

Does it still happen that someone surprises or charms you with their music or has recording become more of a routine?
Routine? Not at all. The moment of amazement or magic is still there, maybe stronger than ever before. When on the road, I arrive in a city that I don’t know at all and begin to ask the locals about interesting local music. The quest is amazing. I was in Bolivia in January searching for Lzumila Carpio, a singer with an incredible voice, but she wasn’t in the country at the time. Filming Kong Nay in Cambodia was also an incredible experience. It was a privilege. In Buenos Aires I spent a whole day filming Juana Molina, and I considered this much more than just a music session. In Argentina, I discovered Soema Montenegro through some friends. This was the most incredible musical experience I have ever had. Soema is probably the most amazing musician I have ever filmed – as soon as she started singing, I couldn’t stop smiling and teardrops were falling on my camera. I have had a similar experience with Nakaido Kazumi, whom I shot in Osaka. I think that this film about him is probably the best one I have ever done. The film is a one-shot, six-minute sequence of walking at night. So simple, so perfect.

And if you were to name your favourite musicians?
The Luyas, my favourite North American band. I also have a special relationship to Vojtěch and Irena Havel, with whom I filmed Little Blue Nothing a few years back. My most recent highlight is Cambodian singer Sinn Sisamouth. In Cambodia, Sinn was a legendary pop singer in the 1960s and wrote and recorded an amazing amount of songs. But, like most important artists, he died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

What would be the ideal soundtrack to the movie about your life?

Mmm... What about silence? It all comes back to that in the end. I think I would choose the beauty of silence.


This is an English version of the interview with V. M. conducted for VICE Czechoslovakia.

Photograph is a courtesy of Vincent Moon.

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