FALLING INTO SILENCE
I am writing this from London, following a two-week break from everything my life has been for the last four years. No aeroplanes, no airports, no editing rooms, no illuminated screens, no coffee, no blog.
Four years ago I was in exactly the same place - a tiny island off the coast of Cornwall - and was walking down a leafy lane back to my tent by a beach, when a woman passing in the lane asked "Have you heard? They have blown up the towers in New York." This time, having completed a four-year cycle of writing a script prompted by that very event, then shooting, editing and travelling with the completed film, right up to its first commercial opening in New York, the question from a passerby was eerily similar: "Have you heard? They have blown up the underground in London."
I called and texted all my friends to check they were OK, and then did a couple of newspaper interviews from my mobile phone in my tent which touched on what I now thought about some of the things I had written in the screenplay, particularly the sentiments coming from the mouth of the Lebanese hero about life in the West. As the whole experience of making this film has been like a constant mirroring of events unfolding around us, my answer could only be that the feeling of necessity from which the film erupted has increased in its intensity. The necessity to speak and to listen, to contradict stereotypes, eastern and western, and to remember that, ultimately, we are all connected.
I then fell into silence, staring at the sea, the rocks, the mist, the birds. Despite the invitation which writing a blog offers to dash out opinions, it seemed from the day-old newspapers I was able to borrow that there were a lot of opinions already out there. I feel I have done my best with the film itself to offer not opinions but voices, contradictory voices sometimes, but each one as complex and complicated as we are as individuals, and reflecting the diversity of belief and opinion in the London I have grown up in. An anxious teenager, a dying atheist, a Jamaican Christian, a young white man looking for a scapegoat to explain his problems, an American woman rich with privilege but poor in happiness, a Middle Eastern man suffering in his migrant displacement, a white middle aged male grieving for his broken idealism, a cleaner musing on dirt, evidence and karma as she cleans his toilet.
Knowing that audiences were watching the film in the US while Londoners were grieving and afraid (despite all claims of stoicism in the media) and meanwhile I was living on a campsite, fetching water, building furniture from driftwood, swimming in the bitingly cold sea, watching the red sun fall slowly into the horizon in the evening, was itself a reminder of parallel universes, albeit observed from a safe and beautiful perspective. Even in times of war, people continue to eat, to shop, to talk, to love. And even while bombs were raining down on Fallujah, some of us were safely in our beds, or preoccupied with money problems, or what to wear, or buy.
Looking back over my shoulder to my last days in New York, it seems to be a blur of interviews followed by relief that the film was, finally, out there. From my diary I see that on a beautifully clear and sunny day Joan Allen and I were interviewed together, live, for the Lenny Lopate show, which Joan said she usually listened to every day. Click here to listen to the interview.
We then did a Q&A for the National Board of Review, that interesting and august body of people whose questions never fail to ignite. I then did a long interview with John Diliberto for the Echoes show on National Public Radio about the soundtrack. Click here to listen to the interview.
It was extremely refreshing to have an opportunity to talk about the music in detail to someone so musically knowledgeable and to be able to praise the composers and musicians whose work was brought into the film, as well as my beloved collaborators who helped to generate the new material.
Then came a talk and book signing with Joan at Barnes and Noble on Union Square. This was a new experience, much less focused in atmosphere than I am used to, because of the customers wandering about and also an extremely loud sound system in the square outside advertising the opening of a cosmetic store. I think we held up pretty well. I liked meeting the people buying the screenplay. Someone had been at home in Massachusetts, had heard us on the Lenny Lopate show, and had driven down (up?) to meet us. Then another screening, another Q&A...
The next day (a blisteringly hot sunny day), finally, the film opened and the first reviews were out. Predictably, I suppose, as America itself is now a divided country, the reaction was sharply divided (for example, the Los Angeles Times very much for; the New York Times equally against). Some of the positive writing was ebullient, eulogizing. Others found the film "anti-American". Some were very moved, some were resistant. (See What The Critics Say on the Reviews page of the Yes site). The variety of opinion was another example of the absurdity of film criticism ever pretending to objectivity. I strive to not let either kind of response go to my head (thinking of Kipling's "twin imposters: success and failure"). Or perhaps go into my head would be more accurate. Reviews can have a haunting quality and pursue you like ghosts.
Andy Fierberg, Christopher Sheppard and I went to the early evening screening at the Sunshine theatre in New York and I did a Q&A afterwards. I was interested that most of the questions from the audience concerned religion. The very first one was: "Do you believe in God?" It was a long answer.
The next morning I was up before dawn to fly back to London.
Check out Sally's video blog in her next diary, live in early August
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites. Main photo of Sally Potter by Nicola Dove.