The films of Peter Entell – Interview Part Two

This is the second part of Living in Nyon’s interview with U.S Film director Peter Entell – For part one, click here

Tell us a little about your latest film “A Home Far Away” which is set in the Nyon area

 “A Home far Away” tells the true story of U.S  journalist Edgar Snow, the first to film and interview Mao Tse-tung. Suspected by the American authorities of communist sympathies, Snow and his actress wife Lois were blacklisted and together with their two children, moved to Switzerland and ended up living in Eysins. This film has actually been many years in the making, I know the family personally and was aware they had a lot archive material that I could use and I was waiting for the right time to use this material. Once I discovered that the house where they lived was about to be destroyed, I felt the right moment had come to make the film”.

Photos above and below: Edgar and Lois Snow and family, scenes from the film “A Home Far Away”

Note: readers will recognise a lot of scenes in and around the Eysins and Nyon area. You can listen to a more in depth radio interview (click here) about the making of this latest film and you can read a review of the film here.

 

 

If you look at your very first documentary “Moving on :  The Hunger for Land in Zimbabwe” which was filmed back in 1981, would you alter anything about it now?

“I’m still happy with it, I think it stands the test of time. I happen to hit on one of the central issues that the country is still dealing with today that is; who owns the land and who is feeding the country? ”

Your first film was issue driven, but your later films are more character driven. Why the change?

“I began to think that politics is much more interesting on a very personal level, I think it’s only through individuals that you can talk about issues, even in “Moving on :  The Hunger for Land in Zimbabwe” I focussed on  individuals; one black farmer and one white farmer to compare the two. For another film in Mongolia I followed a family of nomads throughout the seasons, how they lived and their relationship with the land and their animals”.

Do the characters individuals in your film find you, or do you find them, how does it work?

“I usually find them but it can be bizarre sometimes how life works. For example, the back story to how my film “Shake the Devil Off” (www.shakethedeviloff.com) is interesting. Six months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, a friend returned to her home there and she called me to say, “It’s going to explode down here, this is not a natural disaster, this is a human disaster waiting to happen. You have got to come over”.

Photo above- a scene from “Shake the Devil Off”

As I am my own producer and director, I didn’t have to consult anyone as to whether I should go. I just went. Sometimes you just have to work like this, you have to react to an ongoing situation, you cannot plan it. I hired an excellent camera man and a sound man, we travelled to the U.S and discovered my friend was right, we ended up in the middle of this incredible drama. The sound man had always worked on scripted films before where he knew the story was going and I had to explained we simply had to let the story develop on its own, we had to capture it as it was unfolding.
I was lucky too that the camera man (Jon Björgvinsson) I hired was available. He is a freelancer who lives in Nyon and travels globally for many TV stations. If there is a potential war developing or an earthquake etc, he will go anywhere at a moment’s notice.  I paid for him out of my own pocket for this film, I took the risk. Once the film was made, I was able to sell it to various TV stations. Although the film lists me as director of this film I actually directed nothing, the film directed itself, surprising situations cropped up during the entire period.  Everything was impromptu, I had no idea what was going to happen. The film was received very well in the U.S.A. It had everything in it: conflict, a charismatic priest as the central character, lots of tension, colour,  great singing, it had the a narrative curve of a novel. The film won prizes too, the subject matter in it was a hot issue. My gamble had paid off.

The two films you made “Josh’s Trees” and “A Home Far Away” cover subjects in which you had a personal attachment to them. Was it harder to make such a film?

“Absolutely, I don’t actually like being in front of the camera myself, but in the case of the film “Josh’s Trees” I simply had to tell the story for his son. He had been my friend, the guy that I had been with in the Italan café all those years ago when we were young students, so after he died I knew I had to make the film. In doing so I had to ask some difficult questions, who am I in the film, how do I position myself? I also had to put in some narration even though I don’t really like that. I find commentary a bit too directive, I rebel a bit with the concept of the audience needing everything explained, I don’t think you need to take the audience by the hand. You should experience what’s happening, not be told it.

Photo above -scene from “Josh’s Trees”

Tell us about your 1998 film “Rolling” set in Lausanne

Lausanne is a mecca for roller skaters, it’s a city of hills and thousands come to skate there. A few years ago there was a small article in “L’Hebdo” magazine about the popular skaters in the town. When I am not making my own films I also work as an independent producer for Swiss TV, so I called these skaters up and said “we are from Swiss TV, we want to make a film about roller skating and we want to meet you”. We went along to a cafe in Lausanne, and all the skaters were sat around this one big table. So I asked them all to tell me a little bit about themselves. The last one to speak was Ivano. He said “to be honest, I think you have heard enough good stories, you have plenty to choose from, I can’t add anything.” Of course this instantly got me intrigued and I knew he was the one to focus on.  It turned out he had Italian ancestry, his parents had moved to Switzerland to work in a factory. Ivano didn’t want to follow in their footsteps, he was trying to avoid it at all costs, so skating for him was an escape. Skating made life exciting. When he skated he was travelling faster than the cars around him, he was being chased by police cars around the town, he skated anywhere and everywhere, even backwards down the banisters of stairs!

Photo above: scene from “Rolling”

Ivano went on to open a skating shop and he actually became quite famous at the time, you could see him modelling skating clothes in adverts, everyone knew him. But as often happens when you get close to a character, you realise there is often a back story and the narrative can change. I was interested about what would happen after the glory had faded because inevitably as Ivano grew older he wouldn’t always be at the top of his game, inevitably there would be a 16 year old who would take over his place, and that did indeed happen.

All photos above – courtesy – Show and Tell Films