Aaron Katz is part of the newest buzzword in American cinema, ‘mumblecore’ – films made on shoestring budgets and with 20-something non-professional actors and unsensational narratives.
With his first two features shot for under $3000, Katz is nothing to mumble about. His newest film, Cold Weather (2010), preserves these trademarks, albeit with a larger budget, weaving them into a detective story that speaks louder than such bumbling categorizations.
Berliners will get a first-time opportunity to catch his newest gem at Berlin's best festival for American independent cinema, Unknown Pleasures. Katz can’t be there, but spoke with us to compensate for his absence.
Tell us about ‘mumblecore’. Most Europeans aren’t familiar with it.
It may be better most Europeans aren’t familiar with it. At this point it really doesn’t add a lot. The term was coined by Andrew Bujalski’s sound editor [Eric Masunaga] in 2005. He said it as a joke, sort of complaining about how there was a lot of mumbling, which provided a real challenge to him as sound mixer. I really don’t know how it became a term for describing my films, and Joe Swanberg’s, and some other people, too.
I think the common connection between all of our films is that we all made films – especially our first films – for almost nothing. Not even within the independent film system, but completely outside of it. In that way there is a connection between all of us, but I think at this point, mumblecore is more confusing than useful.
Cold Weather is a detective story, yet offers very little of the characteristic sensationalism. What was your intention by subverting genre in this way?
No matter what the genre is, I’d want to approach it so that the people within it are real people having real interactions, with the genre serving as a way to explore the relationships between the characters – I think genre filmmaking at its best is exactly that. I started out writing a film about a brother and sister who hadn’t spent much time with each other since they were teenagers, getting to know each other again as adults.
I was simultaneously reading detective stories, just for enjoyment, and got the idea of incorporating the genre element into the brother-sister story. They kind of played off each other and I feel like each was enriched by the other. The brother-sister relationship I found a lot more interesting, them having to explore these things they weren’t comfortable with.
The same is true for the genre aspect, this exploring of traditional genre elements, but through the lens of people who aren’t experts at it. In movies and books, a lot of the time, people are like Sherlock Holmes, crack experts who never make mistakes. It was interesting to put normal people into those situations and figure out how they would react.
Even though the focus is interpersonal, you can see subtle social commentary…
I don’t set out with any sort of agenda to address a certain social issue. I feel that a lot of films that purport to explore social issues, or relationships between people and how that feeds into social issues, tend to be pretty false.
I don’t enjoy films that are primarily metaphorical, allegorical. For example films like Last Year at Marienbad or Céline and Julie Go Boating hold no interest to me. However, making people real and allowing them to be ordinary people, not necessarily special people – that to me is a social statement.
But this is not necessarily original. Yours feel authentic and fresh even though it’s very difficult to pinpoint what makes it different.
I just try and put the actors in the best possible situation to be themselves, essentially, but in fictional circumstances. For me something that doesn’t work is when you see a film that is trying to address people as people but the performances don’t feel naturalistic, but learned and stiff.
For me it’s not very important how an actor delivers a line specifically. My feeling is that if we do the work to understand their character, understand their circumstances, and that the actors feel comfortable and are really listening to each other in the scene, that the result is something that is going to feel natural, that is going to feel real.
Cold Weather, Unknown Pleasures #4, Sunday, January 8, 18:00, January 11, 21:00 | Babylon Mitte