Marc Forster is recalling a dream. When people relay their dreams, my face usually halts to a bemused, glassy stare while my brain picks through a shopping list of things I would rather do. Even a fleeting hallucination feels too private to print (though confidentially, his detailed description of a goat haunted me for days). Mr. Forster has honed his natural gift for storytelling into a canon of films ranging from the intense, intimate drama of Monster’s Ball, to his most recent epic, World War Z. He is difficult to categorize (or pigeonhole) since his strengths as a director are vast. He has managed to shift genres (from dark comedy in Stranger Than Fiction, to family drama in Finding Neverland) while maintaining his vision. For this reason, it is difficult to pinpoint what connects the stories Mr. Forster tells, but he seems most enthralled when his characters have to work through a certain amount of human unhappiness to find hope. Descriptions of Mr. Forster’s own past and childhood in Switzerland feel like they are out of a Gerhard Richter painting. His family had to leave Germany and move to Davos because of the eruption of violence of the Baader Meinhof group. It takes a certain amount of detachment to execute a spellbinding, emotionally intense work like one of Mr. Richter’s paintings. Similarly, Mr. Forster’s films at their finest find new heights for technical expression, yet never forget his own humble fingerprint.
Malerie: Not to sound too Freudian, but tell me about your childhood. You grew up in Switzerland and your father was in medical research?
Marc: I was incredibly fortunate to have an idyllic upbringing in Davos, a ski resort in the mountains of Switzerland. It was beautiful. There is a funny anecdote though, that captures my time growing up there. My father had a small pharmaceutical company, this was in the 70s, and there was a river that ran in front of the laboratory. One day my father and I were standing on the riverbank, and I pointed to a side of the river that was heavily polluted and asked, “Why are there no fish on that side of the river?” My father simply responded, “There are plenty of fish on the other side.” That was the philosophy of the seventies, ‘pollution, what pollution?’
What does film mean to you?
Film is a form of storytelling, and storytelling is the way we communicate. Life itself is a story and every one of us is their own leading character in their own film of life.
When are you not making movies?
I’m always trying to strike a balance between living life and making movies. You need to experience life to gain inspiration for storytelling.
You mentioned you weren’t a nostalgic person by nature. Is that in conflict with the nature of filmmaking? Doesn’t a story’s past inform its outcome?
I’m not a nostalgic person in regard to life. I like to live in the present and not in the past. When I’m making a movie, however, I live in that movie’s present, past and future, but I don’t carry that over into my personal life as one reality differs from the other.
If we were to divide up the filmmaking universe into the stylized world of Hitchcock’s Psycho and the real-life feel of Godard’s Breathless, where do you feel you would fall?
I can’t tell you that, you would have to ask others to do so. All I’m trying to do is tell stories that connect with me, and people’s different interpretations are a reflection of that. If those interpretations resonate closely to either Hitchcock or Godard, I’d take it as a huge compliment.
Is it possible to be both?
Anything is possible. In the end, anyone can be whatever they envision themselves as.
Is it possible to make a good film from a bad script?
It entirely depends on one’s own taste, as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are entirely subjective. But yes, in theory, it is possible...however I wouldn’t recommend it.
What role does silence play in your films?
Silence is just as important as dialogue. One can’t exist without the other. For me they are a unity of opposites. It’s all really about interrupted silences.
Supposedly Woody Allen was utterly depressed when Manhattan was released and thought it was garbage. Do you relate to his sentiments when viewing your own work?
Of course, one questions one’s work all the time. I never watch my movies again after I finish them. It’s like torture.
Which of your films are you most proud of?
That’s like asking a parent what’s their favorite child. I like them all for different reasons.
Which do you learn more from – your artistic highs or your lowest depths?
You learn from both, and one needs both, that’s the beauty of life.
What’s the most important quality in being a director?
To have a crystal clear vision of the story one wants to tell. The second most important thing is to know when to cut.
Photography and Text: Malerie Marder
Stylist: Romina Herrera Malatesta
Stylist Assistants: Carolyn Brennan & Natalie Hemmati