Interview with a Cannes Director: Jamal Hodge
By Satchel Bell
A good friend and director I have personally worked with and known for three years was recently accepted into the 69th Cannes film festival's short film corner. He and I sat down for Thai food in Lower Manhattan to talk about his inspirations, recent success, and the influences of the past.
When did you first want to be a director, or when was the first moment you thought that you could make a career out of directing?
J: Well, I'm one of those rare annoying people who always knew what they wanted to do with their life since they were a little kid. I never had any question; I never understood why people didn't know what they wanted to do. It confused me. So, basically I never questioned it. I was always a storyteller; I started writing when I was six-year old- I never stopped. I used to write novels in a month, and I wrote twelve of them when I was a kid. I got a story published when I was in 6th grade; it was like an urban Cinderella story. But the guy was in the Cinderella role and the girl was in the prince role.
Wow, do you still have a copy of that story?
J: I bet I could find it, I haven't seen it in so long.
Where was it published? In a newspaper?
J: Yeah, like the school paper.
J: The way I see it though, I didn’t necessarily want to just be a director, I wanted to be a storyteller. To me, "director" is just a name of a lens that a storyteller uses, but it's just one form of a storyteller. You know? But, at its core it's about being a storyteller. So I always knew I was going to be a storyteller. I don't know if that answers your question?
Our dumplings come, and he continues.
J: Where I really became a director was when I went to ProTv for the first time, and I was not the best of kid behavior wise. Because when I was a kid I was homeless for a time, and I, you know, lived in foster care. So, I grew up in really extreme poverty. I actually rolled around a little bit with the wrong group. I mean, I wouldn’t do things to people, but when people did things to me, I wouldn’t let it go. I had anger problems. So, I used to like to fight.
J: But I got this job offer and I was one of the only kids who showed up! It was the Protv program and I was like, "Cool, you get a stipend!" I didn’t know anything about interviews. So I came all dressed up *laughs* in army fatigues. I was like 15. I was a knucklehead. But they loved me, and they liked what I said in the interview. They told me when I would start and the time to get to the internship, and I did it! And I began my journey in film.
What did this job, or internship, consists of?
J: it was a two year training program at DCTV League and the program was where they teach all the aspects of film. So you get to do everything. You get to shoot. You get to direct. You get to edit. I think five or six kids was the maximum. You get to use real equipment and you get to do documentaries. I think I healed through it, because I could experience so many other people's pain and turmoil that I couldn’t just be focused on my own anymore. It helped to pull me out of my depression especially when we traveled and they sent us to Russia. It showed me that pain was universal. It made me just love people. And I understood that to live is to suffer, but to love is to live. I guess. If that makes sense.
Do you think your films reflect some of your earlier life or some of the troubles you’ve had?
L: *nods* I'm obsessed, I've realized, with adolescence. Right before you become an adult. I feel like that's when you're at your weakest and strongest simultaneously. That’s when the world really comes at you. Cause you can fight back at that age, you can know things, but its hard to understands things. It's hard to cope with failure because it hasn't become a habit yet. That’s when people really have the potential to change the world, because they have just enough ignorance to believe they can.
Do you ever think about writing about your memoirs?
J: One day.
What are the movies that have inspired you?
J: One thing about me is I really liked to show how to use darkness to find light. I love making movies about adolescence, sacrifice, retribution, and fantasy. My favorite movie is Pan's labyrinth. It's one of the movies that inspired Hope and the Reaper (an upcoming independent film Hodge is currently working on. )
When was it made?
J: A while back by Guillermo Del Toro. One of the best movies of all time. He almost died making that movie. Put his house up. Almost didn’t finish it, everyone told him he wouldn't. That movie's amazing; it makes you feel every emotion.
What's your style of directing? Do you have anyone you emulate?
J: This is the weird thing, people say I emulate David Fincher. I don’t know. It's kind of ironic because I study him a lot. I guess in terms of how we use cinematography, like I'm very obsessed with certain patterns I create. I'm obsessed with patterns and symmetry. For instance, repetition in threes. So, in The Kind Ones, you go into the house the first time you see it "that" way, then you go into it a second time and it's a little different, a little odd, and the third time it's completely crazy. But all the shots are the same in the angles, you just don't realize it. I love the symmetry of Stanley Kubrick. I like a lot of the more contemporary artists. I'm also influenced by Antoine Fuqua.
What do you look at in terms of a "good director"?
J: The work. It's not about what we see but what we feel. It's designed by the director. Hitchcock is my favorite director of all time.
In respect to directing actors, some directors give actors a bit of "wiggle room" with the script and direction, and some directors wish to stay directly from the script. How do you approach this?
J: Apparently, I'm an actor's director. I don't care about words, I care about feelings. People are obsessed with words, like for instance, some directors want an actor to say every single word, no adding no forgetting. I'm not like that. There's certain key words or sentences that need to be said, but to me, film making is discovery. It's like bringing a whole team of people and they're helping me to dig up a t-rex. And I’m like "Ok, guys, we know this is a t-rex!" but then one person digs up another tail, and then there's two tails on this t-rex! And I’ll be like "Wow, you're right! I thought there was one tail but they’re two tails! Let's keep digging it up to discover more." So, to me it's an excavation, it's a discovery.
What film or films that you've directed that has most enlightened you?
J: All of them. Every single one. Every film that I do is an aspect of myself in a particular moment in time. So in a sense they're markers they can never be recreated. They're markers in time. I always learn about my strengths and weaknesses. My main thing about film making as a director is that you work with people that in essence are way more talented or knowledgeable than you are. A lot of times people think these directors are geniuses that know everything. It's only a few of them have been like that. So, you get to work with these people who are way more talented and know way more stuff about their particular skill. You get to guide them and bring them together to create this single purpose. You sit down with them for hours and you get to learn about everything. You're in a constant state of education. For a curious mind, for a mind that is always seeking, that's a little slice of Heaven. I believe the best directors are eternal students and they're hyper curious people who explore aspects of themselves through other peoples' personalities and experiences.
Contact and Follow Jamal:
Website for his Cannes Short Film: http://thekindones.primallinksmedia.com/
Watch a sample of his film below: