Terry Gilliam was recently in Brussels for a presentation of his new film TIDELAND, based on Mitch Cullin’s startling book about a young girl grappling with (and escaping from) the realities of her parent's drug addictions. Gilliam took questions beforehand as well.
Simon Says was there, and sent in a detailed report about not only the Q&A, but his impressions of the film itself.
Anyone still interested in hearing about Terry Gilliam’s Tideland, or is it old news now?
IMDB says that it’s due for a limited released Stateside in August, but here in Brussels it’s out at the end of June, and last night there was a special preview screening at the Palais des Beaux Arts attended by Monsieur Gilliam himself.
The Film Museum in Brussels is also showing a complete Gilliam retrospective, and has given him carte blanche to show a selection of films of his choice (you can see his selection HERE.
Gilliam took to the stage before the screening to be interviewed for half an hour by local journalist, who was disappointingly lacking in charisma and spontaneity, and simply read from a list of questions. This may have been due to the fact that he wasn’t a native English speaker, although he sounded fairly fluent to me. I was also quite disappointed that there was no opportunity for questions from the audience, as I had a few lined up to ask.
Anywho, Gilliam was witty and interesting, even though some of what he said was repeated from earlier interviews I’d read on the excellent Dreams fansite. It also didn’t help that some of the questions were very standard ones like, "What attracted you to this project?", "What's it like working with X?".
Gilliam noted that the novel was originally sent to him some time ago and was simply dropped on top of his enormous pile of things people send him to read. It was only sometime later when he was frustrated with whatever he was working on at the time that he picked up the first thing on the pile, which was Mitch Cullin’s novel.
Asked why he worked with Tony Grisoni on the screenplay, Gilliam said, "He’s cheap". He said that he was intrigued by the idea of a film about children which shows them as tough, resilient and adaptable rather than fragile "victims". He said that he has three children of his own so he knows that when you drop them, they bounce rather than break. He liked the idea that the main character uses flights of fantasy to help her understand the world around her and adapt to its challenges, rather than as a crutch or an escape.
He said that this is his most "feminine" movie so far. "I finally got in touch with my inner child – and it’s a ten year old girl!" He also realised early on that women were responding to the script better than men, and that, rather than the usual men in suits behind big desks who finance movies, it was a pair of women who finally agreed to back it.
Both were Canadian, which led to many light-hearted jibes about being forced to work north of the border ("It’s a big country but there’s, like, two people living there." People recommended Dakota Fanning for the lead role, and he responded "I know, but we need a Canadian."
Six weeks before shooting was due to commence they still hadn’t found their actress, and he was considering pulling the plug. They had some good auditions, but Gilliam felt that they couldn’t project the necessary "scarred soul". He jokingly recommended that they scan local papers for girls who were the only survivors of horrific accidents. Finally they found Jodelle Ferland, and Gilliam was convinced that he’d discovered a major new talent, only to find that she’d been acting since the age of four and had some 25 screen credits.
Apart from that he said that everything fell into place more easily than anything else he’d worked on, and the shoot was very smooth. He said he thinks he’s gained in confidence as a director, and now leaves more space for the actors and fits the camerawork around them, rather than vice versa.
He warned us that the film tended to split audiences – there had been walkouts at many screenings, and his Python friend Michael Palin hated it, although he later admitted that he couldn’t get it out of his head, and that it was either Gilliam’s best or worst film – he couldn’t decide which. He assured us that some of us would hate it - "I’ll find you later!".
There was no news about forthcoming projects, apart from one passing reference to the fact that he’s still working on Good Omens.
So – what about the film itself? I won’t bother recapping the basic premise or plot – look on IMDB.
First, the bad - Personally I found Jodelle Ferland’s performance a little mannered, and I think it’s a shame that Gilliam didn’t manage to find someone less experienced who may have been a little more natural. On the other hand Gilliam said during the interview that he likes "big" performances. It’s also a touch too long, but not to the extent that you get bored. The penultimate scene throws a big twist at us which I’m not sure entirely works. It feels like a last ditch attempt to tie things together and impose a plot on a film which doesn’t really need it as it's more of a character/mood piece.
Finally one nitpick – personally I found the accents (somewhere in the south of the US – sorry, can’t identify more specifically) almost incomprehensible. I found myself relying heaving on the French subtitles when dialogue was too mumbled/drawled, which was quite often.
The good – Gilliam has succeded in his main aim – this is one of the best films yet on showing how children play, explore, their mood swings, and how they use their imaginations to interpret and deal with the world as they experience it. It’s very dark and potentially controversial – the main character is exposed to some disturbing situations (i. e. sex and death and drugs), but the point of the film is to show how she reacts to this stuff, so censoring it would defeat the object.
Some of these scenes are matter of fact, which makes them even more horrific, whereas some later scenes are more like a grotesque cartoon, prompting many "ewwww!!!!"s from the audience. Some feel that one of the relationships in the film borders on paedophilia, but to my mind both characters are essentially children, and those scenes are dealt with very sensitively and finally come across as quite sweet. It’s hard to describe – you’ll know when you see it.
Technical credits are strong – the film is as strikingly designed and shot as you’d expect from Gilliam, but I also thought that the music (by Jeff & Mychael Danna) was particularly effective and haunting.
It’s also one of the rare films which makes me want to go back and read the book.
I mean, once you've seen a Harry Potter movie there's not a great deal of point in reading the book as you know already what happens and they're mostly plot anyway, whereas I feel like I'd like to spend some more time in the world presented in Tideland, dark and disturbing as it is.