When I meet experimental film maker Alan Lambert he is sitting by the window in the Royal Marine Hotel. We order tea and go through the usual catch up. We know each other, we are cousins.
We also discuss the Paris attacks of November 2015, a city I knew Alan flew into the following day – one of only a few brave people on business on his plane.
“I was waiting to see if the events I was attending would cancel and when they didn’t I thought, well you have to get on with it” He was nervous of course, “but if the people are making the effort to keep a sense of normality you have to go” I presume he was away with commercial work, as Lambert is one of the three artists who make up Triskill, a specialist art company that sees him working all over the world. From Moscow to Tokyo, Paris to Istanbul Lambert travels the world on a weekly basis.
With such a busy work schedule its incredible that Alan makes films at all, let alone Sci-Fi Features that require special effects. His latest PUSHTAR, a feature length venture, won the Spirit of the Festival Award in the Cork Indie Fest last Autumn. It turns out he was in Paris to promote it with Film Festivals around Europe.
Pushtar is a film about the Earth 350 years in the future in a post-apocalyptic world where the earth is a barren desert, with low oxygen meaning the remaining population of humans communicate mostly with signals, saving speech for meetings which take place in oxygenated caverns. I ask Alan if it is a cautionary tale, is he remarking on the state of the environment today?
He shakes his head, “I’m not sure that Pushtar is a cautionary tale actually. I think of it firstly as an exercise in placing the viewer in the mind of people that live in a different reality, but secondly to bring them on a path that shows them that life can always adapt in ways that we will never anticipate” For Lambert the film is a comforting story, that no matter what we do it will all be alright. He is definitely an optimist – both films were made on a shoestring, a micro shoestring at that when you consider small budget movies are made with €100,000 where as Lambert makes his films with €5000. “Make films with what you have…just make the film” He says.
No budget and working with what you have isn’t a new concept, Todd Haines famous biopic of Karen Carpenter ‘Superstar‘ was filmed using cardboard sets and was cast with Barbie dolls in place of actors. Christopher Nolan’s first film Following came in on a budget of £6000 and propelled Nolan forward as one of the most important movie makers of our time.
However Lambert was one of the first people to use crowdfunding to get an artistic project off the ground. The process of looking for donations for an artistic venture is gaining popularity with the rise of social media.
“Crowdfunding is something I genuinely believe in because it restores a degree of artistic freedom that some arts related industries don’t give you. Having said that, Crowdfunding is a lot of work, more than some people expect when they embark on it for the first time – it’s not like leaving a bucket out in the rain and then just going and collecting it when it’s full, you have to push it all the way yourself. But when it works it’s great!”
Its a feat to be admired considering the Sci-Fi storylines and that Lambert handles all the special effects himself,
“There was a comment I made in an interview on The End of the Earth is my Home a few years ago which I should refer to here – I said ‘I like solving problems in real space’ – and that’s true. I’m a painter and sculptor by training and I’m accustomed to arranging things in rooms and standing back from them and considering them in different light and so on – not pulling down the blinds so I can look at them on a fucking computer! And so for me special effects are things which I only try to solve with CGI as a last resort really. Any other way of doing it is more interesting and more fun.”
Lambert’s last two films feel anything but Irish, the usual pace of European film is replaced by the longer steadier slightly uncomfortable pacing that you find in the eastern mystical arts – his films play out like the Japanese art of Butoh, they are an expression rather than a clean story, a strange dance that Lambert does with images that often feel like dreams. Watching Pushtar feels like a dream, it all makes sense in the moment but you just can’t completely grasp it.
He agrees, “I’d like to think that my films don’t play as western storytelling. I think that there are a lot of traditions in Eastern Art forms that have always influenced me in visual art, particularly in my origins as a painter. For example, I like restricting the vocabulary to only three types of shots with very little other camera movement. That’s something that I see very clearly in Japanese filmmakers like Ozu – and I like unfolding the narrative in a very gradual, consistent pace, no jumps in rhythm or anything like that – also in keeping with minimal eastern musical structures.
“People think I’m joking when I say its a film where nothing happens, nobody does anything and there is nothing in it”
I wonder if that is important to him, to stress the lack of meaning in Pushtar. Lambert makes films in the way people make music, he thinks a little and then creates a lot. It explains why they feel so beyond you when you watch them, its almost visual listening. What Alan Lambert is so good at is creating dreamscapes, playing them out and most of all creating the sense that it is the audience having the dream and not him.
This guy sees no restrictions. He makes his scenes where he can find them, budget or none. I ask him about the amazing storm scenes and he tells me they were shot by a friend of his in Italy, who watched the storm unfolding in the sky line and immediately thought of Lambert – who collects video for future projects.
“It looked exactly like that, I didn’t do anything to it.” He says, “and the landscapes are mostly shot outside Sydney in Australia – except they’re all miniature – like what looks like a few miles away is only an area a couple of metres, just shot low”
It’s brilliant. Alan Lambert is brilliant. I tell him so but he shakes his head, “I just want to keep working”
Pushtar will be screening at Film Festivals in 2016. www.pushtar.com You can watch the trailer here