Arts & Entertainment

James Gray: Opening up to migrants is how countries stay rich

By Maria Traspaderne

Marrakech, Morocco, Nov 13 (EFE).- American director James Gray, a descendant of Jews who fled Russia in 1923, believes that opening borders to migrants is how countries stay rich.

Hours before heading to the Marrakech International Film Festival (FIFM), Gray sits with Efe at a luxurious hotel in the Moroccan city to talk about his latest film, Armageddon Time, a story inspired by his own childhood that sheds light on the relationship between two children, racism and others issues in New York’s Queens in the 80s.

Question: Your last film received good reviews, did you expect it?

Answer: I have no idea. I never think about what the audience might think. I think of what an audience might think, meaning you want to communicate your ideas and you want to provoke them but I never think like ‘oh I have to get this score or have to get the critic to like it’ because you can never predict that stuff and I will tell you this, I know that I have done some work that I am proud of that has been really disliked and then there are other times when I have done work that I think is poor and they thought it is one of the better things I have done. So I do not think it really means anything. You know it takes maybe 10 years to really judge a movie, you need some time away from it to really see what it actually means.

Q: Are you proud of it?

A: It is direct from me and it is something that I feel really close to but that is a different thing. See, once you make the film it becomes yours not mine anymore and that’s a sadness actually… because you make the film, and while you are making it, it is a very intense experience and you are trying to get the best work out of the actors and you are trying to focus on making the story clear and all of those things and then all of the sudden it is over and it becomes yours not mine. It goes out into the world and it becomes so much part of you that when somebody says ‘I don’t like your movie’ it means in a way they do not like you. I take it very personally in the best sense I think but it is a strange process.

Q: You are a descendant of Jewish refugees who fled from Russia in 1923. Now there is a war in Ukraine that left 7 million people displaced. Do you think that directors and actors have a role to play in denouncing these conflicts?

A: Creative people have an obligation to reveal the world as we see it or saw it or will see it… not as we wish it were, not as a fantasy disconnected from reality because that is the function of the artist. Artists’ job is to extend the reach of our compassion so in a world, which is seemingly hostile and vicious and it is very difficult for people to look into the soul of another person, that is art’s job to fill that hole, to fill that space. So I think we have an obligation to make the most compassionate and most sincere work that we can. How much influence we have is unknown but it is not for us to worry about. The creative community does what it does and the rest of the world either eats it up or does not.

Q: The world is facing large flows of migrants from Africa to Europe and from South America to the US, what is your vision of this crisis?

A: It will probably get greater or more, especially with climate change. The world will become a very agitated place. I, personally as an American, feel like just open the door and let everybody in. That is how the country stays rich, diverse and interesting. I don’t have the same opinion as some of the countrymen who think you should try to shut everybody out but the story of immigration in some way is the story of what it means to be a human being. Migration is in our spirit, it is in our soul. If it weren’t, we would all be living still in some place like Outer Mongolia or maybe parts of Africa or wherever the species first originated. I don’t have the same negative feeling about immigrants that others do. To me, it makes life a lot more interesting.

Q: Some of the most famous actors, such as Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt, have worked in your films. Do you think that having well-known actors is synonymous with success?

A: No, not at all. I wish it had or I wish it could but it is not about that. I do not cast famous people because they are famous. I cast them because I think they are great and they are often and usually famous for a reason. There is like a kind of mythic quality, a layer of legend that comes with these people and that it is a kind of give an epic sense to the film.

Q: This is the third time in FIFM. What is so special about an African, Moroccan festival focused on new directors?

A: There is all this discussion about the idea of diversity and the necessity of diversity but you see it up close, you see what hearing from a multitude of voices can actually mean and it is a beautiful thing. When I came here and I saw all these films which by the way do not always get released in the United States, you realize there is a whole world out there that you do not hear from and that is exciting and frankly rather sad that a lot of us in the United States do not get to see it. It is a kind of economic censorship so I come here mostly for that reason.EFE


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