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65th San Sebastian Film Festival
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You are in: Home > 2013. 61st Edition  > Festival Diary > Still making sense
Festival Diary » JURY
Still making sense
Friday, September 27th, 2013

David Byrne defies definition. He’s a genuine polymath who is far more than just the exleader of Talking Heads: he has worked as a film director, written several books, runs the highly-regarded record label Luaka Bop, has a cycling column in the New York Times and has even put in a guest appearance on The Simpsons.

Back in San Sebastián as a member of the Official Jury after having put on a concert here with Caetano Veloso during the 2000 Festival, by an interesting coincidence he was also judging films at Venice with Todd Haynes a couple of years ago. While acknowledging that Venice is a much bigger festival, he thinks part of the excitement about San Sebastian is that you might find some hidden gems here that get overlooked at other festivals. As a juror he thinks he’s come here as a film fan. “I’m someone who enjoys movies and enjoys championing movies.” As far as his own personal preferences are concerned, they are nearly as eclectic as his musical tastes; he likes everything from avantgarde stuff to mainstream blockbusters and admits to regularly going to the cinema as well watching a lot of things on his computer.

Although in New York, where he lives, there are two film festivals and plenty of stuff on the Internet and Netflix, he laments that it’s getting harder and harder to see films that aren’t in English.

When asked about why Stop making Sense is still a benchmark for concert films thirty years on, he feels that this is because the Talking Heads show that Jonathan Demme filmed is cinematic in some ways: “it’s not just one song after another; there’s an arc to the show.” He also recalls that Demme was very interested in the personalities of the musicians so you got to know each one of them like the characters in a story. “In a way it had some structures of a conventional narrative.”

He’s been responsible for several soundtracks including the Oscar-winning score for Bertolucci’s The last Emperor that he collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto on. He says that when accepting a commission of this kind, he looks for some sort a challenge, but it needs to be one that guarantees him a certain amount of freedom. “If someone wants a more conventional treatment, there are better people to go to than me; if you want something a little different, then I might be interested.”

Apart from film and music, he’s also a keen cyclist who has written extensively about his experiences of urban rides in cities as varied as Detroit and Buenos Aires and Istanbul, so in this respect he finds San Sebastián really accommodating. However, while it’s a great place to listen to music if he finds himself in areas of a city without much traffic, he’s never found being in the saddle much inspiration for his artistic endeavors.

Regarding his latest projects, he’s just finished touring in Italy with St. Vincent on an ambitious tour with a brass and string section that includes some complex choreography work. He’s really excited about the things they did both on stage and in the studio, as they ended up doing things he’d never have thought of on his own; a refreshing experience that reminded him of his collaborations with Eno.

Earlier in the year he collaborated with Fatboy Slim on Here lies love, a kind of musical about Imelda Marcos. It finally got staged in the Public Theater in New York and they are now trying to move it to somewhere bigger- “perhaps to San Francisco or some other place where people would like to have it. I think I might try writing another one of those kind of things; not the same story but a different one – it was a lot of fun and was really emotionally satisfying.”

Allan Owen


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