Mark Cousins is many things: writer, film festival tsar, and the voice behind several cult television programmes about cinema, from Scene by Scene and Moviedrome to the epic television series The Story of Film. But he also travels the world and makes films about countries like Mexico and Albania, and the children of Iraq. As A Story of Children and Film is released in cinemas, read an exclusive excerpt from an interview from Sofilm magazine.
On still being adventurous
If you don’t keep plunging yourself into new contexts you run out of stuff to say. You run out of emotional situations to depict and you just become more and more distant from the things that made you feel alive. The best thing that could have happened to Quentin Tarantino would be to go and live in Benghazi for a year and get a whole new set of life experiences.
On what travelling has taught him
The more you travel the more you notice that people are very similar. When you spend time in Iraqi Kurdistan, Iranian Kurdistan, Senegal and Mauritania, you start to be suspicious of any country’s claim to uniqueness.
On how he discovered cinema
Way too young I saw The Exorcist on my aunt’s video recorder. We were brought up very religious, and I’ll never forget my aunt blessing the video recorder with holy water. That taught me from an early age about the potency of the movies. I also remember seeing Touch of Evil one night. I was way too young to know it was about sex, race and racism. But I could see there was something more than just the story. I was completely hooked on that. This was a tractor beam. I had no idea that movies would become a friend for life.
On his role in the world of film
I would say I’m like a drug pusher. Cinema is a drug and you want to sell it to young minds. You’re something like a DJ actually. A DJ plays some familiar tunes, but also some unfamiliar stuff, and gives people access to certain types of cinema that they wouldn’t find by themselves.
On how people now discover cinema
YouTube equals film school in my opinion. People like us who are in the business of sharing knowledge about the movies, it really works to our advantage.
On why cinema ultimately hasn’t changed
The magical, mythic properties of cinema have remained exactly the same. People in 2014 want magic and myths as much as people have ever done. That’s why it continues to matter. I was in Sarajevo during the terrible siege, during that war when 10,000 people were killed. And people went to the cinema, even during a war, because it makes you feel alive.
On cinema and class
We have to understand how class inhibits people’s ability to see great art and great movies. We need to make sure we don’t just make nice little middle class art, and make it available in nice little middle class contexts, and make sure we don’t just abandon a lot of people. For the longest time cinema was an autocratic art, it was something that was “done to us”. But now it’s not like that, it’s much more democratic, and we can do it ourselves.
On the government’s attitude to the arts
I’m very angry with politicians who see movies, music and the arts in general in material terms, as income generators, or “creative industries”. They generate far more than income. They generate solidarity, confidence, a kind of imaginative excitement. The arts make us feel alive, and remind us why we’re alive. Particularly when times are tough, that’s when that kind of nourishment is extremely important.
A Story of Children and Film is in cinemas now. Cousin’s Cinema and Childhood tour begins 11 April. For more information on screening times, visit www.dogwoof.com/childrenandfilm.
To read the full article pick up a copy of Sofilm magazine. To find out more, visit www.sofilm.co.uk.
1. A Story of Children and Film, Mark Cousins.