Q&A with Scottish filmmaker Paul Wright


7 June 2018

We're thrilled to be showing Paul Wright's new film Arcadia at DCA cinema this month - the BAFTA-winning filmmaker has scoured 100 years of archive footage to create an exhilarating study of the British people’s shifting relationship to the land. The film journeys through the seasons, taking in farming traditions, folk festivals, water divining and more, accompanied by an incredible new score from Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp).

Here, we chat to Paul about his work, his influences and his fond memories of living in Dundee…

Can you tell us a bit about what you do and what you love about your job?

I’m a writer and director and feel very fortunate that I’m just about making a living doing the thing I’m most passionate about which is creating. One of the things I feel most fortunate about is I get to surround myself with stories and all kinds of material that really interests me as part of my work. I guess I’m most fascinated in how using images and sounds can create an emotional response with audiences and looking at film as a really sensory medium.

"Combine harvesters, illegal raves and the devil – ha!"

What can audiences expect from your new film, Arcadia?

Combine harvesters, illegal raves and the devil – ha! The idea with Arcadia was to create a documentary that is made entirely from archive material based around rural Britain; the main focus of the film is exploring our connection to the land and to each other. We hoped the film would show these different, at times conflicting versions of the countryside in a visceral, exciting way.

You created the film from an amazing range of archive footage, with a score from some incredible musicians. How did you go about making such a unique and distinctive film?

"...really took the soundtrack to a whole other exciting level."

The first step was coming up with a loose game plan and structure for the kind of material we were looking for; the kind of themes we were planning to explore in the film. It was then about watching hundreds of hours of archive material and marking off anything that might be relevant as we started putting the film together. Of course at this stage some of the great material I was watching motivated some new ideas for the film itself so it became a pretty organic process. The main part of the film was of course the edit where we collected some of the highlights of what we’d watched and tried to put these ideas together on the timeline.

With the music, we were using some temporary tracks early in the edit to help us see what could work mood and energy wise for each section then it was about getting Adrian and Will involved, who really took the soundtrack to a whole other exciting level.

You're from just across the water in Fife - any fond memories of sunny Dundee?

Absolutely, I grew up in a small village in the East Neuk so as a kid I always saw Dundee as the big city – like New York or Las Vegas or something. After finishing high school, myself and a couple of other friends moved to Dundee. I remember we couldn’t believe our luck that someone was actually letting us have our own place, so we rented the very first place we saw, which was on the ground level right in the city centre. It turned out there were roadworks right outside the flat morning, noon and night for about six months. I think this is where I got my high tolerance for loud, disturbing sounds, which seem to appear a lot in my films. 

I really loved Dundee though, I remember going to the music store Groucho’s a lot and discovering all these amazing bands I’d never heard of and going to the Mardi with my mates at least twice a week and dancing like fools.

A toughie to finish - what are your favourite films?

"...I’ve always loved films that I felt I had never seen anything like it before..."

There’s too many favourites to name one but I think even when I was young I’ve always loved films that I felt I had never seen anything like it before and that connected with me on some deeper level. Films like Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man and the original The Vanishing - I remember as a teenager being totally blown away by and opened me up to what could be done through cinema. From there seeing films for the first time by filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Lynne Ramsay, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Phillipe Grandreuix had a similar awakening effect on me.

Thank you so much for chatting to us, Paul!

Experience Arcadia at DCA cinema from Fri 22 - Thu 28 June.
And don't forget to tell us what you think on Twitter or Facebook using #helloDCA.

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