You are often regarded as a director given to harsh themes. Do you agree?

I was never interested in cruelty for its own sake. But sometimes you have to resort to harsh narrative methods when the overall concept of the film demands it.

Are you referring to The Ascent?

Yes. This film is a study of man in an extreme, inhuman situation. He is in a position where he can only draw strength from within himself to stand up to the cruel circumstances. He is guided by such lofty motives as love for humanity and for his country. He remains human in inhuman circumstances. How can you show all this “gently”? I don’t think anyone can accuse me of using violence to tickle the audience’s sensibilities. That is taboo. I have never stooped to that.

I agree. In The Ascent no naturalistic details are in the frame in the scenes of torture, execution and physical suffering. Even so, the picture is very severe.

That might seem to be so by the comparison with “nice”, “undisturbing” films. I have nothing against pictures that make you laugh your head off. Laughter is good for your lungs. But there must also be pictures which disturb you, make you feel furious, compassionate and tearful. That’s good for your soul.

Larisa Shepitko on her film The Ascent.

Naomi Kawase: My desire to make a film always starts with a personal event that leaves its mark on me and that I want to translate into images. I create fictions from very personal things… I didn’t come into filmmaking from, as you say, watching other films and then wanting to be a director. Fundamentally, it was my love of the medium of film as a tool to capture the moment, the moment that’s happening right now. When film was first invented, there was that excitement about its ability to capture a moment in time, the here and the now. And that’s really the starting point for my interest in the film medium.

Claire Denis: In filmmaking, day by day you’re fighting against all elements, like sailing a boat, you know? If it’s bad weather, you have to react to that. If there’s no wind, you cannot move. So the audience is not always there, in my mind. The audience is like a friend, someone I know I’m going to meet later, but in between that moment of meeting and the moment of making the film—it’s so huge, the gap in between. I cannot even imagine the film finished when we’re shooting. So how can I imagine facing the audience, saying, this is my film, audience that I respect so much! No. I would be lying if I said that. I always hope that if I do things the way I like, I will end up having respected the audience.

Larisa Shepitko: Dovzhenko tried to teach us to see the world. Most of all he warned us against acquiring only the technical skills of the craft. He did not like “followers” who just tried to ape his approach. He urged us to be faithful to ourselves, to trust our own feelings and to stand up for our views. I did not realize at the time how difficult this is. You come to understand such things as you grow older… He used to tell us that when starting on a new film we should know what new things it would tell the audiences, and whether it would foster their better human qualities. I think this is the goal of art.

Safi Faye: I don’t know how a film is born. It’s an idea that comes; I then begin to work on it—while cooking, while getting dressed, while bathing, everywhere I went… I have always felt that a film belongs to the public… One need not explain her conceptualization, her process. The film—either one likes it or not. The story—you like it or you don’t… My sense of creativity, though, is to let the audience imagine what the images signify. It is not necessary to make everything explicit for the audience. They have to think. Creativity invites such thinking; that is why I create.

Maya Deren: Instead of envying the script and dialogue writers, the trained actors, the elaborate staffs and sets, the enormous production budgets of the profession film, the amateur should make use of the one great advantage which all professionals envy him, namely, freedom—both artistic and physical… The most important part of your equipment is yourself: your mobile body, your imaginative mind, and your freedom to use both. Make sure you do use them.

Larisa (1980) - Elem Klimov’s beautiful tribute to his wife, filmmaker Larisa Shepitko, who died in a car accident one year earlier.