Timo von Gunten, now just 27, directed the Academy-award nominated short film La femme et la TGV, starring iconic English-French actress Jane Birkin. I met Timo while he was visiting Los Angeles not too long before his film premiered at Locarno. If memory serves, Timo rode a bicycle to meet some friends at a bar on the Westside just south of the Nuart and Cinephile. We’d seen Embrace of the Serpent there earlier in the evening and Timo bemoaned not being able to meet us for the film. He was kind and unassuming (and tall!). But his passion for film was readily apparent. Many people say, “I wish I could’ve made the movie.” Timo meant it. After spending some time at the bar, we strolled back towards Santa Monica Boulevard on foot as he walked next to his bicycle alongside us to get in a few more minutes of conversation about our favorite subject – the movies. And now, Timo has been kind enough to continue that conversation here, more than a year later and with ‘Academy Award nominee’ now firmly ensconced on his resume.
Hunter: Congratulations on your film and being nominated for an Academy Award. That is truly incredible. Something about the film makes me curious. Your protagonist is a middle-aged or even senior woman looking back on her life, and yet, you are a very young man who has so much to look forward to! What drew you to her story? What unites you with this character who – on the surface at least – is so different than you?
Timo: If young or old, we all seek the feeling of belonging and face solitude during some parts of our life. What the character goes through is not really something unique to elderly people. For myself, it’s funny but I never felt like particularly young – not in a physical sense that is but rather in a sense of being part of life. I’ve always been slightly outside the action, never fully involved. I think that’s what links me to the old woman to some parts. Also the fact that I’m looking for unreachable people sometimes, while there are the most lovely people right in front of me. Reminds me of myself a bit.
Hunter: I get it. I’m an INFP, a weird and fairly rare type. Sometimes it feels easier to identify with people based on personality type or values or even an aesthetic rather than age. What is something about making “La femme et le TGV” that was easier than expected and what was something that was more challenging than expected?
Timo: Woking with Jane [Birkin] was a lot easier and more fun than expected. She is just brilliant and absolutely wonderful to collaborate with. More challenging than expected – to have two to three film units during the seven day shoot of a thirty-minute movie.
Hunter: That sounds like a big operation on a short. She’s an amazing actress. She sort of instantly makes you curious about her on camera. So speaking of…this question is for all the actors who read the blog. What makes you trust an actor? What makes you doubt them?
Timo: If I sense their truthfulness of living in the moment, that’s what makes me trust them. If they are afraid to open up and be real, instead hiding something inside and therefore acting, then I know we have a problem.
Hunter: What about some advice for people on the other side of the camera, for filmmakers who want to grow in their craft and achieve in the business, as you have?
Timo: Take the miniDV camera and play around as much as you can. Tell as many silly stories as you can. And tell them again. And again. Until you improve. Never lose the fun and always surround yourself by talented, most often more mature people.
Hunter: So young, yet so self-possessed, you are. Imagine that with a Yoda voice, by the way. People talk a lot about 1970s cinema. But that’s a long time ago by now! I’m curious – which era do you find most interesting for cinema – 1980s, 1990s or 2000s? Why?
Timo: I quite like the 2000s but that has probably to do with the fact that I started seeing many movies in that era when I was 10-years old. So films like Amélie, Lord of the Rings and Big Fish had quite a big impact on me.
Hunter: You just made a lot of readers jealous about the fact that you were 10 in the 2000s. So…imagine the concept of a “Filmmaker Soulmate” – who would be yours?
Timo: If this is considered to be a big director or someone, it might be Spike Jonze, even though I’ve never met him – I’d love to one day.
Hunter: I’m trying to think about what the most meaningful thing you guys have in common – maybe a unique sort of optimism. What are you working on now and how is it going?
Timo: I’m working on a multitude of projects and it’s going quite well so far. I really hope one of them will catch fire soon as I’m very keen to commence another shoot. I send all the energy I have out there and I’ll see which echo returns to me the quickest. That’s gonna be my next movie shot.