SolPix Interviews
   An Interview with Don Thompson
   by Mike Neff

Neff: Don, thanks for agreeing to this interview. I'll begin with saying that I'm always in awe of the complexities of filmmaking. I realize it takes a tremendous amount of energy and organization to make the kind of films you do. What drives you to do it?

Thompson: I like to make films because the process challenges every facet of my personality. It requires a lot... it requires you develop a lot of different kinds of strengths in order to make it happen. You have to be part artist, part businessman, part project manager. It takes vision and the focus to see it through.

Neff: As a filmmaker, what kind of films provoke and inspire you?

Thompson: I like all kinds of films. When I was in film school, I fell in love with European films --directors like De Sica and Atonioni, and Godard. I initially found some of them hard to take -- being raised in California on Hollywood films -- but eventually I understood their greatness. And they gave me so much to think about and talk about. Like Godard's "Peter the Fool" and "Two Or Three Things" -- these films are amazing. And I've sat in audiences where I've heard people verbally express their disdain for the films. They shake people up. I like that. Lars Von Trier does the same thing today with films like "The Element of Crime" and "Breaking the Waves."

Neff: So you see a filmmaker's role as something more than just an entertainer?

Thompson: I love to be entertained, that's not what I mean. I also love to think and feel, and I love to be engaged on multiple levels. A great film does that. A mediocre film attempts maybe a single level for a limited audience. A great film addresses a broad audience -- meaning broad themes -- but also addresses deeper concerns. I believe that a lot of popular films also tap into archetypal social truths... felt truths that people can't articulate. I also believe that truly great artists are really expressions of nature... that they are vessels. I believe that.

Neff: Vessels to what end?

Thompson: Hopefully for balance. Life seems to be a big act of equilibrium, of balancing forces. My sense is that we are out of balance, and there needs to be artists who help to balance the world in a particular way -- in a positive way. I'd like to be part of that effort.

Neff: But what about people? Isn't that a pretty cerebral take on things? Who cares about archetypes... people care about living don't you think?

Thompson: People care about living but they are also going to die. So people are transient. Relationships are all, ultimately, impermanent. Studying Buddhism taught me that.

Neff: Are you a Buddhist?

Thompson: I've studied a lot of religions. I guess I'm kind of my own bird. Although I've studied with Tibetan Lamas, and contemporary meditation teachers.

Neff: Does meditation help you as a filmmaker?

Thompson: I think so. It helps you focus. It's helped me focus as a filmmaker, in making "Clouds" for example.

Neff: Were you happy with "Clouds"?

Thompson: I was happy when people got it. A lot of people didn't get it. A lot did. When they did, it was magic. When they didn't, it was hell, in a way. But then, it wasn't my hell.

Neff: What do you mean?

Thompson: I mean I got to experience so much joy making that film. I loved making that film. It was a magical experience. But some people -- some critics -- somehow didn't feel that love in the film. They felt something else -- maybe just their own hatred. That's a hell they're in. It seemed to me that "Clouds" was a giant experimental Rorschach test. But then so is every film.

Neff: What was the film about, in your mind?

Thompson: What was it about in your mind?

Neff: But you're not interviewing me...

Thompson: Ok... fair enough. I thought you'd help me figure it out. (Laughs) But I'll give you my take. It's about the impossibility of American culture.

Neff: That will probably need some elaboration.


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