NEW YORK , Joanna Hogg was first inspired to create a film about her relationship with heroin-addict first love in 1979. It was a traumatic, formative time that coincided her maturing as a filmmaker.
She didn't believe she was capable of taking on something so personal and ambitious back then. Instead, her career drifted into television. Hogg returned to movies only when she was 47. Hogg felt ready after three well-received films.
The end result, "The Souvenir", which Hogg made in two separate parts and filmed two years apart, is stunning. The sublime work of memory, autobiography, "The Souvenir", which opens in theaters Friday, captures a masterful filmmaker who uses all of her skills to revisit her childhood as a young filmmaker, in the middle of discovering herself.
Hogg stated that she was shocked by how much I remembered about the making of these films in a recent interview from London. Her Zoom window said "fellini." Because I did not believe it was possible, I wouldn't have said it before the process. "I thought that you only remember what you have, and there was no way to recover a memory."
"But, I believe, actually, that you can channel something. Thoughts, memories, images and sounds. They can be found, I believe.
Hogg, as a filmmaker is an odd combination of formalistic and free-flowing. Hogg's camera movements are precise and her cuts are exact. She meticulously dresses her sets -- recreated her London apartment in Knightsbridge using her old clothes and her fictional stand-in, Honor Swinton Byrne. Hogg also shared her old journals. But she doesn't write the dialogue. Hogg, 61 uses a 30-page document to start and then shapes scenes with rehearsals and broad-ranging takes.
The first part of "The Souvenir" shows Julie complaining about the film professors' structures. Part two sees Julie dealing with crew members who want a more concrete approach. These are only part of Julie's struggles to find her voice and make art out of life. The existence of these films is proof that Hogg's method, now well-understood, can produce something real and alive. Hogg's ability to make Julie a filmmaker is evident.
Tilda Swinton is a long-standing friend of Hogg's. She stars in both films as Julie's mother (Swinton-Byrne is Swinton’s real-life child). She was even part of Hogg's final film school project. She recalls Hogg taking notes and photos of the views from her windows four decades ago, as preparation for a future theoretical film. Swinton refers to "The Souvenir," as "a beacon in an entirely new kind of poetic cinema."
Swinton wrote in an email, "When I think about these films I am reminded that the project cinema is that which defies time."
Swinton says, "It takes immense heart and nerve to tell the truth about people -- and give her colleagues support to be as transparent as her films require of us all," Swinton adds. It's a long road, and like all the muddiest roads, it is both unassailable and solidly grounded.
The two parts of "The Souvenir", have been widely praised, from the Sundance Film Festival to this years's Cannes and New York festivals. Filmmakers are some of the most passionate fans. Martin Scorsese is an executive producers.
Scorsese emailed, "I believe that 'The Souvenir Parts I & II" is an epic, and on a completely human-scale."
Scorsese says that Joanna began at a different time and chose her own path. She started in a completely different frame of mind. It's evident in my work. You can find a clarity and an intensity there that you cannot find in someone younger. It's intensity, yes, but a different kind. Joanna is also a part of it."
Hogg also helped Swinton Byrne make her debut into filmmaking by conjuring up her own entry to moviemaking. The debut of the 24-year old, despite growing up on film sets, is "The Souvenir". Hogg was not satisfied with the auditions and cast her two weeks before she started the first role, which Swinton Byrne had just 19. Julie's journey is similar to Swinton Byrne.
"Such a lot has happened between parts one and two. I spent 10 months in Namibia. Swinton Byrne, a psychologist from Edinburgh, Scotland, says that she enjoyed a lot of growing during that period. "So I believe I went into the second one having more of a backbone."
She adds, "I changed myself," before laughing. "There wasn’t much acting going on."
Swinton Byrne finds the second half of "The Souvenir," particularly inspiring. She plans to continue acting after she finishes her studies.
Swinton Byrne states that Hollywood portrays an ideal experience of what you can expect in your 20s and 30-years. "These films as a whole shed light on the importance of making mistakes and how it's normal and healthy. The more mistakes you make the better you will be.
Hogg, who has experienced the merging of fiction and real life so often, is sometimes unsure about what's true and what's false.
Hogg smiles, "The whole thing becomes very confusing, not in an unbeinteresting way and very difficult to unpack." Sometimes, I have a momentary confusion when I see an image from the movie. It could be a still from the film but it might also be a still from my life.
Hogg, who has spent her entire career challenging the norms of filmmaking, feels drawn to experimenting with more traditional genres. Film noir, in which the past is not over with anyone, is particularly appealing at this time.
She says, "I am interested in playing with well-known shapes within my parameters."
Hogg shot "The Eternal Daughter" last year with Swinton. It was a Wales-set mystery that explores long-buried secrets. Swinton says, "I have been her friend for 50 years and now it feels like we are starting our work together."
Hogg feels that the films are moving away, just as much "The Souvenir", was obsessed with recapturing a long time ago. It is difficult to retrieve the movies from Hogg's past.
Hogg states that Part II becomes harder to discuss because it recedes. They "float away into the air."