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INTERVIEW: “Lovers Rock” Director Steve McQueen at the New York Film Festival

Susan Kouguell shares insights from Steve McQueen about "Lovers Rock," a film in his new five-film anthology, showing at the New York Film Festival.

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The 68-minute film Lover’s Rock is part of the Small Axe anthology, which comprises five original films by Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave, Widows). Set from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, the films each tell a different story involving London’s West Indian community, whose lives have been shaped by their own force of will, despite rampant racism and discrimination. Small Axe refers to a West Indian proverb that means together we are strong.

The film contains a minimal amount of dialogue; every word is meaningful to the story. We witness the characters' attitudes towards each other through their physical interactions—a touch of an elbow, a glance, how they’re seated together on a couch, and most poignantly, their dancing to the pulsating music—all their movements that at once feel choreographed and improvised.

I had the opportunity to ask Mr. McQueen about the script during the Zoom press conference that took place the afternoon before Lovers Rock opened the New York Film Festival.

Steve McQueen: This movie is based on my aunt. She wasn’t allowed to go to these parties, and my uncle would leave the back door open and she would sneak out on a Saturday night and come back in the morning in time to go to church. I knew that was going to be the journey of this script.

The script started with hundreds of interviews. I was passionate to record their histories. I wanted to get everything down on paper. It was a history that wasn’t told,

The dialogue—it could bring you somewhere, but this film was more about the mood. The language was a means to an end. It was all about the mood, the mood, the mood. For me it was about my senses. It was always about my smell, my taste and my hearing, this was the most important part. As humans I think we pick up on things so well, so quickly, and in this case with Lovers Rock, for me, it was a part that was unique yet very universal, and I just wanted it to have that universal feel to it.

I trust art. I trust film. I trust it. And hopefully we can make an atmosphere which allows things to happen and that’s exactly what happened in this film. You go in with a script and for me sometimes it’s a map; it’s not always the destination. It allows you to get the cameras rolling.

The New York Film Festival runs from Thursday, September 17, to Sunday, October 11. For more information visit here

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