– . – Jack Cardiff: A True Artist


Jack Cardiff: A True Artist

Craig McCall, director of new documentary Cameraman, discusses the work of iconic cinematographer Jack Cardiff.

It’s taken filmmaker Craig McCall the best part of 13 years to make Cameraman, his documentary chronicling the life of Oscar winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff, a project that began when the pair first met in the early 1990s. And, despite still being busy in the editing room, McCall sat down to chat with movieScope about the project’s incredible journey and its incredible subject.

• Firstly, how are you feeling at the end of this celluloid marathon?
As the director, I’m quite happy as the picture is locked and I can’t fiddle anymore! It’s been a long project. It’s taken an unusual arc, to be frank; some good and some bad.

• And did the lack of a broadcaster mean that finance was hard to come by?
It’s actually very unusual. I don’t think there’s been anything on this scale that has no foundation money or initial money from one of the broadcasters. That’s not for a bad reason, but I just began it myself independently.

• Was there a feeling that once Jack picked up the Academy Honorary Award in 2001, you would get more funders interested in seeing it through?
There was a lot of heat and momentum, but everybody wanted a quick, neat little package. BBC and Channel 4 were very keen, but they just wanted me to finish it. I think what could have helped was if they get involved with all the clearances. It’s a dull part of the process, but it was the Achilles heel of this project. I had no voiceover and that’s something broadcasters get a bit nervous about unless you’ve got a track record. I wasn’t trying to be an auteur filmmaker; I just always thought watching documentaries that were released after the subjects died were all these neat and tidy documentaries. I really disliked that.

The problem on the downside, though, is you have to deal with the families and the estates and access to the material, whether it’s Orson Welles or Tupac Shakur. You need to dance the dance that they want. The only thing that kept my project safe was being truthful to what Jack’s story is. This isn’t a bleeding-heart story; it’s just the nature of the business. What I’m really happy about is the fact that certain films are cyclical. People have come around again to the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who were the cornerstone to Jack’s career. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker [Powell’s widow], who appeared in my film, keep promoting them and making new generations aware of them. Scorsese, after Jack, is the most seen person in my documentary and that’s really important for me. You can say what you want about everybody else, but he’s the real baton-passer. He is a tour de force and why I like him is that he is very inclusive about the way he talks about the films. I do not like other biographies that lecture to me. The reason I did Jack is that he was very, very inspiring and funny.