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SXSW '07 Interview: "Does Your Soul Have a Cold?" Director Mike Mills

by Laura Kyle

The "Does Your Soul Have a Cold?" pitch: An artful documentary look at the issues facing modern Japanese citizens as they battle the reality of depression in a culture that only recently started to embrace it.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Globalism, depression, and everyday life.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
Favorite part: finally showing your film to an audience, which is really like having the film come to life for the first time (the results can be both dream fulfilling and nightmare making). Least favorite: that filmmaking can be an industry and the industry meets and gets all frothy at film festivals.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
A professional skateboarder.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real“start” in filmmaking?
Doing three screen slide shows for my first boss Tibor Kalman.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
Not really.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
First I think Grover for his general enthusiasm mixed with confusion. Then I think of Snuffilufigus for his shyness, clumbsy-gentle-fear based relationship to the world. I'm more Ernie than Bert, more Kermit than Miss Piggy, sort of like Fozzy in the mornings. I can also relate to the two headed monster with the honking nose - all those internal divisions and binary opposites that endlessly struggle with each other.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Trust that you don't have to go right for what a person, or a scene, or an issue "means." The audience can read things that are not explicit; the film must respect the unknown, the unknown needs to be a part of your storytelling.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
Ozu – for his respect of the small, the bourgeois, the uneventful. Frederick Wiseman and the Maysle brothers for the respect they gave to anyone they filmed.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
We watched Grey Gardens by the Maysles, we've all seen it many times before but wanted to be reminded how simple a film can be, how unresolved and open and interesting.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
I wish I could say a pro skater.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
So offensive is this whole proposition – especially the parenthetical clause.

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
My documentary is about depression. I've come to realize that thinking along these lines leads me to my own depression, so I try not to think about these things.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Especially for smaller films that are only going to be pushed by a distributor if they are reviewed well, they basically control the fate of your film that you've worked 1, or 2, or 5, or 7, years on. On a more personal level, many of them are very smart and perceptive and if they criticize you or figure out a weakness in you or your work that you never saw, it can be quiet painful. If they praise you, it's great, very helpful to your film, but you tend to forget it.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
A hybrid car.

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
I think it's especially strange when the director didn't write the film. Yes, films are collaboration, and it's a strange credit. What's even more strange is that the DGA can make it hard for you not to take this credit. But I will say, when you are negatively reviewed, people most often don't think of a film as a collaboration but as "a bad film by Director." But I'm a hypocrite because I just put it on the poster I made for SXSW, not the film itself, but yes the poster. Because it's a doc, I felt a little different.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
Dear average movie watcher: Please go see whatever movie you want, I hope you have a great time. I'm not really sure you exist, that you are average, that I could talk you into anything. Love, Mike.

Does Your Soul Have a Cold?, directed by Mike Mills,will premier at the 2007 SXSW film festival. For more information, click here. And check out for even more info!

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originally posted: 02/24/07 06:29:19
last updated: 03/07/07 09:21:44
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