Joe Gilbert, filmmaker

With his shorts films, multi award - winning director Joe Gilbert reshapes the way we see architecture. We talk with him about Brexit, famous architect Le Corbusier and how you had to accept unexpected moments while shooting documentaries.


We assume you live in London, right ? We cannot begin this discussion without asking your thoughts about the Brexit.
 

I do, yes. Brexit is a hugely complex issue and it's brought to light the huge divides that exist in this country. I think it will have a truly demental effect for future generations. In this political climate, we should be championing the notion of collaboration rather than isolating ourselves further. I feel lucky to live in London however. Overall, the city is an excellent example of diversity and tolerance. We shouldn't forget that.  

You're totally right. Tell us a little bit about your background.

I have a spectacularly normal background. I've made films for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until I went to film school that I found my true passion for storytelling in the documentary medium. University isn't for every filmmaker but it really taught me how to research and stay focused on an idea, especially when you're struggling. 

Do you remember your first project ? What did you learn ?

The first film I made was a short documentary about Hastings Pier. Hastings was once a hugely popular Victorian seaside resort. It has however been in rapid decline in the last 50 years.
Originally, I set out to simply document the town in general. But after the first week of filming, arsonists burned down the pier, almost entirely destroying it. It was a tragedy but a gift for the story. It taught me that documentaries can throw up moments you can never predict and plan for. You need to adapt and be flexible at all times. 

You are a "lover of brutalist architecture". Could you tell what is it ?  

Brutalism is an architectural movement that developed after WW2. The term originates from the French word for "raw" in a term used by Le Corbusier to describe his choice of material : "béton brut". The buildings are characterized by their used of exposed concrete. They are often described as reactionary by being imposing and large in scale. 

Your last 4 films (Aylesbury, Hollamby's Hill, Streets in the sky, Barbican urban poetry) seems to be episodes of the same serie. Is it something you feel too ? 

Retrospectively yes, although I never planned to make a "serie" about architecture. It's something that took hold of me creatively so I just went with it. I learned so much from each film. It's almost as if I'm remaking the same documentary over and over, refining and retuning the material. 

These films look like still life to us. Is painting or photography an influence of you ?

My films are very simple in form. For me, composition is the most important thing. I take inspiration more from photography certainly. I want to give the audience time to study the images and intricacies of the environment and design as well as hear the interviewees. I think the stillness also invokes the feeling of permanence. These buildings have been around for a long time and don't quite fit the mold of their surroundings. 

Politic is quite present in your films. Do you think that cinema can help the viewer to know more about certain issues ?

I think film always hold a mirror up to society in one way or another. Documentaries are a fascinating way of exploring how a society can view itself, or indeed, be viewed by others. They can have a huge impact and shine a light on stories that would not get a voice otherwise.

What would be your dream project ? 

My dream project would be to make a feature documentary on the worlds largest "plane graveyard" in the Arizona desert. To think about all the miles and location that each plane has been in its life is incredible. 


More of Joe's work : https://vimeo.com/user1878821