Emir Kusturica: Notre Dame fire is a symbol of our collapsing values (Part two)
We are on the verge of a very tangible time change between the old times and the new technological era. We talk to Emir Kusturica, film director, musician and thinker, about what kind of humanity we are likely to be in the near future.
Watch the first part of the interview here.
Sophie Shevardnadze: So you keep bringing up culture so I want to talk about culture in context of the new gadgets, if I may, because, for instance, more the world is becoming globalised some would think that they're holding on more onto their cultures and actually trying to nourish that culture where they come from more because they're scared to be erased. Others would say that more the world is becoming globalised and digitised culture as it is, as an entity has become obsolete. And further we go less of it will be left. What do you think, where does culture even stand in the future of this technological breakout and robotisation and artificial intelligence that's going to be ruling the world in like 5 -10 years?
Emir Kusturica: I'm absolutely sure that globalisation was the process started by even Genghis Khan and it's still on. And my major fear is - if I could have chosen from which part of American society I could have accept globalisation if the time stands frozen, if we go from the wave of beautiful movies after the Vietnam War, and if I could have chosen and say “this is the way I want to be colonised and globalised”, I would say yes because I'm an artist and I live from creativity that gives you in front of your eyes something that is a mixture or synthesis of existential political, historical and the human view inside the conflict in the story that you do in your cinema. American society in the 70s was showing us all what we what we wanted to see - how life goes, today nothing is left. Hollywood is even poisoning Russian cinema. The language of cinema is becoming what I told you in the beginning propaganda. In China you have Ministry of Propaganda. The masks are absolutely fallen down and nobody wants to... The biggest hit in China last year was a movie showing how in the Star Wars a Chinese cosmonaut is saving the world. So under these conditions I want to keep my culture. I want to believe that my ethnic roots are enough not just for my philosophical view to the world but also for my psychological stability because how many people you have there who are absolutely amazed but absolutely emptied by the wave of stupid Hollywood movies coming to our everyday’s life. You know, ten years ago when I was thinking that the language of cinema suffers a lot because of the commercials. Now when you have a successful Russian or Hollywood movie it's a pure propaganda for whatever reason. Every shot in the sequence, if it goes more than two seconds like commercial of L’Oreal it's the same story when they're speaking about some historical events and the language is being changed - it’s the language of no culture. Because every author is measured by his perception of time and space. And there's no time no space, just talking as quickly changing and everybody's happy because everybody could do a movie based on quick exchange of small pieces.
SS: So is this characteristic of our time? Because people say that film is always very talkative of whatever time it is...
EK: Like architecture, film is always like architecture, speaking the best possible way if the author is great you have the documentary even if it's a feature movie. Or if you go to the city, you know, you have a very beautiful short story or short novel by Chekhov about one city in Russia when the son is losing his existential perspective but his father destroys the city by putting nonsense in the way that houses were placed in the city. Today no one takes care of this. Everybody builds huge buildings group of buildings out of glass and nobody's asking how is it going to affect the sense of a creature, we are sensitive even when a cloud covers the sun and all changes, it starts organically to change his opinion his feelings and all what he is today. Global culture is a killer, it prepares hell, I think.
SS: Okay. I want to like maybe make it a little more concise and maybe speak of you in terms of a culture because you are a man of, I would say, an old code of honor, like, you were brought up in a certain way in a certain era.
EK: I'm the man from the previous century.
SS: Exactly. And those values that you have inside of you, with which you have lived all your life - there's no place for them in the new world. This new technological weird, you call it “propaganda”, “hell culture”, whatever is surrounding us...
EK: Don't get me wrong. I'm not against the gadgets. There are still good movies. There are still good events. There are still intelligent appearances. I'm not saying we’re coming to the end of the world. But while in the 70s, the majority of films used to be based on our values, now most of them are alienating these values. And that's what I'm saying today.
SS: But do you understand that you, Emir Kusturica, a genius, absolutely spectacular film director, are becoming obsolete because machines are writing scripts and making movies more we go on better than you.This is like a collective image of...
EK: I understood this long time ago. That's why I'm planting my fruits. I bought 35 hectares next to my village and now I will be producing juice…
SS: So are you going to become farmer and juicemaker? But you know, the machine are going to make better juice than you.
EK: No-no, that's not true it's the same story like the cinema. You cannot make, you could use technology but still not so far where the machines could make it better than us.You could play chess...
SS: It’s so close! We’re talking about 1, 2, 3, 5, maximum 10 years. This is not in two centuries - this is now, our lifetime!
EK: But let me ask you one question: could a robot evaluate the smell of beautiful water, the smell of a beautiful woman?…
SS: Now not, but probably in the future, yes, because there is also such thing as artificial intuition.
EK: So what we have to do then? We’re going to commit collective suicide.
SS: I was going to ask you.
EK: I don’t know. That's why I said before, it might be that they are going to discover another planet and they going to the other planet and they are going to be challenged by the new stuff because so far those who were enfant terriblé, if they don't go to Mars and find the water over there they're not going to be able to survive here because there will be so many people, which wouldn't be a problem, you could lower the number of people easily. If you let them eat and live normally, if you give them chance to live and eat normally you would not have a growth of population as it is.
SS: Do you feel, like, somehow we can regulate at this verge? Do you feel, like, we can maybe ourselves say “this is the limit of intrusion of a robot into such an intimate space of a person such as art”?
EK: I have a good idea. Go ahead. We could make them slaves.
SS: Can we? That's the big question. Maybe they will make us slaves.
EK: Very difficult to believe. There might be some crazy intelligence idiots who will make this in the end, but I think we have to use some old trick that during the colonial power of Portugal and then most of the time of British when they were trading people, we have to trade our slaves-robots as they used to do in the history and we have to keep those smart people from starting the nuclear war. We have to understand that if the robots come on us we are going to be their own slaves.
SS: But that's very close because we're not regulating it at all right now.
EK: I'm not quite sure, like in Oblomov's life, I believe, we are lazy and the laziness could save us…
SS: … and greedy because robots make money…
EK: Lazy, greedy and robots will always be some sort of parameter that has the measurement in our life position and I don't think we are going to be so generous to give them power to be more than opening the door...
SS: ...not generous, but we might be stupid enough, that's a different thing.
EK: Those who run the world, they're not stupid. They know what they do. They do that all the time.
SS: So how do you think that's going to change the paradigm of politics, because we had, you know, strong leaders, and then we had Western, sort of, great leaders, now there is this return to strongman again. What's going to happen when machines are going to be everywhere? Is the person who actually owns the button to the whole mechanics going to be the ruler of the world? Are we going to have technocracy in a literal sense?
EK: We will have technocracy, but I'm afraid, technocracy could be followed by a totalitarian regime, because…
SS: Even more so than now in some countries?
EK: More, much more than now. If that's the way we alienate our Gods from our stuff. That's what is the religion, and the God as a culture was doing in between. That's why I'm fighting for culture, because no culture, no God, no connection, no emotions that we feel for each other - that's what could be a deadly for us, the future in which we are not going to go for something in the outside world, but go for ourselves and get isolated. Then we're going to have what used to be in history, just a new form of colonial power, who will be controlling us. But somehow, the new technology has made it also throughout social media, they're controlling you enough. No, it's like sheep who are just... I have one good metaphor for our status today. When the wolf comes among the sheep, it doesn't need to kill 50 of them. He needs to bite just the first one, and after biting the first one, the blood goes, and he keeps pulling the first. But the rest of the sheep, they go behind him. And as long as he goes, as long as the blood comes, they are behind him, and they will follow him to the final destination.
SS: Who are going to be the heroes of our next generation, next political generation? I mean, you made a documentary about a Uruguay’s President. Amazing guy. I mean, men's man from the people, drives a Beetle, super cool, but he's, like, a last century man. Do you know what I mean? Do you think we could have heroes, heroes in a film sense, like him in this technological era that's sort of on us right now?
EK: The problem with European… Why they never had anybody like this, because all developed countries, including small, like Denmark and the Netherlands, they used to be colonial powers, and they used to trade people, they used to plunder, they used to do all the worst. And then, they turn into a society of law, of good behavior, of good culture. Uruguay - no. Uruguay is the country with 10 million cows and 3 million people, and it's placed in the corner of this peninsula, in which what happens outside is less important. You can never have it in Russia. You could have a region with such a man, but to control all the territory, you have to have an ingredient of despotism that could put order to function, or as Cioran says, Ivan Grozny was our ideal, he could have killed, and he could redeem himself. So this is absolutely out of this, and this is not absolutely out. In fact, the man was kidnapping, robbing banks and doing all good for his political party and for the justice. But what makes this ego unstoppable is the opposite. In his case, in Mujico’s case, you are voted by majority. The moment you voted majority, you start living as minority. And then, you ask yourself why the kingdoms are destroyed, why Republicans took over in the countries in which today the politicians, in most of the cases, are the richest people in the world, and they live like monarchs. And in this kind of perception, you could just believe that there are Utopias that come, and might be in Europe. It could have happened. You were speaking about right and left, right and left does not make sense today. The question is, in Europe, who has a better taste. That's how they separate this. Because leftist in Europe are more globalist than the rightist. Rightists try to preserve the small culture, not to let new plans, especially the immigration plan, take over. And that is a plan. We are speaking about the wars in the different territories in the Middle East, and because of the wars, people flee to Europe. You are not stopping the war, not because you cannot. If you go from the World War I, and the British pressure on India and on Persia, and coming to nowadays, to Iraq, you will see the same reason in which the Europe is suffering the final blow, which is going to be absolute defeat of the culture in which I believe, which is based on the Greek mythology and which is called the Christian culture.
SS: So this is my last question to you. If you could, in maybe two-three, four maximum, sentences, as a director and a visionary, give me a synopsis of the world and the heroes that we are heading into? Without historical excursion to the Greek mythology.
EK: You mean, the future?
SS: Yeah, I mean, the future is now, it's already yesterday. The future is already yesterday. We just haven't realized it.
EK: The future started, and what I said in the beginning, I will repeat very clearly. The loss of the common sense, a sense of solidarity and all what made us humans, are toppling inside the other beliefs and wishes to be ourselves, and to be developing individualism to the end of the ends, in which we are going to lose friends, in which we are going to lose all the common sense with the rest of society in which we live.
SS: But in that film, would there be a hero that actually saves the world, like it happens in Hollywood movies, or are we actually heading towards the end of the world?
EK: Maybe, it has to happen in the life. The big changes are made in history and in cinema, which follows the history somehow, when a new Messiah, or new actor, or new anyone who could give us strong motive to change the world, but it must be somebody who will suffer for us.
SS: Do you have an idea of what kind of Messiah that would be in this world?
EK: You know, Jesus Christ became very popular because he was in the beginning leftist because they were no left and right. In the end of 20th century in the Time magazine they called him “orphan”. When he was overused and they wanted to decline this kind of culture, they even made it more multicultural. But we if we follow the path of Jesus Christ we could find a revolutionary. We could find the man who changed the world and who created the sense for the poor. The same story you have in good pieces of European cinema - Ken Loach and all these people that are creating good image about middle-class people suffering from the big power of corporate capitalism.
SS: Thank you very much, Emir.
EK: You’re welcome.
SS: Good luck with everything.