Interview: Coldplay video director Mat Whitecross [part 2]
Part two of our interview with director Mat Whitecross. Mat talks to Esme Peach about his top roadie survival tips, being inspired by film and dressing up as an aubergine…
E: From Cathy Come Home to The End of the Line and Bully, films have often been used as a springboard for campaigning. What role do you think film can play in inspiring and informing people about the social and political issues that Oxfam campaigns on?
M: I think it’s incredible if films can have that impact. I always flit between thinking films can change the world and then thinking they can’t influence anyone. But people are getting smarter about using film as a tool - An Inconvenient Truth definitely put environmental issues on the agenda in a way they hadn’t quite been before, for example – for people who had been ignoring the facts up until then.
The main problem is how do you avoid simply preaching to the converted? On my films Road to Guantanamo, Shock Doctrine and Moving to Mars, the key method of getting them out to a new audience was not in cinemas, where people shell out £10 and make a conscious decision to see a film, but on TV, where you can flick onto a channel by mistake and see something that changes the way you see the world. And now the internet and pop up screenings are achieving that in a new way. It’s so much easier to click on something that intrigues you, and two hours later you’ve had your eyes opened to something you might never have considered before.
E: I imagine you’ve spent a fair bit of time shooting on tour and backstage at gigs. What’s your top tour survival tip for our Oxfam roadie?
M: Ear plugs, definitely! I’ve never invested in a pair, and I’ve risked tinnitus many times in search of a good angle on stage, lying right up against a speaker playing to 60,000 – not a good idea! The roar of the crowd at Wembley left my ears ringing for 2 days. I couldn’t sleep!
E: Which films have inspired you the most on social justice issues?
M: The first film I ever saw that really inspired me in that sense was The Battle of Chile, about the Pinochet coup in ’73 – I watched it when I was quite young, and it really resonated with me. My parents were Argentine refugees who’d been imprisoned during the Dirty War. It wasn’t until years later that it really came together for me, when I was working with Michael Winterbottom on an adaptation of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, and we watched it again – and I realised how formative the film had been in shaping my view of the world, showing me how fragile democracy can be, and how imperialism wasn’t a thing of the past, but a living, breathing phenomenon still present in the world. The Fog of War was revealing in a similar way.
I saw Shoah when I was young too – and that had a huge impact on me. Also Iraq in Fragments, When I Came Home, Gaza Strip and When the Levees Broke. I’m not sure if the filmmakers would particularly label them campaigning films, but they could certainly have been used in that way.
E: What’s the most memorable live Coldplay gig you’ve been to?
M: Each one is unique – I feel the same way when people ask me to name my favourite film – I can’t choose one or I’ll be betraying all the others! But their first gig at the Laurel Tree in Camden was pretty incredible. I feel very lucky to have experienced that. And a little more recently, the Paralympics closing ceremony was very moving…
E: Why did you become a supporter of Oxfam? Was it Coldplay’s influence…?
M: My mum was a supporter of Oxfam since she settled in Oxford with my dad in the ’70s. She was a good friend of one of the founding members Clarinda Peto, and we’d often go collecting round our area. She and my dad would always remind me and my brother Tom how lucky we were to have been born in England at the end of the 20th century. Not what you want to hear when you’re a mardy teen, but it obviously sunk in eventually!
E: And finally, we like to make our GROW volunteers dress up as vegetables on the tour. We’re cruel like that. But all in the name of GROW! If you had to dress up as a particular food, what would it be and why?
M: An aubergine probably. I remember a friend had to dress up as one for a student fashion show. I reckon I could definitely pull it off in style.
Thanks for chatting to me, Mat. Can’t wait to see Spike Island at the London Film Festival this autumn. Oh, and happy birthday!