Interview: Paul Haggis Reflects on His Career and the Importance of Art in the Trump Era

Scheduled to take place from October 26 to November 4, the 2017 Evolution Mallorca Film Festival is one with a distinct character. According to its founder and director Sandra Seeling Lipski, this budding festival (now in its 6th year) focuses on films that “share a vision of more than one culture and portray how people from different cultures interact and respect each other.” In keeping with this mandate, the festival will bestow the inaugural Evolution Vision Award this year to a filmmaker who represents these ideals through their work. This year’s deserving honoree is Oscar winner Paul Haggis, a native of Toronto whose filmography nevertheless shows a keen interest in American society, culture and politics. In anticipation of the upcoming gala in his honor, recently spoke with Haggis for a candid discussion of his impressive career, which spans several decades, mediums and genres.

Don Cheadle and Paul Haggis on the set of “Crash”

We began by talking about “Crash”, the surprise Best Picture winner about race relations which he feels is still relevant today. “Issues of race and intolerance haven’t gotten any better in the last 10 years” says Haggis. As he explains however, the film’s message was aimed at complacent liberals, rather than the obvious targets. “It’s easy to point the finger at the white supremacists, the KKK and the people who our president often reaches out to for support. I’ve always been interested in pointing the finger back at me and this insidious white privilege that we all feel, even though we often deny it.”

“I’ve always been interested in pointing the finger back at me and this insidious white privilege that we all feel, even though we often deny it.”

Despite the film’s success, Haggis admits that he would have made changes to the script if the film were to be released in the current political climate. In reference to President Trump, he says “it’s hard to keep up with this motherfucker! We could not have a more divisive leader.” He believes filmmakers and artists will play an important role in a divided society however. “Cinema and art in general is always important. It’s the artists who tend to be out front with some of these issues and often take a lot of heat for it.” He adds, “I think people are becoming emboldened to speak now, which is good. It’s so outrageous what’s happening in our country that you’re forced to speak.”

Haggis’ strong political views stem from his deep love for humanity, which is evident in his involvement in another Best Picture winner “Million Dollar Baby”. As producer and screenwriter, the film was a true passion project for Haggis. He explains, “I’d heard an interview with the author on NPR and I raced out to get the book and I just loved it. It’s such a powerful story about love and human dignity. This woman just wanted her shot.” Again, Haggis sees a correlation between the film’s themes and current politics. He states, “in politics right now, it’s not easy for women to get their shot. The same with people of color.”

“I said, do these people understand that if I do Bond I’ll ruin it for everyone forever?”

On a lighter note, Haggis cites his work on the James Bond franchise as one of his most rewarding experiences. “I loved writing Casino Royale. I had the support of my director, and my producers were wonderful to me.” He recalls being surprised when he was approached to help recreate Bond. “I said, do these people understand that if I do Bond I’ll ruin it for everyone forever?” But in the end, the gamble paid off. Haggis was full of praise for the filmmaking team for doing a wonderful job, especially director Martin Campbell, who didn’t change a word of his script. He admits however, that the follow-up “Quantum of Solace” was not as successful. “There was a different relationship with the director and the producers. They took the film in a different direction after I wrote the script.”

Finally, Haggis reveals his take on one of the most common debates in pop culture – casting the next James Bond. “I would love to have Idris Elba in there. I think he’s perfect.” Whether or not this popular dream casting comes true, Haggis assures us that the franchise is in safe hands with producer Barbara Broccoli. “There are so many great potential Bonds and Barbara really has her finger on the pulse. I think she’ll assemble something great.”

What do you think?

AC Fan

Written by Shane Slater

Shane is a passionate cinephile and Tomatometer-approved film critic residing in Kingston, Jamaica. When he's not watching or writing about film, he spends much of his time wishing he lived in a big city. Shane is an avid world traveler and loves attending film festivals. He is a member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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