Still from Yes, 'He' (Simon Abkarian) and 'She' (Joan Allen) together
Yes confronts some of the greatest conflicts of our generation religious, political and sexual. Written in the days following the attacks in New York of 11 September 2001, director Sally Potter felt an urgent need to respond to the rapid demonisation of the Arab world in the west and to the parallel wave of hatred against America. As recent events in London remind us, these issues and questions continue to reverberate.
For more information on Yes go to Sally Potters active blog on her site www.yesthemovie.com.
Yes is released in the UK on 5 August. Below, Sally describes the experience of making the film.
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After the events of 11 September, I asked myself: what can a filmmaker do in such an atmosphere of hate and fear? What are the stories that need to be told?
Instinctively I turned to love, verse and humour. Love, because it is ultimately a stronger force than hate. Verse, because its deep rhythms and its long tradition (from medieval sonnets to Icelandic sagas to rap) enable ideas to be expressed in lyrical ways that might otherwise be indigestible, abstract or depersonalised. And humour, because in the face of such heavy global hysteria, the need for levity becomes stronger than ever. Whereas a documentary can explore the underlying historical and political issues, a work of fiction needs to venture into emotional terrain; the experiences we have in common, whatever our differences.
I began writing an argument between two lovers (one a Lebanese man, the other an Irish-American woman) at a point where their love affair has become an explosive war-zone, with the differences in their backgrounds starting to overshadow them as individuals.
My aim was to create two characters who are contradictory, complex and sympathetic, with both strengths and weaknesses. I wanted also to draw portraits that flow against the tide of cliché, particularly the stereotypes of the enemy over there and the potential enemies within the exiles, immigrants and asylum-seekers living in the west. For this reason, also, the mans religion is left deliberately ambiguous.
The argument between the two lovers came out onto the page, for the most part, in iambic pentameter (ten syllables per line). Perhaps my background as a lyricist made me write this way; as if the film was a song. Or perhaps it was an instinctive attempt to let the characters speak to each other on screen about things which are hard to express in normal conversation. Either way, I tried to find a form in which the characters could speak to each other from somewhere intimate and surprising in themselves.
In the screenplay the verse is like a river running through the film as we delve into the characters thought-streams and back out into their speech. The actors delivered the verse best, paradoxically, when they ignored it; when they spoke concentrating on the meaning, rather than the rhymes, as if the text was just a heightened form of ordinary speech. For this reason many viewers of the film dont really notice its rhymes or its metre.
The war in Iraq began as we began rehearsals; with Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian heading a fine, committed cast. Lines from the script became more and more pertinent, as the characters journey accelerated. We all felt we were working on something urgently contemporary.
During the working process we discussed the usual details of design, light and lens, or character and costume. But we also talked passionately about the deeper themes of the film: the struggle to understand each other (east and west, Christian and Muslim); the desire to respect each others differences and to find a way of living side by side.
As world events overtook the story we had to cancel our shoot in Beirut (the war had made us uninsurable) and Joan Allen, an American citizen, could no longer work in Cuba (thanks to a new Bush administration decree). It took some fancy footwork to overcome these problems.
That the film was made at all is testimony to the ingenuity of the producers, and the dedication and generosity of the cast, crew, and facility houses who invested in the film with their unpaid labour or deferred fees to make it possible. It was truly a labour of love. Everyone wanted to contribute to a yes in the face of the destruction and despair of war.
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