As Sally Potter travels around the world with 'YES'
she is keeping a diary exclusively for this web site
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The Critic

The Rivera Murals

The Casa Azul


Festival Screening

The Trotsky Museum


Profound Mexico


Rain on canvas

The Jury

The Anthropological Museum


Political Correctness

Two Houses

False Virtue

Life is a miracle

Weird Roots

The Meeting

Turtles Can Fly

The Oscars

Luis Barragans house

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Weird Roots

I am struck by the confidence of filmmakers (and musicians) who seem to know and work from their roots.  I think of others such as Pedro Almodovar in Spain; Jean-Pierre Jeunet in France, Ken Loach in England.  It makes me wonder about my own roots.  I never ‘feel’ English.  Orlando’ was my most ‘English’ film, but the underlying text was written by Virginia Woolf.  I felt I knew her territory and understood its ironic tone. (“Irony is the amniotic fluid of the English” says Alan Bennett.)  But in my own writing I am so often looking outward to other cultures.  It is a kind of adventuring instinct, an insatiable curiosity about the ‘other’; the what is not me. 

People have often erroneously assumed I am Jewish, because of the Jewish subject matter of ‘The Man Who Cried’, and because of the references to Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, as well as some of the dialogue in ‘The Tango Lesson’, concerning the relationship between Jewish mythology, identity, and the roots of the tango.  I try to explain that you don’t have to be Jewish to want to explore such vital subject matter; nor do I have to be male or Arabic to want, in YES, to explore the identities and struggles of a man from the Middle-East. 

Nevertheless, I wonder what it would take for me to be able to explore my own weird roots more deeply.  My family is such an odd mix; part French (on my maternal side) part aristocratic, part working class (on my paternal side); anarchist (my father); poor (my own childhood) yet privileged (always music and a poem in the house).  There was nothing in my background of what is usually portrayed as ‘Englishness’.  No chintz (my father was a committed modernist); no roses (there wasn’t a garden) and not a hind of patriotism.  My brother and I played in the backyard of the house next door, with a large, poor, Irish family of children, building towering stage-coaches out of old boxes, cowering with fear when their violent, alcoholic father returned at night and beat them.  But my loving grandparents lived in a house in Hampstead full of antiques and listened to opera on the radio.  It was a childhood of contradictions, shot through with theatricality, (both my grandmothers were actresses), radical liberalism, and a kind of family chaos that left me, as a child, profoundly independent.  Apparently even at the age of two I would wander off alone all day.  What was I doing?  What did I see?

One thing I do know; laughter was redemption.  I am longing to make a film that is really, really funny.  Whenever I sit in the cinema and hear an audience laugh during one of my films, I feel it to be a vindication, a kind of healing nectar.

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’Orlando’, 1992

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’The Tango Lesson’, 1997

Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated