Mark Cousins’ films are, literally and metaphorically, his journeys—both into the physical unknown and into the history of film via his Edinburgh editing suite. A trip to Iran became On the Road with Kiarostami, and a trip to Kurdistan in Iraq was distilled in The First Movie. His wanderings in Mexico City turned into What Is this Film Called Love? His Albanian visitation is now Here Be Dragons (which premiered in Telluride last month). And in the meantime, he’s undertaking two other road trips, one to his birthplace, Belfast (for a new film, I Am Belfast), and one to Stockholm (Stockholm My Love).
Nevertheless, his inner journeys can be as fascinating as those taken by his 1960s’ campervan or old bicycle: a six-year-long adventure resulted in a global history of innovation in cinema, The Story Of Film: An Odyssey (now on TCM to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the channel), and his latest, a trip through childhood and cinema became A Story of Children and Film (which played TIFF this month and heads to Cambridge this week).
A Story started off when his young niece and nephew came to the Edinburgh flat for a visit. Cousins filmed them and later studied their behavior; his research to match the emotions he saw them experience with those of children in cinema history became the core of the film, which premiered at Cannes.
A tattoo on filmmaker’s left arm reads “the oar and the winnowing fan,” a reference to journeys finished and new ones begun in Homer’s Odyssey. I caught up with Cousins between these two phases, in the very same room that the principal filming for A Story was done.