Imperfect Happiness: an interview by Marta Berto (Alchemy Festival, Scotland) (February 2017)


Marta: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Mike: I would settle for an imperfect happiness. Helping others provides a temporary balm in these difficult times. Just about anything that doesn’t involve nursing the computer.

Marta: What lies at the heart of your own desire to make films?

Mike: Habit? A lack of imagination? I have steadily removed everything in my life that might get in the way, even temporarily, from this restless, hungry making or gathering of pictures and sounds. To dig into the roots of that impulse feels like being asked to psychoanalyze myself. What lies at the heart of my desire? Something inhuman and asocial, some pain perhaps that is being medicated or healed? Who can say? I would be the last to know.

Marta: What are the first things you do in developing a film idea in response to a subject?

Mike: I made a film called Ghost (2017) that began with a moment when two people I loved were in the same room. The almost there light was so slight I felt called to make a picture of this haunting. I could feel myself grow immaterial and slight, every boundary dissolved, every thought belonging to someone else. In this ghost state I collected some pictures.

As one gets older, the ghosts are never far and the cinema is their home. When my friend Mark died it was time to pick up the camera, too late as usual (what picture doesn’t arrive too late?), and began to create pictures that might accompany his absence. It was a way of missing him.

Marta: What’s your favourite film and why?

Mike: It changes every day. Yesterday I watched a YouTube upload of someone scraping ice from their car. It had already been viewed more than 10,000 times. Imagine how reassured I was when, at the very end of the twelve-minute clip, nothing at all happens. He doesn’t even drive away.


Marta: Choose 1, 2 or 3 of your all-time favourite music tracks!

Mike: I just heard a track of snow movements by Jez Riley French on Soundcloud, though it’s since disappeared. Did I just imagine it? Oh, the texture and grain of this track, as if it were made inside the body. And it lives in stereo, the two channels related but independent, like a good relationship. As if can come together only by asserting our singularity.

Marta: From your favourite poem – could you give us a few lines that mean something to you?

Mike: Here is Derek Wolcott’s Love After Love. He is an island poet, writing from the other side of the waters, the other side of his life in 1971. Early words.

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Marta: If you were to die and come back as a person, animal or a thing, what would it be?

Mike: I’ve already died, but haven’t managed to get back. Thankfully, only a few seem to notice. If I could shapeshift trees seem a friendly option. The real action is underground of course, where the roots speak how many languages. The dead bits are above ground, easily accessible, too often mistaken for the thing itself.

Marta: What is your greatest extravagance?

Mike: The exercise of restraint seems itself unbounded and without limits. The ability to contain, to set boundaries, establish restricted zones. It’s a talent developed early, and considerably elaborated across the years.

Marta: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Mike: The performance art of Nao Bustamente and Tanya Mars, the movies of Alexandra Gelis and Jorge Lozano, the books of Maggie Nelson and Claudia Rankine. Everything Black Lives Matter.

Marta: What is your final word?

Mike: Yes.