Sophie Fiennes' father was a photographer and illustrator. Her mother was an artist and writer who took Sophie to see Waiting for Gadot when she was 9 years old, and then Macbeth when she was 11. "My mother and my father believed that ideas mattered," Fiennes says, "and that creativity mattered."
It comes as no surprise that nearly all of the Fiennes kids grew up to be creatives: Brothers Ralph and Joseph are actors, brother Magnus is a composer, and both Sophie and sister Martha are filmmakers. Fiennes recalls Werner Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) being especially influential in her decision to pursue documentary filmmaking.
"I saw that film when I was babysitting, and I was like, 'Wow, this isn't like the other films that I've seen,'" she remembers. "That really made me feel that this was something I wanted to do, and I went home from the babysitting thinking, 'Well, this is probably something that men do. How can I get to do that as a girl?' I had that very conscious thought. Then fortunately, I was in a play of Twelfth Night at school and I was cast as Orsino, so I was like, 'Oh yeah, you just dress up as a man and pretend you are a guy!'"
Fiennes work over the decades tends towards portraits of artists and their work: She debuted with 1998's Lars from 1 - 10, a short film in which director Lars Von Trier discusses his Dogme '95 manifesto. Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (2010) documents the creation of a new piece by German industrial artist Anselm Kiefer. For Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Fiennes spent more than a decade with the titular icon. "I think performance interests me. I think this wager with the audience and the performer, it's an interesting dynamic," the filmmaker reflects.
Her latest is Four Quartets, the film version of Ralph's one-man show in which he performs T.S. Eliot's masterworks. ("I've seen everything that he's done on the stage," she says of her Oscar-nominated brother.) Directed by Fiennes, the movie is not a multi-camera stage recording, but as she explains, "This whole question of the space in the theater and in film is fundamental."
"What I really felt very strongly from seeing it on the stage was that, you don't want to create this language of wide, medium, close up, bouncing in and out of different proximities in a kind of random way," Fiennes says. "It had to be much more kind of carefully choreographed, because I actually looked at it as a piece of dance. I wanted to see him in the space and his body and what he was doing with his body, and also how the poetry and his performance would accumulate its own meaning. Because the real star of the piece is, of course, the poem."
Below, Fiennes shares with A.frame five films that capture what she dubs "the spirit in the space."
"There's so many more I could talk about, but these are definitely films that relate to this idea of space and that what I'm calling the spirit in the space," she explains. "When I was making Four Quartets, I was inventing a grammar to create the sense of the space, which is partly within the frame and beyond it. It's how to charge the space beyond the frame — not just what's in a picture, but recreating space — and I love doing that in non-fiction filmmaking."
Directed by: Yasujirō Ozu | Written by: Kōgo Noda and Yasujirō Ozu
When I was a student at Chelsea School of Art, the National Film Theatre — it's now called the BFI Southbank — would have these seasons, so you could go and see all of Busby Berkeley's films projected. I would catch all of these film series, and I remember going to see all the Ozu films. When you go to the National Film Theatre, they always have a printout with a text about the film. So, I've actually still got all of those texts that I've collected. They became an interesting way of remembering what I'd seen.
Of course, Tokyo Story, it's a shattering story in that moment when the young girl says, "Life is so disappointing." It's such a simple line, but it's the fulcrum of the film for me. But this thing about the space in Ozu and how he plays with that, that was a discovery, that was a big moment for me. The left and rights and the space of those small Japanese rooms and how the camera is low and you are inside the worlds of these families, the intimacy of their homes.
Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni | Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini and Tonino Guerra
It's the same with Antonioni. Again, the idea of place being a character. That extraordinary sequence at the end of The Eclipse where the two lovers both stand each other up and don't meet, and there's just the spaces there waiting for them. It's this whole montage of the space where they don't come. They both have stood each other up. I would say L'Avventura is the first, but the whole trilogy really.
Written and Directed by: Lars von Trier
Dogville is an amazing film with Nicole Kidman. What he does is he sets it all on a stage, but he made this top shot. In fact, it was pasted together with different cameras, because if you were really filming the top shot of this stage, the camera would have to be on a hot air balloon. Anthony Dod Mantle shot it, and what he does in it is there's no walls. He just draws the outline like a children's village, and it's all about this community and how mean and how unwelcoming they are to this poor girl. It's this complete rule-breaking top shot, just getting rid of all of the walls and drawing the map. It's brilliant. It's a brilliant film.
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky | Written by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy and Boris Strugatskiy
I saw all the Tarkovsky films at the National Film Theatre. I basically educated myself going there in my late teens and early 20s. These filmmakers really are authoring their work, and that was really informative to me. He reinvented filmmaking in a completely personal way. Stalker, it's this journey that's made through a landscape. It's a kind of mysterious space that has its own sort of force to it. These filmmakers have a whole world, and each film is part of it. There's also Mirror, which you feel like you are in these places. You inhabit them in the films, because he takes his time.
Directed by: Emilio Fernández | Written by: Emilio Fernández and Mauricio Magdaleno
Salón México is a film that really struck me. It's an absolute classic. It's a Mexican noir film, and I think I really learnt a lot from it about how I could film Grace [Jones], or thinking about the sense of dance in that film. It's got a really strong smell to it of this world, of prostitutes in Mexico, and these dance sequences. Where he puts the camera, it's brilliant. It's the spirit, but it's brilliantly blocked.