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netribution > features > interview with michael winterbottom > page one
With the opening of Michael Winterbottom's keenly anticipated gold rush/Mayor of Casterbridge drama, The Claim, Stephen Applebaum was clearly dying to discuss the film with this most productive director. The Claim is released on the 2 of February, ahead of it's Berlin film festival opening, but work is already well underway on his next offering, 24 Hour Party People. Set at the heart of the late 80's and early 90's music revolution and portraying the bands and lives of the infamous Factory Records - this will be a huge film in the UK.

| by stephen applebaum |
| photos by tom |
| in london |
  Where did the idea of doing The Claim come from?
The writer Frank Cottrell Boyce and the producer Andrew Eaton thought it would be nice to do something about the West at a period when California was essentially not part of America and everyone was an immigrant. What was interesting was how these people arrived as immigrants in a relatively empty space, and became American. At some point Frank thought the shape of the Mayor of Casterbridge story was good because we could map it out so that the first generation are immigrants and then the next generation are children that are Americans.

And what attracted you?
Part of the appeal was the blankness of the starting point. If you're talking about people arriving in a wilderness and having to make moral decisions, it’s not so connected to the detail of social conventions, but more about what's right and what's wrong. The essence of the story is someone makes a decision at a desperate point, and then realises it was the wrong decision. It’s about that kind of guilt and the possibility of being redeemed from it.

Often your films are like the work of someone who was raised religiously but who has lost their faith and adopted a humanist outlook. Nevertheless, the question of whether or not God exists still seems to inform some of your films, either on an explicit or an implied level.
I don’t think you need to be religious at all to worry about why things happen the way they do. I’m not religious, I don’t believe in God. But yeah, I had an upbringing that involved going to Church sometimes, but not in a particularly religious house at all. From my point of view, essentially there is no meaning. So although there is that sense of 'What's the point of all this?' in the films, I don’t think you can get meaning from something external to this world. On the other hand, Frank Cottrell Boyce is very religious - he is Catholic - so maybe we're asking the same question, but we are coming at it from two very different points of view.

So I was correct in identifying a tension in some of your work ?
Yeah, at that level. But obviously in a film you're not trying to sell your view. Neither of us starts by thinking our idea is to sell our line on guilt or redemption or anything. You're telling a story and you're interested in people who have some crisis happening. And often that is about: ‘What is the purpose of this?’ or ‘Is my behaviour valid?’ Part of the attraction of The Claim was the idea that Dillon is in a place where you could do anything; when people arrived in California, there was no sense of there being an external law and so peoples moral decisions were very open in a way.
For me, the best part was doing the research, because it was an amazing time. At the beginning you would have people struggling to survive in terms of food, maybe living in a tiny little shack with a whole stack of gold that was worth probably more than anyone else would earn in their lifetime, and there was relatively little violence and robbery. Most people made the decision that other peoples luck was their luck and they weren't going to take it by force. So it’s interesting that people, even in the most extreme cases, actually cling onto some sort of value system. Obviously the point is that Dillon, Peter Mullan's character, didn’t. Dillon, at a weak moment, decides to give up on the things that are most important to him - his wife and daughter - and take the prospector’s money instead.
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