Watching humans

Andrey Paounov on Christo's eyelashes, a Barbour jacket, raw eggs and Brexit in Walking On Water

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Andrey Paounov on Christo in Walking On Water: "You have the human humour moments and then you have the intensity of the other elements - this to me builds a fascinating film. It's very much based on subtext."
Andrey Paounov on Christo in Walking On Water: "You have the human humour moments and then you have the intensity of the other elements - this to me builds a fascinating film. It's very much based on subtext."

In Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime, starring Lois Smith and Jon Hamm, a young Marjorie played by Hannah Gross (Rick Alverson's The Mountain, Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell) watches Albert Maysles' documentary on Christo and Jeanne-Claude's 2005 Central Park installation The Gates to mark time.

Andrey Paounov, the director of Walking On Water, in the second installment of our conversation, discusses his first fiction film, which he notes is a Samuel Beckett Waiting For Godot meets Stanley Kubrick's The Shining spaghetti western set in Eastern Europe, a 2016 Brexit moment during the creation of The Floating Piers, Christo's eyelashes, the artist's Barbour jacket, and raw eggs.

Andrey Paounov on Vladimir Yavachev trimming Christo's eyelashes: "It's my favourite scene in the film. It tells you so much about them."
Andrey Paounov on Vladimir Yavachev trimming Christo's eyelashes: "It's my favourite scene in the film. It tells you so much about them."

Anne-Katrin Titze: What's the thing with Christo's eyelashes?

Andrey Paounov: Christo uses these eyedrops that make his eyelashes grow very fast and then they kind of hit his glasses and it's uncomfortable. So Vladimir [Yavachev] has to constantly cut them.

AKT: With garden scissors?

AP: Well, you know, with whatever is around. I just loved this thing when I saw it happening. I said "Wow, we have to have this in the film." And the desert in the end was just a fantastic place to ask if they can do it again. But to me, it's my favourite scene in the film. It tells you so much about them.

AKT: About their relationship, yes. I have never seen anyone do that.

AP: Me neither. This is the first time.

AKT: The other thing is the raw egg. He likes to drink raw eggs?

AP: I think it was a quite common thing for his generation that you drink an egg. And you get full of energy. All these little bits and pieces make the character. To me this is a lot more than having hundreds of hours of people sitting and talking about how great or complicated Christo is.

Fabric given to Anne-Katrin Titze by Christo and Jeanne-Claude for The Gates in Central Park (2005)
Fabric given to Anne-Katrin Titze by Christo and Jeanne-Claude for The Gates in Central Park (2005) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: You show how he has to sell his art and assemble it and all the work it takes. There is the press, running on the first day as if it were the running of the bulls. It's fun and games for a while, then we hear that a six-year-old girl is missing.

AP: It's always about a good balance. You have the human humour moments and then you have the intensity of the other elements - this to me builds a fascinating film. It's very much based on subtext. At the end of the day we go to the movies to watch humans, not to get information. For that we can go on Wikipedia.

AKT: I agree, there are a lot of documentaries that make you feel that you should like them more, but you don't, because it is information and not a film experience. Speaking of details, I didn't know that his trademark beige jacket is a Barbour jacket.

AP: Yes. This is his jacket. He is always with this jacket.

AKT: Usually, you would think of the green Steve Bannon ones. I thought, how strange, here are two people with a trademark Barbour jacket and they couldn't be any more different. Are you continuing to work together with Christo?

Visitors on Christo's Floating Piers at Lago d'Iseo in Northern Italy: "At the end of the day we go to the movies to watch humans, not to get information."
Visitors on Christo's Floating Piers at Lago d'Iseo in Northern Italy: "At the end of the day we go to the movies to watch humans, not to get information."

AP: Yes, we followed Christo on his adventure in London and the London Mastaba last year. We of course are filming all the developments around the big Mastaba that has to be somewhere in the desert.

And of course now he has the new project in Paris, packing the Arc de Triomphe, which will happen next year, I think, early fall. We don't know exactly, but it's an official project now.

AKT: Are you working on a separate project yourself also?

AP: Yes, I actually just finished shooting my first fiction film, editing now in Lisbon. I'm just here visiting for two weeks for the promotion of the film.

AKT: What is it about?

AP: It's a black and white spaghetti western that's very much based on Beckett and it's something like Waiting For Godot meets The Shining in Eastern Europe. It's a Bulgarian Portuguese co-production.

AKT: Beckett meets The Shining sounds fascinating.

Walking On Water at Film Forum in New York
Walking On Water at Film Forum in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AP: It's a completely different world.

AKT: It doesn't sound so different. One last thing, you make us forget Brexit, which is really an achievement. It comes as such a shock in the documentary that Christo's installation was in June 2016, although you show the countdown. It comes as a total surprise. Was that just me or did other people react the same way?

AP: The funny thing is that whole Brexit part episode was really out until almost the last moment of the film. I thought, I need to bring this back there. In a way I'm surprised how effective it is. It kind of puts things in perspective.

Read what Andrey Paounov had to say on Christo in Walking on Water, his producers Izabella Tzenkova and Valeria Giampietro, and capturing the creation of The Floating Piers at Lago d'Iseo in Northern Italy.

Walking on Water is in cinemas in the US.

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