Johnny Depp presented today in Barcelona, within the framework of the BCN Film Fest, his latest film as an actor and producer, ‘The Minamata Photographer’ , focused on the experiences of the photojournalist William Eugene Smith in the fishing town of Minamata, at the beginning of the 70s, when he went to the Japanese town in order to make a report for the magazine ‘Life’ on the mercury poisoning of the population.
Depp has promoted two films internationally in the last half year; the other is ‘Crock of gold’ , the documentary he has produced about the musician Shane MacGowan , recently released in Barcelona. In times of pandemic, you need to move and recover not-so-distant sensations: “It is an honor to be in Barcelona.
I always make visits too fast and I have decided to stay here forever, until there are guests at this hotel (Casa Fuster) again ”. He said it half jokingly, half seriously. A face-to-face film festival helps, to a large extent, to make us feel something of what we have lost in the last year.
‘The Minamata Photographer’ is both the testimony of another outrage carried out at the expense of economic power and the exploration of the figure of the photojournalist Smith, faced with demons of his own until the end of his life. The film focuses both on his art, embodied in what is perhaps his most famous photo, ‘Tomoko in the bathroom’ – whose realization is documented in the film – and on his ethics.
Tomoko was the mother of one of the young women who were born deformed, deaf and blind as a result of the collective poisoning suffered by the inhabitants of Minamata , due to the discharge of mercury into the river waters by the petrochemical company Chisso. In the photo taken by Smith, the mother tenderly hugs her daughter in a bathtub. An eternal moment that reflects all the conflict.
“Being able to research someone like Smith has been fantastic,” confesses Depp. “I am a great admirer of his work [Depp is also a photographer] and I have been extremely lucky to be in contact with his work and with those who knew him. It is a great responsibility to interpret him for the legacy he has left. It has been like a job of archeology, digging and digging to the bottom and finding a real treasure ”.
Steal the soul
At one point in the film, citing the beliefs of Native Americans, Smith recalls that they did not want to be photographed, as they were convinced that the photo would take away a part of their soul. Depp explains that “that’s what Smith thought too, when you click the camera you steal a moment . In each of her photos she was able to express what she saw and what she experienced, and each one took something from her own soul ”.
‘The photographer of Minimata’ has a documentary aspect, but everything is an extremely credible representation. Andrew Levitas, director of the film , is especially enthusiastic about “the commitment of everyone who participated in the film, they understood immediately why we were making a film like this.
The characters with malformations that appear on screen are actors with prosthetics and special make-up. His work is very remarkable ”. And even more, as Depp adds, “because 90% are non-professional actors.
They were emotionally very affected by what we were narrating. Many times, upon hearing the word action!, Some would stare at the camera, but their work is immense. Marlon Brando already said it, anyone can be an actor ”.
The film deals with a specific tragedy, but in the end, with the credits, many other ecological disasters caused by nature or mankind are cited, from the last century and from what we take from this, from Chernobyl to Fukushima . “It is a small town that lives from fishing and a corporation like Chisso was pouring mercury into its waters knowing it.
There are always greater and hidden forces that prevent the truth from being known “, recalls Depp, although he seems not to have lost hope despite the chemical danger, the pandemic or the rise of extreme right-wing policies:” There are still positive things in our world : Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States, the whole world has gotten rid of him , not just us ”.
Have a better world
Levitas has made a film that alternates the political component with the portrait of a tortured and self-destructive character who, in 1971, was in absolute crisis, with no money or place to publish his photos . The final ethics of the character ends up being the ethics of the film .
For the director, “we have done it to give a voice to the victims of Minamata and shed some light on the current victims as well. We wanted to reflect the behavior of those who wanted to rebel and make their voice heard. We should all do that, it is up to us to have a better world. Smith was able to capture in a single image the best and the worst of the human condition ”.
The figure of Smith, alcoholic, lonely and asocial , connects with other characters, real or not, that are part of Depp’s filmography beyond his collaborations with Tim Burton or the saga of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, case of the recent Shane MacGowan from The Pogues, the undercover cop from ‘Donnie Brasco’, the drug dealer from ‘Blow’ or the protagonist of the Hunter S. Thompson novel adapted by Terry Gilliam in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’.
Depp cited Van Gogh and Charles Baudelaire as highly creative, deeply unhappy, and addictive artists who were consumed by an internal fire or through drugs . “Also comedians, those who make us laugh, are generally unhappy, and their art comes from their own pain.
Smith didn’t get to be what he is if it weren’t for the tragedies and pain he experienced, ”says Depp. He lived alone, although he ended up marrying the young Japanese woman who collaborated with him in Minamata, and his children hated him. “When this is the case, you are a lonely person”, he concludes, “but by this I do not mean that you always have to suffer to produce art.”