Director to receive lifetime achievement kudos at fest

The organizers of the Zurich Film Festival had better not be banking on Stephen Frears making a poster-boy speech when he picks up a lifetime achievement award in October. Never one to mince words, Frears is quite clear on the subject of film festivals.

“In their own way they are a kind of ghetto,” the 65-year-old director of “The Queen” tells Variety. “Personally, I make films for people who go to the pictures, ordinary people, the kind of people who don’t often get to go to festivals.”

Paradoxically, such frankness is just the kind of thing that might have them lining up around the block to attend the master class Frears is due to give at next week’s fest.

The master classes (others are being given by war photographer Christian Frei and Stanley Kubrick producer Jan Harlan) are central to the festival’s vision of a place where young talent can learn a trick or two.

Frears fits into the scheme of things rather snugly: His grandfather was a headmaster and he’s not above doing a spot of teaching himself, in his case at the National Film & Television School in Beaconsfield, England.

The director, who came to prominence with such rough edged gems like “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Prick Up Your Ears,” enjoys passing on his knowledge.

“I really get a kick out of it; and it may sound ridiculous, but it stops me from making films,” says the Leicester-born director. “If I was doing nothing I’d make another film, and I don’t always want to make a film. So it provides work for idle hands.”

But teaching, like film directing, presents its own set of challenges, such as Frears having to temper his legendary bluntness.

“All you ever think is: ‘Shall I discourage or encourage them (students)?’ ‘Is it Monday or is it Tuesday?’ These are very, very tough decisions,” he says. “I don’t believe in giving people illusions, but you don’t want to be discouraging at the same time. So you’re picking your way between those two things.”

In Frears’ opinion, the biggest obstacle for today’s young filmmakers is a marketplace that throws fledgling filmmakers into the deep end of the pool with no life preserver in sight. “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery,” wrote the Irish novelist and poet James Joyce — one of Frears’ heroes.

“You only learn to make films by making films,” says Frears, who started out as an assistant director for Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson. “When I was young, you could make a film and fuck it up and they’d still let you make another. Nowadays it’s a much more opportunist profession. Almost anyone can make a first film, but there are fewer and fewer opportunities to make a second.”

As for what Frears intends to do during his short stay in Zurich, high up on his list is a visit to the grave of none other than James Joyce.

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