“The Velvet Underground” director Todd Haynes, who is at the Zurich Film Festival presenting his latest feature, a documentary about the 1970s band, as well as hosting a masterclass, spoke about the difficulty of appeasing both traditional film lovers and the group’s hard-core fans in an interview with Peter Debruge at the Variety Lounge in Zurich.

“I think whether you know the band or not, this is a film whose strategy is one of getting lost a bit,” he said. “The style of the film is trying to really pay homage to the experimental spirit that was part of New York City at this time and definitely was part of the art culture, definitely part of the film culture, and as it turns out, with this particular groundbreaking band, it was part of the music culture as well.”

“But you never know,” added Haynes. “Like, I had to kind of give it a shot and really try to honor that when I made the film. And you know, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, all the Velvets aficionados are going to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve seen all this a million times.” I’m playing to two extreme worlds and everybody in between, and just following my instincts and hoping that the music and the power of the images really carries you through.”

Among the challenges Haynes encountered with the film — which was edited in Los Angeles and New York during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic — is that very little footage of the band exists. “It’s one of the very first things the prospect of making a documentary about The Velvet Underground sets up as a major challenge creatively,” said Haynes. “But as I think most directors and and creative people learn is that challenges are often the best things. Because they force you to think about alternatives and ways of supplementing the things you don’t have and why you don’t have them.”