Q&A: Alejandro Jodorowsky on 'Dance Of Reality,' His First Movie In 23 Years

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The 85-year-old auteur opens up about his career, his decades-long hiatus from filmmaking and having his son play his father.

It might be 23 years since Alejandro Jodorowsky has made a film, but in that time his stature as a legendary filmmaker has grown. That is in no small part due to the Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which makes the case for the director’s failed attempt at adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune being not only the greatest movie never made, but that the unmade epic actually influenced a generation of big budget Hollywood blockbusters. As the 85-year-old director tells The Hollywood Reporter, participating in Pavich’s doc directly led to his new film, The Dance of Reality, which premiered alongside Jodorowsky’s Dune at 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Jodorowsky’s return to directing also marked his return to his hometown of Tocopilla, Chile. The film is autobiographical and tells the story of Jodorowsky’s often painful childhood with his abusive father. The film, as Jodorowsky explains to THR, is an act of “psychomagic,” a therapeutic practice, created by Jodorowosky himself, based on the concept that one can release traumas from their subconscious through theatrical performance.

The Hollywood Reporter called Jodorowsky at his home in Paris to discuss his career, his new film and psychomagic.

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My understanding is you had not spoken to your producer Michel Seydoux in decades and that Frank Pavich’s documentary brought you back together.

I was scared he hated me because he thought I had failed him. We didn't speak for 20 years and we were finally together and we discovered we were very good friends. We had lunch and decided to make another film together.

Was there something healing about participating in Jodorowsky’s Dune?

No, because I was not ill. You know when I didn't make the picture, I said "to fail doesn't exist, it's only to change my way."  I realized my creative vision for Dune later with the comic books I made. It was a magnificent experience to prepare that picture for two years. For me it was not a failure.

Have you always wanted to make a film about your childhood?

Yes. In my previous films I was always speaking about my life without saying it was my life. After 20 years of not making a film, why not make a film about what I actually experienced and lived through. To make a picture not only to tell a story, but to make a real psychological experience.

Can you discuss your choice to not only narrate The Dance of Reality yourself, but to appear in the film and address the young Alejandro Jodorowsky character?

The end of the surrealism movement was so political, so artistically pure. I started a movement with two artists (Fernando Arrabal and Roland Topo) called the Panic Movement. We decided with the Panic Movement that the artist needs to be inside his creation. To be an artist you need to play inside your work.

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The Dance of Reality is more than another movie for you, correct? It is also a form of therapy? 

Yes, it's a psychological experience. It's a kind of post-psychoanalysis, which I call psychomagic and is based on a book I wrote about how to heal a person through theatrical acts. Psychoanalysis wants to heal with words and speaking, but some times with speaking you realize nothing. I believe sometimes you have to realize your traumas through action, psychological healing by acts, not speaking. To make this picture was a psychomagical act, so yes making the film was a form a therapy for me, for my family, for the town.

What was it like returning to your hometown of Tocopilla?

It's small town that hadn't changed in 100 years. It's the same. Everything was the same as when I grew up there. The streets where I shot as you saw were very small, but I had remembered them a being enormous. They were the entire universe when I was younger. It helped me realize how the space and time effect our impression of the world. You live in the image you have of the world. Everyone of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time.

How long had it been since you'd been back?

70 years.

What was it like having your real life son (Brontis Jodorowsky) play your authoritarian father in the movie?

It was a very strong experience for him and me. I had big problems with my father as a child and after a week of seeing my son in that role I started to believe he was my father. (laughs) It was difficult seeing your son convincingly play your father.

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I imagine he gained a great deal of insight into you by playing your father.

Our relationship changed. The generational difference between us disappeared and we started to speak person-to-person and not father-to-son. We became very good friends, it was an amazing healing act.

You are often described as a surrealist or avant garde filmmaker. How would you describe yourself as a filmmaker?

I never describe myself as a member of a political party. I never describe myself as part of any artistic movement. I always wanted to be free of this kind of influence. I am not an avant garde filmmaker. Hollywood defines me as an avant garde filmmaker because my films aren’t made to make money. Money is not happiness, but without money you can't be happy, you cannot do anything. I'm not against money, but what I am against is to make art for money. When a picture goes inside your memory, that is art. A movie that costs 400 million dollars and you forget after a week, that is not art!

Myself, I only make a picture when I have something new to say. My pictures are not similar to one another, they are all different because I only realize a picture when I am full of experience. For 20 years I had nothing to say, which is why I didn’t make a picture. I wait and wait and wait, and I one day I say I can do it, I have something to say.

The Dance of Reality is now playing in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Berkeley, Sacramento and Philadelphia. It opens this Friday in Dallas, Miami, Minneapolis, Denver, Austin, Houston, Kansas City and Atlanta