Directing a sequel to Blade Runner, one of the most popular movies of the 20th century, is, as Denis Villeneuve describes it, “a suicidal project.” Having someone so entirely different from Ridley Scott direct the film is risky, but in this case, they couldn’t have made a better choice.
Judging from his past movies, I know this project is in good hands. Not only has he proven himself capable in the Sci-fi genre, but what sets him apart is his drive to deeply explore humanity and story in all his projects.
For example, his films always reflect the current state of our world and humanity’s reactions to it. He explores, for example, our fear of the unknown, rejection, our obsession to acquire what we don’t own and our hypocrisy. As a result, anyone can resonate with the themes he touches on.
He shows humanity’s beauty and ugliness, asks questions but leaving them unanswered and in this way pushes his audience to the limit. The following clip expands on this element excellently.
Because his stories pulse with humanity, they’re applicable, entertaining and thought-provoking and never black and white. Reality is complex and the way in which he explores them is fascinating.
“The more I was in contact with other people from other cultures, the more I felt the world was complex and there was no black and white.”
His approach to cinema is fantastic:
Cinema is a universal language and it’s a language that’s designed to build bridges. I strongly believe it’s a responsibility of filmmakers to build bridges between cultures.”
Arrival encompasses this beautifully, advocating our need for connection, collaboration and trust in the “other”. Villeneuve himself is French-Canadian and therefore knows of the importance in bringing cultures together and enabling communication.
It is always refreshing to see what non-American filmmakers bring to the film scene and how they broaden our perspective. Every single one of his projects is deeply personal. He explains that “in order to be able to tell a story, I need to be able to relate to it from an intimate point of view.”
Taking up a project like Blade Runner 2049 meant a longer process in making it his own.
He shared how he spent weeks on end in a hotel room, dreaming, storyboarding, and thinking about the project in an attempt to digest the Blade Runner Universe and make it his own. He explained that a big part of the process was reflecting whether he was doing it for the right reasons or not.
In this preparation we see an absolute dedication to the project and the seriousness with which he treats his responsibility as a storyteller. Villeneuve tells stories worth being told and in order to bring people together.
Cinema is the sharing of emotions together, and it’s collective, it’s one of the last communions we have.”
He clearly doesn’t only make a deep impression on his audiences, but his team as well. Aaron Ryder, producer of Arrival, speaks for many when he describes Villeneuve as “one of the most collaborative and kind filmmakers I’ve ever worked with.”
The fact that he’s known for continually and respectfully working well with others in a highly stressful environment already sets him apart as a filmmaker. The film industry is not necessarily known for its comfortable and welcoming environment, but Villeneuve does not seem to see this as an excuse to be disrespectful in any way.
What we can learn from Villeneuve? Tell stories you can deeply identify with, know why you’re telling them, tell them to build bridges, and during the process of telling them, respect and celebrate others. He is an excellent source to draw inspiration from.