Interview: Emmanuel Benbihy, Cities of Love founder

By Alicia Hamilton

Emmanuel Benbihy, the man who brought you 'New York, I Love You', on filmmaking and Natalie Portman, interview on MiNDFOOD.

Tell us a little bit about the film New York, I Love You.

It is made up of little love stories. They are actually love encounters. This is the topic of each segment and we have 11 of them. And ten directors

Is it set just in Manhattan or is it in the Brooklyn and other boroughs?

It’s set in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Is it your intention to include a wide range of topical sub plots as you did in your previous film such as religion, immigration and disability?

Yes absolutely, though it’s not my intention, the directors are basically free to tell us the love story they want. Sometimes we try to lead them but it’s never very efficient because they always do what they want.

Did you have any directors double up on similar stories?

No, that has never happened. Because there are so many options for them that no they haven’t doubled up.

What are the pros and cons with working with so many directors at a time?

Its fun! It’s not difficult. Well not difficult if you are well-prepared.

What was your reasoning behind choosing a director like Brett Ratner, who has done a lot of action work in the past?

I like all sorts of movies and I think Brett is an excellent director. I think he is an amazing master when he is on set. He did a very interesting shoot and he did it under the same constraints as the others.

Were you impressed with Natalie Portman’s directorial efforts?

Yes she is a great scriptwriter. She describes and portrays characters very well. She was very brave, and also unlucky; she had a segment to shoot in two days like everybody else, outside in Central Park, and unfortunately during those two days it didn’t stop raining. I think she will definitely direct a feature film some day.

And what was her segment about?

It has two subjects. The main one is the relationship between a father and his daughter but you don’t exactly know that it’s a father-daughter relationship because the father is Cuban and he has dark skin and the daughter is very pale.

It’s also about free judgment because when he takes care of her in Central Park people may assume he’s her nanny. So the Upper West Side mothers that are observing congratulate him for being great a male nanny; and at the end of the movie we find out that it’s more complicated than that and he is actually an amazing dancer and the father of the pale girl.

Were you on the set monitoring directors?

Yes I was on set.

How much input did you have?

I have input when they ask for it. I have my opinion when they ask for my opinion, but this isn’t a lot. 

Can you elaborate on why you cut out Scarlett Johansson’s work?

Simply because it was a very different segment to the others – it was in black and white, a very personal story about a man crossing New York to eat a hotdog. It’s very beautifully shot, though.

What was her response to your decision?

Well of course she was disappointed, we were all disappointed, but she understands. I try to warn directors if they go too far off the subject, it won’t work in the whole piece.

With all the stars that were onboard was there a lot of egotistical behaviour on the set?

I’ve very rarely experienced egotistical behaviour on set. Or with people I work with. Again it is a short commitment for them, it’s only about a week. Mostly, on a feature film you can have a lot of tension because it’s a long journey together.

Do you think you will have Natalie Portman on another film in the future? On another Cities of Love film?

We would love to have her be involved, for example, in Jerusalem. 

When will the Jerusalem film happen?

2010 will be Rio and Shanghai and then the year after, in spring, will be Jerusalem.

You’re also the filmmaker behind Paris, Je T’aime. Was it easier to do Paris or New York?

Definitely Paris because its my hometown. In New York you have a very strong resistance from the administration side of things, so I’d say yeah that is a difficult experience producing in New York.

What is your ultimate goal for the project?

It is love. My first goal is to make it a new format because I think that what we have with these films is a very interesting approach to feature filmmaking.


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