Hello and goodbye.

A conversation with Pieter Solta. By Xiao Ling

Xiao Ling: Who is Pieter Solta?

Pieter Solta: Well, there is no mystery: I’m Pieter De Buysser and I’m called by Miles and friends: Solta. It’s been like that for a long while. I don’t know where it originates from, I believe it had to do with a Salto Mortale in reverse, something I definitely can’t and never should try, however, I still might be tempted. Anyway, I like it. There is a sunny side in the name, and I’m happy to go with that.

-And does Pieter Solta only make this film?

-No, I keep the name and keep working as Pieter Solta. I’m developing 4 new feature fiction films.

- No more Pieter De Buysser?

-We’ll see, but I’m dedicated purely to making films for at least the next decade, and all the films are Solta.

-What kind of genre is My friend Miles?

-It’s a fiction road movie, a fable that plays with the trope of a documentary portrait. I’m a bit reluctant to define the genre, in the heart of the desire to define a genre is a dirty desire for purity. We need to cut that shit out.

- Can you tell me something about your intentions for My friend Miles?

- As much as this question is something of a cliché, my response is one as well: my intentions don’t matter. What matters is the magic chemistry between the screen and the audience. My intentions have no real importance anymore. But sure, I understand, it is a common question, and I am very much in favor of all things common. So here we go: I intended to make a film wherein the main character has an evident, simple relationship with the invisible. A relation where the invisible is not something special but on the contrary: easy come, easy go. There is something uniquely cinematographic in that. I wanted a character with no possessions but with relations. That also has the benefit that it allows us to shift the focus away from the main character, and explore his landscapes, friends, lovers, animals, objects…

-The character Solta says in the film that he searches for a direct, human connection, is that what you search for as well?

-Yes, sure, and I’m also in for an animalistic, material, and spiritual connection. Bring it on.

-But a the end, what is it that you wanted?

- To get rid of the idea of an end. I wanted to make a film as a celebration of impermanence. Impermanence without end. Something comes, something goes. An ongoing coming and going. Patatee and Patataa, hello and goodbye and that’s all folks. The opening sequence of the film is an old film where we see the 19-year-old Miles playing Hello, Goodbye. And somehow, he remains doing that. He’s very consistent: celebrating impermanence permanently. I love that paradox: as a character, he has an outspokenly strong personality and at the same time he plays to be no self. He is what he is not. And he has what he has not. I think it’s the right moment to tell the story of a man who lives as connected and detached as he does. A man without possession, without the pure identity and regularly becoming invisible, is by essence someone public, someone common, so someone outspokenly political.

The story of this friendship and the journey with a character like Miles allows me to explore the art of film to the maximum, and that is maybe my deepest desire.

I wanted to make a very tender, playful film that expresses a light attitude on an evident way of being against our era. A simple experience, a way of being and living, of being aware of the non-being in the being. I wanted to make a film as much about what is, as about what is not, or not yet.

- Do you mean the film to be utopic?

- I’d rather say I hope it opens a sense of possibility. The oblivion of what is possible, of what is not yet becomes unbearable. I love films to give a glimpse of possibilities. We go to the movies to see what we don’t see.

- I see.

- Great. Thank you. We live in a flaming rise of identity politics, Flanders is for the Flemish, France is for the French, Ireland for the Irish, … identity movements are on the rise everywhere. And with them the ideology that you can only be who you are. While: no, no! We all can be many ones. It is the result of fear, empty globalism, consumerism, and the need to belong that we get so sticky to our identity. It’s an equally understandable and dangerous shift. On this ideological backdrop, I wanted to show the playfulness, humor, joy, and melancholy of a very cinematographically, Buster Keaton-like figure. I wanted to distillate the essence of it for today. 2024 is a crucial year for our Western democracies, we will see if “generation identity” will take over and control our fluid, ungraspable, and essentially hard-to-handle democratic ways of living. I believe we can change that narrative; we must. I want to make room for play and fluidity, for what is for me essential to the medium film, a journey of a zero with a thousand faces. An ode to play, to nothingness. To the light in marble, to Berlin, Belfast, childhood in a warzone, and to spaghetti westerns…

- How has this film been produced?

Solta: It was developed and started with the support of the arts organization Robin, subsidized by the Flemish government. Seewald took over and found film financers, Canadian and Belgian private equity film financers. We received an innovation grant from the Flemish government, we received the support of Hefboom alternative financing, and the Belgian Tax Shelter incentive, with Flanders Tax Shelter. Then Seewald completed the finance with the sale of an original historical object at an auction. I had that object for a long time, it came into my possession by a bizarre twist of fate, one would say: this can only happen in fiction. It was an object that belonged to Karl Marx, and I wanted to capitalize on it. And so we did, the sale went well, and the rest is history.

-Is everything fiction?

Solta: No, we have some real footage of films in which Miles performed after he arrived in Berlin. These films show the vibrant community of young artists coming from all over the globe, after the fall of the wall, and ended up stranded in Berlin. Some of them became later iconic pop stars, artists, or writers, and yet others got completely lost.

Apart from the original footage, the film is entirely scripted, nothing is improvised. The rule of the game was: Miles and Solta are friends, Solta writes a script inspired by Miles’s life, and Miles plays Miles the way Solta imagines him. He received his lines, learned them, and appeared on the set. He had to obey Son, the cameraman, and me. So he could only stand or move the way he wanted within these restrictions. He also could only say the lines in the script, no more, no less. And he did. Admirably precise. On the comma. Apart from these constraints: he was, is, and shall be free as a bird. A prototype bird, here and now, and for the future.

-So I got it right: Miles is a real person?

Solta: The film is fiction, but Miles belongs to the world of fiction and the world of facts. Miles O’Shea plays himself and although everything is scripted, it is based and inspired by his own life and real events. Everything Miles possesses fits in a box. He has worked with and befriended dozens of key figures of contemporary culture. He reads and writes and plays. Namedropping cultural icons he has worked and correspondences with could be his game but it is not, for he has no interest in a glorious career, in honor and fame. He has a bank account, but he makes sure that that reaches at regular moments back the ultimate level of ground zero. Something comes in, something goes. Hello, goodbye, ongoing coming and going. Patatee and patataa, hello and goodbye. He belongs to the visible and the invisible. Miles regularly totally disappears. In the film, I try to picture him but he ongoingly sabotages my attempts by disappearing. That – by the way- also has happened in real life. Years ago, I did a play in Beursschouwburg, and 10 days before the premier he was gone. No trace. He appeared again a couple of days before the premiere, and he gave a mesmerizing performance. But he made producers and accountants freak out. He’s on the side of the gift, of love, of friendship, of play. Not on the side of calculation, accumulation, and identification. In the film I play the fool, the idiot who tries to film that, to capture that, I play the middleman, I pass it on to the audience, and therefore I have for myself the role of a modest and unlucky intermediary.

I wanted to make a film that is honest to the root. If therefore I need to lie or stick to the facts doesn’t matter.

- Then how do we know what is true and what is false?

Solta: False is that Miles plays himself. He has no such thing as a self. All the rest is true. It appears, and we don’t look away. It’s there, and even if it would only be a fable, it is true.

- What did Miles think of the movie?

He did not see it and says he never will. He’s a political subject, he’s on to something else already. He says it’s the best movie he never saw.