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Sunday December 17, 2017 08:25 AM

Tilda Swinton: Master of metamorphosis

Tilda Swinton: Master of metamorphosis
Photo: BIGSTOCK

She is one of the biggest luminaries in world cinema to appear in the Dhaka Lit Fest this year.

Born into a family from the Scottish Borders, Tilda Swinton worked as a humanitarian volunteer in Africa for two years after she left school, following which she studied social and political sciences at Cambridge University.

She started making films with the English experimental director Derek Jarman in 1985, with Caravaggio. They made seven more films together, including The Last of England, The Garden, War Requiem, Edward II (for which she won the Best Actress award at the 1991 Venice International Film Festival), and Wittgenstein, before Mr Jarman’s death in 1994. She gained wide international recognition in 1992 with her portrayal of Orlando, a film based on the novel by Virginia Woolf and directed by Sally Potter.

Swinton has also appeared in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation; David Mackenzie’s Young Adam; Mike Mills’ Thumbsucker and Francis Lawrence’s Constantine; Béla Tarr’s The Man from London, Andrew Adamson’s blockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia tales; Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton — for her performance in which, she received both the BAFTA and Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress of 2008 — and Erick Zonca’s Julia, which won for Swinton the Evening Standard’s Best Actress award and which performance was named as Indiewire’s hands-down favourite of that year.

In 2010, Swinton shot Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk about Kevin which went into the main competition at Cannes the following year to huge critical acclaim. She also starred as Minister Mason in Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon Ho and released in 2014 for which she won numerous critics’ awards for best supporting actress at the end of that year. Tilda also features in the critically acclaimed comedy Trainwreck, from Amy Schumer, directed by Judd Apatow, the Marvel Studios blockbuster Doctor Strange, from director Scott Derrickson, War Machine, directed by David Michod and most recently the critically acclaimed Netflix and Plan B feature, Okja directed by Bong Joon Ho.

She has established rewarding ongoing filmmaking relationships with Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive, Broken Flowers and The Limits of Control), with Lynn Hershman-Leeson with whom she made Conceiving Ada, Teknolust and Strange Culture, with fine artist Doug Aitken, for Sleepwalkers and Song 1 — which took over the entire facades of MoMA and the Smithsonian respectively — with Wes Anderson on the movies Moonrise Kingdom in 2011 and The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014, with the Coen Brothers on Burn after Reading and Hail Caesar! and especially with Luca Guadagnino alongside whom she has worked for over 20 years, made several experimental projects — the widely applauded I Am Love which she co-produced over the span of a decade, 2016’s celebrated A Bigger Splash and the forthcoming Suspiria — and with whom she is producing a number of projects for the future.

In 2016, The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger was premiered at the Berlinale, an essay film about the writer and philosopher, which she co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed with The Derek Jarman Lab.

In 1995 she conceived and performed her acclaimed site-specific live-art piece The Maybe — in which she presents herself lying asleep in a glass case — which was originally performed at The Serpentine Gallery in London with an installation she devised in collaboration with sculptor Cornelia Parker. The following year, in collaboration with the French artists Pierre et Gilles, she performed the piece at the Museo Baracco in Rome.

In 2013, she revived The Maybe at MoMA in New York, where the specifics of its incarnation there meant that it appeared unannounced, unaccompanied by an artist’s commentary, official images or finite schedule, in various spaces in the museum.

In the summer of 2008 Swinton, in collaboration with Mark Cousins, created the Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams — a grassroots, joyfully anarchic, family-based film festival in her hometown of Nairn, Scotland, intended as a one-off, not to be repeated, event. In 2009 Swinton and Cousins both co-curated a Scottish Cinema of Dreams edition in Beijing and also brought another festival to Scotland — A Pilgrimage. This week-long event involved a mobile cinema that travelled and was bodily pulled for an hour each day, from Kinlochleven on the west coast of Scotland to Nairn on the east coast. All three festivals — unique and un-repeated — became events of considerable international interest. She has curated and produced a number of other film-related events from Iceland to Thailand.

Tilda and Olivier Saillard have created four original performances together — The Impossible Wardrobe in 2012, Eternity Dress in 2013, Cloakroom in 2014 and Sur Exposition in 2016 – all performed for the Festival d’Automne in Paris. In 2015, Swinton and Saillard co-authored a box of books, published by Rizzoli, documenting the first three of these works.

This autumn, Tilda was the guest speaker at the British Film Institute’s Luminous Gala, which sees the industry’s most celebrated figures come together to raise important funds for the BFI. In October, she was an honoree at the prestigious Lumiere film festival in Lyon.

She is the mother of twins and lives in the Scottish Highlands.

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