WHO is he?

American filmmaker and screenwriter who has been making films from the late Eighties onwards, considered one of the torchbearers of American independent cinema. Despite his lean filmography, which consists of five features, a TV miniseries and three short films, he is one of the most remarkable filmmakers working today and definitely among the most articulate, erudite and self-reflecting.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Haynes’ films are conceptually well-thought out and take off from a clear theoretical foundation. They frequently explore how societies programme an individual and how they establish a normative value system the deviations from which are duly punished. They typically unfold as social critiques with a stark humanist bent. These films are marked by acts of resistance by individuals against constricting cultural constructs, which parallel the director’s own continual attempts to break free from reductive pigeonholes of film culture.

Style

Haynes is one of the most formally astute of American directors working today, with a style that is constantly mutating and rooted in the knowledge of film history. Though the approach to his material varies vastly from film to film, the meticulous use of décor and architecture, the transition between indoor and outdoor spaces and the carefully delineated use of colour and texture are some of the recurring elements in Haynes’ body of work.

WHY is he of interest?

Conventional historical films tend to treat history as something that’s over and done with, as a time period whose socio-political problems have now been resolved. Haynes’ features — almost all of them being period films set in an older era — dismantle such a smug illusion of linear progress by opening up history to the present, by locating what are decidedly current-day issues in narratives that are set in a different time. His films, therefore, retain a radical edge most historical dramas miss.

WHERE to discover him?

Possibly the greatest American film of the last decade, I’m Not There (2007) is a loose biopic based on the life of Bob Dylan. Haynes’ path-breaking film breaks every stereotype about biopics, with Dylan being played by an ensemble of six different actors which includes a woman and an African-American kid, and paints a conflicted portrait of the singer seated deeply in cultural (and specifically film) history that mirrors Haynes’ own biography and multi-dimensional persona.

Keywords: Outtakes column