VIFF 2017 Interview: DAVID HOCKNEY AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS director Phil Grabsky

By Jason Whyte
Posted 10/06/17 11:47:14

"He is arguably the most popular artist alive today and certainly justifies the title of 'great artist'. David Hockney has just turned 80 but has lost none of his energy, creativity and humour; all of which are in ample display in a gorgeous film that centres on two landmark shows in 2012 and 2016 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London." Phil Grabsky on DAVID HOCKNEY AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS which screens at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

No to first VIFF experience and yes I will be here! I am invited to many festivals but most I have to refuse. Not VIFF though! The films, the crowds, the city, the organisers. This is how a festival should be. I love it.

What is your favorite part of VIFF?

I could say the films I get to watch but between you and me I love walking into my screenings and seeing them full of enthusiastic film-lovers! VIFF is genuinely a superlative film festival, so help it in any way you can. See the films, volunteer, tell your friends. You are lucky to have it.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background, and how you got into the whole filmmaking business.

I have never wanted to do anything else and it has been a passion for 32 years. I have made hundreds of films and I just love making films about art, classical music, history and society. In particular right now I am six days a week, and have been for 8 years, on building the worldwide cinema brand EXHIBITION ON SCREEN.

I love Exhibition on Screen and host them for Cineplex Events in Victoria, where I am from! Please tell me more about your involvement and why you wanted to do one on David Hockney.

In short, EXHIBITION ON SCREEN allows me to make films about major artists and we have made 19 feature films in recent years on the likes of Goya, Vermeer, Leonardo, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and so on which are all available on DVD. I have always wanted to include living artists, but who matches the greats? In 2012 I decided that Hockney did.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively?

I know no other way than to keep going. But honestly without my wife as the head of production and team of a dozen staff, there are no films.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you overcome it?

Deciding how best to make it, and in the end I decided that there was no reason to be over-complicated. Let the exhibitions and interviews with Hockney, who is superb, do the work.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?

Each film I make would get a different response to that but for this film I have to say I was overjoyed recently to pick up an audience award in a very full and competitive documentary film festival.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film and how you got the look on screen?

It is impossible to answer a question like that briefly but what I would say is is that creativity is based on many things, above all sheer hard work, analysis of data, personal relations, deep research, etc but not least a study and understanding of technology. It is not enough to just buy a camera and switch it on. Learn your craft!

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie to audiences here at VIFF?

The Q&As are always great and the interaction with the crowd afterwards when I sell them DVDs and we have a chat.

Where is this movie going to show next? Exhibition On Screen?

Yes, and we are releasing it in 55 countries!

If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?

I would love to show it in Damascus, Tehran, Kabul, Baghdad, Pyongyang, Sanaa. I believe art can play a massive role in encouraging the best of humanity and helping thus overcome the worst.

Movie theaters are the best place to see a movie, but sometimes they can be distracting! What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

I would love to shout "Shut the EFF up!" but being British I would probably just toot loudly.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews for inspiration. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Churchill put it best. "Success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

This will seem self-aggrandizing but when I sat and watched my own IN SEARCH OF MOZART with a massive crowd who absolutely loved it and then bought every DVD I had with me? That was memorable.

NOTE: In Canada, this will be playing as part of Cineplex Event's In The Gallery Series on January 25! Check for tickets and more info on the series.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 28th to October 13th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
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