Mark Cousins is a documentary filmmaker, author and curator living and working in Scotland. The subjects of his films have included Mikhael Gorbachev, neo-Nazism, Ian Hamilton Finlay, the cinema of Iran and children in Iraq.
In the early 90s, he became director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, scrapped all the existing programme strands, rethought the festival, and took it to Sarajevo in defiance of the siege. At the same time he co-founded the charity Scottish Kids are Making Movies, focussing on children and creativity, which has become a central theme in his work.
Next, Cousins was the TV host of BBC2’s Moviedrome. He co-edited Imagining Reality: The Faber Book of Documentary (which the Times Literary Supplement called “indispensable”), and directed and presented BBC2’s Scene by Scene, which ran for five years, screening career interviews with, amongst others, Martin Scorsese, Jane Russell, Paul Schrader, Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Roman Polanski, Jeanne Moreau, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Lauren Bacall and Rod Steiger. The London Times called it “a revelation”. Kirk Douglas said that, of the thousands of interviews he’d done, his Scene by Scene was the best.
Together with Antonia Bird, Robert Carlyle and Irvine Welsh, Cousins is a director of the production company 4Way Pictures.
In 2001 he drove to India. In 2004 he helped establish Sylvain Chomet’s Studio Django in Edinburgh.
Between 2001 and 2011, he wrote for Prospect. His 2004 book The Story of Film, was published in Europe, America, China, Mexico, Brazil and Taiwan. The London Times said of it “by some distance the best book we have read on cinema.” Oscar winning filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci praised it and Sir Sean Connery wrote that it is “fascinating”.
Cousins adapted the book into a 930 minute film, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which has sold around the world (and been called “a masterpiece”, “revelatory” and “the cinematic event of the year”) The New York Times called it “the place from which all future revisionism should begin.” It played in the Berlin, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, Hong Kong, and many other festivals, and at art centres such as the Walker in Minneapoli, Bam in Brooklyn, the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Bozar in Brussels, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Michael Moore gave it the Stanley Kubrick Award at his Traverse City Film Festival, and it has won other prizes including the Premier Award from the British Universities Film and Video Council.
Cousins has been guest curator at film festivals around the world, is Honorary Professor of Film at the University of Glasgow, Honorary Doctor of Letters at the University of Edinburgh and Honorary Lecturer at the University of Stirling.
He was Co-Artistic Director of Cinema China and The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams, part of his ongoing collaboration with Oscar winning actress Tilda Swinton. They devised a cinema in Beijing and did A Pilgrimage (www.a-pilgrimage.org), which gained worldwide attention.
Cousins was awarded the Salzgeber prize at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, has been nominated for the Spirit of Scotland Award three times, and wrote, directed and filmed the feature documentary The First Movie, about kids’ imaginations. It won the Prix Italia, played in film, academic and social action contexts, and is still playing in American cities. Acclaimed filmmaker Wim Wenders wrote that he “loved it” and it has won several audience awards at film festivals.
Cousins and Swinton launched the 8 ½ Foundation, which creates a new movie birthday for children. It was nominated for the Human Rights Award.
He published his fourth book, Watching Real People Elsewhere in the UK, America, and China, is writing a travel and cinema book called Rupture and is writing and directing a feature documentary called I am Belfast.
In 2012 he was nominated for the London Awards for Art and Performance 2012 and the Screen International award. He was guest curator at the Eye Cinematheque in Amsterdam.
His film What is this Film called Love? has played in 20 countries and was nominated for Best Director by Bafta Scotland. PJ Harvey called it “revelatory and inspiring”. It played in the prestigious Institute for Contemporary Arts in London.
In 2012, his work showed in Karlovy Vary, Montenegro, Bratislava, Moscow, Rio, Dubai, Bosnia, San Francisco, Sweden, Seattle, Chicago, Berwick, Inverness, Edinburgh, CPX Dox, and Hong Kong.
In early 2013 he completed Here be Dragons, a film essay about Albania, and has made a new film, A Story of Children and Film, which was in the Official Selection of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival (where it received 5 star reviews), in the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Karlovy Vary.
He is now a columnist for the film magazines Sight and Sound and Filmkrant.
He once recorded the voice for a drum and bass dance track about the film La Maman et la putain, likes to dance and drive his campervan!