Bringing a Cerebral Approach to Film and Culture with Chris Cotonou of A Rabbit’s Foot

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A Q&A with Chris Cotonou, Deputy Editor of A Rabbit’s Foot

In this month’s Scent of Paper, we speak with Chris Cotonou, the Deputy Editor of A Rabbit’s Foot, a film journal founded by producer, writer, and filmmaker Charles Finch.

Chris shares his background as a copywriter and journalist, how he came to work on A Rabbit’s Foot, and talks about the magazine’s mission to be a source of comfort and intellect for cinephiles around the world, with each issue featuring a diverse range of film directors and artists in conversation. 

Chris, tell us a little about your background.

After working as a copywriter for an advertising agency, I moved into journalism and have since contributed to the usual suspects: Mr Porter, GQ, Esquire, Town and Country, Evening Standard, The Rake and Robb Report.

I was born in east London to hairdressers, and I believe my desire to tell stories came while sitting in my Dad’s barber shop every day after school, hearing the many snapshots of other peoples’ lives (all told in under an hour).

A Rabbit’s Foot was born from the mind of producer, writer, and filmmaker Charles Finch: how did you meet him and how did you end up becoming the Deputy Editor of this new project?

I was going through the process of interviewing as a freelance copywriter for his agency Finch + Partners. Fatima Khan, our brilliant Creative Director—and now a great friend—saw some of my work and asked if I’d be interested in editing a film journal instead.

I was nervous at first, as I’ve only ever been a writer. But Charles and I hit it off fast, and it was a chance to challenge myself. After three issues featuring artists like Paolo Sorrentino, Penelope Cruz, Isabelle Adjani, Wes Anderson, Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Huppert, Oliver Stone, Ken Loach, Tahar Rahim and Ai Weiwei, I’d say we’ve done quite well so far…

The name A Rabbit’s Foot comes from Ernest Hemingway’s book “A Moveable Feast”: ‘For luck you carried…a rabbit’s foot in your right pocket…the claws scratched in the lining of your pocket and you knew your luck was still there’. How and why did you come up with this name?

This was Charles’ idea. As a renowned businessman and film producer, he has an intuition for branding. It also embodies our mission to be that great source of comfort and intellect to cinephiles around the world. Unlike most magazines, which focus on one major director, each issue has up to ten masters in conversation—including Abel Ferrara, Aronofsky, Ken Loach, and more.

So there is great value (and a lot of hard work) in what we’re putting out. Like a ‘rabbit’s foot’, each issue is a companion. Charles would probably laugh if he heard me say this, but he is a larger-than-life Hemingway figure himself. So it makes sense to those who know him.

A Rabbit’s Foot is a new bookazine and a digital platform with an informed focus on film, art, and culture that provides a more cerebral approach to cinema and the arts. Tell us more about the project, who would you say the readership is and why do you think it resonates with them?

I’ll tell you why it resonates with me, because I would certainly be a part of our targeted readership. Movie magazines first became an escape when I was threatened with suspension at school. I was twelve, and my parents bought me an issue of Empire to stop me crying. I devoured that copy, and purchased every issue up until I was twenty-one. Then, while working as a pot-wash at my local pub, and later selling hotdogs at the O2 Arena, all of my wages went on DVDs—especially the coveted double-disc special editions. Finally, I enrolled in a Film Studies class at college. It was taught by one of the most influential men in my life: the gentle American Mr Ben Harris. He sadly passed away last year, and I deeply wish I had shown him A Rabbit’s Foot

So, I understand what film (and learning about film) means to the people who buy our journal. I recognise that urge to disappear into the medium’s mythology, and soak all the information up like traces of a thick ragu after a great meal. Our readers resonate with this.

None of the content expires. I hope our journal lives on their shelves forever. I also think it looks stylish on a coffee table or desk. So, for collectors, it’s perfect.

In your second issue, you bring your focus to Italian cinema: both the past and the present. Italy has always been a filmmaker’s haven, what do you think makes Italian film culture so special and unique, and how has it evolved over time?

Italian cinema, like Italian art and literature, is a marriage of great style, intellect, and—I think, uniquely—their accessibility. Generally, the classics of Italian cinema are more entertaining than the French Nouvelle Vague, or Britain’s kitchen-sink dramas. But they also had forthright political, or psychological, themes that Hollywood considered secondary to star power.

Rossellini, De Sica, Fellini, and Antonioni’s films offer thoughtful social commentary. Then again, you can also simply kick back and have fun watching icons like Mastroianni in La dolce vita, Sophia Loren in Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, and Monica Vitti in La Notte. For a few decades, the influence of Italian cinema had waned a little. But we’re happy to say that after creating the issue, we found it in a state of resurgence. We met the dazzling new stars, as well as provided essays on the classics. I would suggest readers seek the cinema of Ginevra Elkann, Sorrentino, Guadagnino, Andrea Pallaoro, the D’Innocenzo Brothers, and Carolina Cavalli. A new generation is emerging—faithful to those same principles of style, intellect, and accessibility. We’ve tried to give readers an insider’s look at that.

Thanks to A Rabbit’s Foot you have got the chance to meet and interview many different talented artists like Paolo Sorrentino, Monica Bellucci, Wes Anderson, and many others, with an insider perspective on the film’s space.
What’s something interesting and unexpected that you have learned from their experience?

Artists want to engage in thoughtful conversation.

If they’re being difficult, it’s because you’re asking them the same predictable questions, or you’re not approaching them as human beings. This is a lesson I learned from the prolific interviewer Alain Elkann (who contributed a piece on Fellini in Issue 2: you need to put yourself on their level. Or better: bring them back down to earth.

Engage. Ask yourself what might be on that person’s mind at that very moment. Are they jaded from interviews? Are they sentimental about something obscure? Then use your intuition as a storyteller to tap into that. Of course, it’s always better to be prepared and have questions ready, but we want to uncover something about these artists that hasn’t already been spoken into the aether.

If your only interest is to add these people to your roster of ‘checked-off’ celebrities this job isn’t for you; the subject will resort to cookie-cutter answers. Be curious. Be kind. Speak to their soul and it will unearth their story.

We live in a world where everything moves fast and people’s attention has dropped significantly. A physical book forces us to slow down and enjoy the moment. What’s your take on it and how do you see the future of magazines and paper?

The future of physical books has never been brighter. It seems like there’s a new publication for every niche or interest now. With A Rabbit’s Foot, we realised that there was a gap for a classic film journal in the English language—at least in the mould of Jonas Mekas’ Film Culture or France’s Cahier du Cinéma. There are plenty of film magazines, but few film journals that allow the reader to drink in deep, and sometimes challenging, stories about the artform.

We have long-reads on the activism of forgotten Hollywood icons like William Holden. Dispatches from the glamorous Marrakech Film Festival. Rarely printed photo journals provided by Magnum. A look at Spike Lee’s Malcolm X on its thirtieth anniversary. Our upcoming issue also features Oliver Stone in conversation with Seumas Milne—who has impacted British politics over the past six years. It is a full-bodied book that offers countless re-reads—because we think that there are insights and ideas you might not catch the first time.

At the very least, it is the film lover’s reliable quarterly supplement to all of their other reading.

Where can find out more about A Rabbit’s Foot and where can they buy the printed version?

Issue 1, 2, and 3—which focuses on the Power of Film to Affect Change, and features Darren Aronofsky, Ken Loach, Oliver Stone, Ai Weiwei, and many more—are all available on www.a-rabbitsfoot.com. You can also find us at your local WH Smiths, or at museums like the BFI and Serpentine. New York readers can pick up a copy from the great Casa Magazines.

Please consider subscribing. Not only are you supporting independent journalism, but you’re also helping keep the torch alive for real discussions about cinema, art and culture. If you want to learn more, or enjoy snapshots and updates from the world of film, follow our Instagram page: @arabbitsfoot.

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