Documentary film

The Art of Change – THE RIAHI BROTHERS invite us to EVERYDAY REBELLION

Everyday Rebellion poster

EVERYDAY REBELLION, a documentary and cross-media project on non-violence protest methods and modern forms of civil disobedience, could have been easily called “Creative Rebellion”. Not only are the ideas and strategies for “civil unrest” very different and much more imaginative than what you’d expect, as well as being backed up by hard science, but the style of the documentary is so surprisingly cinematic, I often had the impression I was watching a fiction film. Which made it all the more powerful and moving for it.

The Iranian-born Austrian filmmakers ARASH & ARMAN RIAHI started this ambitious project in 2009 and travelled the world over to document various forms of social protest and find out what, if anything, they had in common. The film imaginatively takes us to Madrid  where we spend time with the Indignados;  with the Green revolutionaries in Tehran; with members of FEMEN in Kiev, Paris and Stockholm; with Occupy Wall Street in New York; and with Syrian activists devoted to nonviolent resistance against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The result: a very sensitive, intimate and astute documentary painting so many memorable portraits of the often anonymous “protagonists” involved in the myriad forms of everyday rebellions taking place everywhere in the world.

This interview with ARMAN RIAHI was taken on November 10, 2013, at the Danish Cinemateket, Copenhagen, a few days ahead of the film’s world premiere at CPH:DOX where it also won the Audience Award.

(This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and length)

Dana: When and where did Everyday Rebellion start?

Arman:It started in 2009, after the presidential and political elections in Iran, when the Green movement took place. We were watching the videos of protesters who recorded human rights violations. As a refugee family living in Austria in exile, we were very touched by this and we suggested to make a film about this uprising. So when we started developing the project it was only about Iran. Then history happened: there was  the Arab spring and then 15-M,  the Spanish Indignados movement, then Occupy Wall Street, so we constantly changed the focus and we constantly developed and found new things that are interesting and important. And at some point we realised the focus should be on non-violence protests because this is a very useful tool and a very important, true and wise idea about how to confront dictatorships and oppressive powers, economic systems which oppress you and so on. It’s really about non-violent rebellion and what it can do for ordinary citizens…

Dana: Was it you who went to Iran to film and develop this project?

Arman:  No, in Iran somebody filmed secretly for us. In Iran part of the story is some kind of video diary of an Iranian girl, she can be everybody, she stays anonymous and she’s telling her side of the situation in Iran now.

Dana: So where did you first set up shop and started filming?

Arman:We started with Srdja Popovic, one of the founders of the Serbian resistance movement that overthrew Milošević in the 90s .He is now a non-violent consultant and he is a great guy, a great strategist. He has been invited by non-violence movements to help them develop their ideas, because you cannot really export a movement, each non-violent movement has to be really authentic from the country itself. So we started with him and he was the tip of the iceberg, then we started talking to other activists and veterans, which is how the project spread. Then we came here, to Copenhagen, to take part in a non-violent activist conference.

Dana: Was this in 2011?

Arman:Yes, 2 years ago. Then we went to film in Egypt with the activists we got to meet here at the conference in Copenhagen, then we went to film in Madrid, we went there three times with the 15-M movement.

.-Photo-2013-Everyday-Rebellion

The Riahi Brothers, Arash T.Riahi and Arman T.Riahi

Dana: Did you go to Ukraine as well, you mentioned Femen.

Arman: Yes, Femen is a big part of the film.

Dana: Have you met Kitty Green, have you seen Ukraine is Not a Brothel?

Arman:Yes I saw the film, it’s not really my type of thing to be honest…

Dana: Why?

Arman:For me it’s a little bit too speculative, it’s very much focused on one point, the film is very much only focusing on this guy in the background who has something to do with the organisation but he’s not the only founder, there is another founder of Femen and nobody talks about her. And because the story about this guy was the most sensational factor, what I find is that Kitty Green, whom I respect for her work, only focused on this, but there are a lot of other things that you can talk about when you talk about Femen, for example the background of these girls and the situation in Ukraine. But this is talked about for five minutes at the beginning of the film and then it’s over.

Dana: I think she chose to focus more on the contradictions within this organisation and tried to bring those to light…

Arman:Yes, which is also interesting, but that was not the only thing. We have spent a lot of time with Inna Shevchenko…

Dana: At the same time that Kitty Green was making her film there?

Arman:No, actually our film starts where Kitty Green’s film stops. The film starts when Inna Shevchenko leaves Ukraine to go to Paris and starts Femen International in Paris. And she won’t go back now because the Secret Services are after her, so our film really starts when she leaves Ukraine and builds up Femen International in France. Now there are a lot of Femen franchises set up all over the world.

Everyday rebellion still London

Anonymous “MillionMaskMarch” in London and around the world

Dana: So what did you focus on in this part of the film?And how many parts are there to the film? It sounds like a huge project.How long is the film?

Arman:Yes it’s a huge project. The film is 110 minutes. We have Femen, the 15-M movement in Madrid, Occupy Wall Street, Egypt a little bit, Copenhagen a little bit, Iran, the Syrian non-violent movement. It’s more than 7-8 countries, it’s Ukraine, France, Aman, the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, then there’s New York, Madrid, Copenhagen, it’s a really big project.

Dana: And how do the different parts connect and resonate with each other?I suppose the common theme is the non-violent type of protests.

Arman:Yes. On paper you would think: what do all these movements have to do with each other?What has Occupy have to do with the Syrian non-violent movement?or the famous fight for women’s rights or against the church?

Dana: Well, they are all protests against something…

Arman:Yes and they have a lot to do with each other because they are all about what ordinary citizens can do against injustice. Some of the activists don’t even fight for their own rights, they come from good backgrounds, they could do a good job and live happily. But what motivates them is the injustice that’s going on in the world. They want to change something and it is not a hippy dream that you can change a lot with non-violent protests, it’s scientifically proven and this is one of the points of the film, this is why we came to the conference in Copenhagen, it is scientifically proven that non-violent resistance is much more effective.

Dana: Is this the conclusion of the film?

Arman:Yes, and the film has other conclusions. You learn a lot I think.

Question What You Know still

At Foley Square, Lower Manhattan, NYC

Dana: Was your life ever in danger when you were filming all these protests?I’m thinking more of Syria, Egypt. Or do you have any insider tales, anecdotes you could share?

Arman:There were some moments which were a little bit close calls. Funnily, the most close call was actually in New York, the police there was really brutal and at some point, you can see it in the movie a little bit, on the day of action, it was the 17th of September 2012, which was the 1st year anniversary of the movement. The Occupy movement took over the financial district of NYC with its non-violent protests, like sit-ins in bank lobbies, walks on the intersection, on the intercity highway in NYC. So the police was at some point driving with the motorcycles, driving towards us and trying to kick us, to run us over, to get us off the street. Or in Aman, at some point one of the Syrian protesters tried to do a protest method which I don’t want to tell you about and spoil your surprise because it is very creative. People say about Jordan that 3/4 of the Jordanian population works for the Secret Service!Which is a funny thing because right before he wanted to do the action, we were there with 2 or 3 cameras and our location manager said “maybe this is not so good to do this now”, and I said “why?this is the last day and we have to do it, it’s great”, “oh yeah, because you know in Jordan half of the population or more works for the Secret Service” and I said “Okay, thanks for telling us only now!” But compared to the life of the “protagonists”, our lives were never really in danger. Now when the film comes out, I’m sure some governments won’t like it very much, Iran will not like it very much but it’s okay, that’s why we do it. The important thing is the political statement, civil disobedience is very important for each nation.

Dana: How was this project funded?

Arman:The film is produced by Golden Girls, which is an Austrian-Viennese production company where my brother is one of the 2 or 3 partners. The film was financed in a very classical way, by the Austrian Film Funding body, by the state. But the films also has German TV funds, […] actually the funding is not very unconventional.

Dana: And this is not your first film, is it?

Arman:No, I made my first film two years ago, it was called Dark Head, about young teenagers in Austria, young adults, rappers, who have an immigrant background and are using hip-hop as their tool to act and to have something to do and get off the street. So this film was premiered at Sarajevo as Opening Film two years ago. But this one is our first film together, that we directed together. My brother has made three documentaries already and a feature film also.

Dana: So documentary is your thing, you want to continue making documentaries.

Arman:Actually I’m writing two or three fiction films now. So next year I want to start the production for my first fiction film.

Dana: Is it about social issues?

Arman:Yes.

Dana: We have a theme here, a common thread here running through all your films.

Arman:Some people tell me that as a young director, I’m 32,  people tell me “choose a style, you have to have a style”. Because Austria is very much a film country, we have Michel Haneke, Ulrich Seidl, the legends, so they say “Ulrich Seidl has this style, his films are like this”.

Dana: They became almost like a “genre”.

Arman:Yes. And it’s great, I respect them very much, I think they are amazing filmmakers but…

Dana: You don’t want to be limited to just one style…

Arman:[…] When you see the film, you’ll see that it has a style, it’s well-crafted and we are filmmakers, we’re not activists. But with this film we became activists somehow […].

Dana: Did you go to film school by the way?

Arman:No, I never went to film school, I refused to apply, I knew I wanted to make films but I didn’t want anybody to tell me how to do it or if I can do it. But apply? Every year they accept only 5 to 10 people in the Austrian University for Film, where Haneke is a teacher for example, in the directing class. And I was very interested in design and art direction and graphic design. So I went to the University for Applied Sciences and in my internship I did graphic design in London, I lived in London for a year and did my internship there. Which is something that helps me design the posters for the films. So I thought I should do design, it’s another skill and you can earn money with it also. And forget about learning film because you’ll do it anyway!

Intrigued? Explore the cross-media platform for Everyday Rebellion, take part, donate, become a Facebook fan, download manuals, books, unconventional rebellion tactics by experts and check out their app here.

CPH:DOX – A Darling of a Documentary Film Festival

cph dox long bannerVELKOMMENN! This is CPH:DOX, the most exciting documentary film festival in the world!

As the most glamorous and talked-about event in Copenhagen  in the month of November, CPH:DOX attracts industry professionals and media worldwide and, most interestingly, regular Danish folk from all over the country who take time off work  to enjoy the 10-day festival. With so many intriguing screenings and original events, such as the impressive Opening Gala at the surreal Koncerthuset, a trip to a Swedish nuclear power plant, and gourmet film debates in the very popular category FOOD ON FILM, it is no wonder!

And because 2013 marked a new record attendance,  the festival team had to extend the festival by three days due to public demand, which is rather unique and  unheard of!Well done, CPH:DOX!

Every year the festival screens over 200 documentaries, all of which represent the most current and interesting trends in the documentary arena. But CPH:DOX stands for much more than just the film festival. Festival Programmer Mads Mikkelsen tells us what makes CPH:DOX so special.

Inside CPH:DOX with Festival Programmer MADS MIKKELSEN. 

This interview was taken on November 8, 2013 at the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen.

Dana: What is your role within the festival and what does it entail?

Mads-Mikkelsen cph dox

CPH:DOX Festival Programmer MADS MIKKELSEN

Mads: I’m a programmer for CPH:DOX and this is my 6th festival, the festival started in 2003, this year is the 11th edition. We have two programmers for the festival and also our Festival Director, Tina, who is our artistic director as well. She is very involved in the selection process. We see loads and loads of films, this year we got 2,700 films, not all of them are feature length, some are shorts but it’s still 15 times more films than we could show here so selections are the core of what we do. We also discuss how to create a festival where the films are placed in a meaningful context. Of course the films are singular works but they are also in dialogue with the context they are placed in. We have a structure at the festival where we can place films in a way where they communicate with each other, where there is a chemistry in the selection, not just a line-up of singular films.

Dana: Could you tell me more about the various categories, you have TOP DOX for instance…

Mads: We have four international competitions, we have the International Main Competition, we have a new section for Journalistic Films, which we launched this year, we have a competition for Nordic Films from the Scandinavian countries. And something that is special for a documentary film festival, we have a competition for Artists’ Films, which is not the same as experimental films. Experimental film has a long and well-documented history. The kind of films that we show are commissions from art galleries, biennales, art institutions. We find these films in these places, it’s not work that is produced with the cinema as such as the space for these types of films, which makes it very interesting to import them into a film context. These films are made by contemporary visual artists, and a lot of them work with other media, which makes it very interesting when they move to film.

Dana: Are there films that you actively seek to attract into the festival or are you just looking at submissions?

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film

Mads: We do a lot of research, a lot of scouting. We have a rather large network of friends and contacts around the world and they recommend us things and vice-versa. We are interested not only in films that are already finished but also films that are coming. We try to map out what is new each year, the most exciting and innovative films.

Dana: Out of all the films you are screening this year, what percentage is constituted by films that you tried to attract into the festival as opposed to those that were submitted?

Mads: Maybe half and half, I’m not entirely sure because it also depends on which section you look at. If you look at competitions, it’s almost 100% stuff that we find, whereas for the sections that are more of a survey of this year’s best and more popular films, a lot of those are films that are simply out there and we look at them and we discuss how we could create a better, more diverse selection that represents the best films made this year. And we also have a thematic context, zeitgeist films, for instance this year we invited the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei and the American artist duo The Yes Men to curate a programme of 20 films, some of them are from the 1920s, 30s, all historical films…

Dana: Do you work very closely with the festival producer?

Mads: Yes, we are 10 to 12 regular full-time people working here, a lot of invaluable interns and 200 volunteers. So there’s a lot of people involved, we put a lot of effort into logistics and managing the festival and making sure that everything is planned in detail. For this purpose we work very closely with our festival producer and her team but they are very self-going, self-sustaining…

cph dox team

Dana: Do all films have a Q&A, do you invite all the filmmakers to attend?

Mads: We invite a lot of filmmakers to attend, we don’t have the means to invite everyone, we try to find funding for as many as we can but because our budget is limited we made it a priority to invite those filmmakers whose films are premiering at the festival. Yesterday was the first day of the festival but a lot of filmmakers are coming for the industry days, which is from Tuesday next week until Friday-Saturday. We want them to not only be present for the screenings but also to engage with the whole international community that is here during the festival.

Dana: You’re referring to CPH:Forum which has a programme that looks very interesting. Will you tell me more about it?

Mads: This is a finance and coproduction forum that was launched in 2007.  It’s a platform where we invite film professionals to come, filmmakers with new film projects. We select around 25 projects and they pitch their new ideas to producers and financiers. And also we create a lot of seminars and other activities around the Forum and around the festival as such, to create a platform whereby people can engage in dialogue and talk about films, exchange ideas and contacts. It is unusual for a documentary film festival to have a Forum where one third of the selection are art projects and one third are films that are a hybrid form between documentary and narrative, fiction and visual art and other art forms. So it’s something that we built up, all the different departments of the festival are not like satellites orbiting around the same planet but it’s more connected and the different departments support each other.

Dana: The filmmakers who are invited to participate in the Forum, are they filmmakers who screened their films at CPH:DOX in previous years or can anyone apply? 

Mads: Not all of them, yes anyone can apply, there’s an open call for entries. The final line-up is made up of young filmmakers, up and coming filmmakers but also established filmmakers.

Dana: What are the objectives for the festival in the future, do you plan to develop and diversify it further?

Mads: We are diversifying very much all the time, not only in content but in the way that we do the festival. What we want to do is play around with the concept of what a film festival is and what it could be. This year we launched the Transmedia Platform, we launched the two-day conference where we invite artists, politicians, tech people, scholars, normal people as well. The idea is based on exchange between people with different professional backgrounds, different perspectives.We also want people to be inspired to take some chances on the types of films that they see. Speaking as a programmer, one of the most exciting things about a film festival is to discover new films, new artists, new work, things that you just didn’t expect…

Tim's Vermeer

Tim’s Vermeer

Dana: How does CPH:DOX compare to other documentary film festivals, with IDFA for instance?

Mads: The festival that we created is based around the idea of the filmmaker as an artist, we like films with a personal signature and vision, and films that are not limited to a traditional concept of what a documentary film is. What I mean by traditional is a film that is observing events from a distance without intervening into them. The type of films that we have been supporting and promoting since day one are the films that expand on the notion of the documentary, they work in the hybrid field between documentary and fiction and visual art and other art forms. And this is what built up the profile of the festival, people expect this from CPH:DOX now, documentaries that challenge the ways that film can engage with the real as well as films that constitute a quality selection of the year’s bigger and more immediately appealing films. But I think it is important to take chances, to simply go and see something that you never heard about…

Dana: A film festival obviously reflects the taste of the festival programmers and the artistic director, you can’t help selecting the films that appeal to you. Do you agree?

Mads: Yes and I think it should. Sometimes it is debated if programmers are the gate-keepers, excluding work and so on. I’d personally much rather go to a film festival that reflects a sort of conscious selection process, clear curatorial criteria, a sort of well thought-out selection of films, rather than a bunch of films that are simply lined-up, one next to the other.[…] It’s also a matter of building up a festival where the actual selection of a film is supportive of the film, where we know that we have a meaningful context or frame that we can put the film in, instead of simply inviting a film and letting it stand alone.The selection process does not stop the minute that you select a film, there’s an after where you work with the film, you try to promote it and explain it to an audience and to build up a space where you can have a discourse.

suitcase of love and shame

Suitcase of Love and Shame

Dana: The films need to resonate with each other, yes, but maybe you could have a weird category where you include all kinds of weird films…

Mads: Oh we have a lot of those!(laughing)…If you look in the New Vision section and in the Artists Competition, a lot of people would think this is way out, it’s not documentary. But it is a place to go and see what contemporary cinema can be. We really try to be a contemporary festival, of course we have a strong historical line in the festival. The films that we show also reflect on past achievements in cinema. But we try to create a space where we screen as many contemporary pieces, where the artists are autonomous and independent voices.

nan goldin

Nan Goldin – I Remember Your Face

Dana: Before working for this festival, did you work for other film festivals, or in terms of education…

Mads: I was arranging film clubs, a lot of them in Copenhagen. I was studying film at university, here and in Stockholm and working…And on the side arranging various film clubs, one for underground films, one strictly for celluloid films, one where we had lectures, one where we screened documentaries.

Dana: So these were your personal projects…

Mads: Yes, personal stuff. Some I did alone and some with friends. And then when the festival was launched in 2003, I was following it […] I didn’t travel to festivals back then but it was still my favourite festival, and this was for a reason, because this is where I discovered the most exciting films, this is where I first saw the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul…

Dana: Congratulations on pronouncing his name, I never get it right…

Mads:(laughing)…And that sense of excitement and discovery was something I wasn’t really used to at that time, I think it made me realise how a festival works. A film club is an ideal way to screen films but a film festival has something of the magic and excitement of so many people that are coming and having these experiences together […]. Then I  started to work as an associate programmer in 2008 and writing a lot of the programme notes, and in 2009 I was hired as a programmer full-time. But I sometimes programme for other festivals and institutions and I curate a monthly night in the Cinemateket where we screen underground, cult films, everything from 16mm to 35mm. So I didn’t move in the direction of wanting to work for a film festival.You don’t end up working for a film festival unless you participate in the local film culture and try to add something to it.

Dana: What are your favourite documentaries in the festival this year?

Mads: Every time people ask me that I say Bloody Beans, an Algerian film in our main competition, which I’m so excited about! I’m really looking forward to meet the director. The films that excite me the most are the ones that suggest a new path or a fresh idea. The best films are the ones that when you leave the cinema you’re a little changed, the power to change you…

Bloody Beans still

Bloody Beans

Dana: Change us for the better I hope!

Mads: Probably most films change us for the worse!(laughing)But this one hopefully will change people for the better. At least for something different and new.

Dana: Any other recommendations?Your Top 5 Festival Films

Mads: It’s a tough question. Another film that felt like a discovery to me is a Chillian film called Naomi Campbel, it follows a transexual woman in Santiago, it’s a narrative film but it integrates real characters in their own surroundings, reenacting their own everyday lives. And reenactments are one of the most interesting tendencies in cinema right now.

Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbel

Last year we had a focus on reenactments with the film The Act of Killing, and a number of other films, and we had a seminar about them. And this year we have a whole thematic side bar dedicated to the idea of films that work with reenactments and reconstructions as their basic premise. An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker is also an example because it’s with real life characters that are reenacting something that they lived through in their own surroundings. A Norwegian film called Love Me is also an example. I’m very excited about the thematic programme based on this idea, it is called Everything is Under Control, which is an ironic statement because authorial control is a tabu in documentary, but in this case it is films that work as a reference to something real but the films work around it in very creative ways. One example is a Canadian film called The Dirties, it is a fiction film, a narrative film but the way it intervenes in and interacts with real situations is totally like an interventionist documentary strategy and it’s about a young burgeoning filmmaker played by the director himself, again this troubling link between the real and the artificial…

Dana: This was a dilemma in documentary since the very beginning…

Mads: Yes and I think it became even more of a dilemma later. When Flaherty made Nanook of the North, nobody was complaining that this wasn’t a real family but later when observational cinema really took off in the 60s and 70s and sort of claimed a monopoly in cinematic truth, all these things became problematic. But adding layers of staging, these layers can add something to the truth value of the film, they are more than pure effects.

Dana: What would you say a documentary film offers an audience that a fiction film perhaps doesn’t?

Mads: Documentary is not as canonised as feature filmmaking, you don’t have an A level, B level, C level, documentaries are much more independent and things come out of the blue. Many of the films in our international competition this year, we just didn’t see them coming. And suddenly it was just “boom”, there were all these amazing films…

 Top 10 most popular films at CPH:DOX 2013

1. The Reunion (dir. Anna Odell)
2. Days of Hope (dir. Ditte Haarløv Johnsen)
3. Mistaken for Strangers (dir. Tom Berninger)
4. Generation Iron (dir. Vlad Yudin)
5. Pandora’s Promise (dir. Robert Stone)
6. Mademoiselle C (dir. Fabien Constant)
7. The Armstrong Lie (dir. Alex Gibney)
8. 12 O’ Clock Boys (dir. Nathan Lotfy)
9. Narco Cultura (dir. Shaul Schwarz)
10. Everyday Rebellion (dir. The Riahi Brothers)

And the award goes to…To find out who were the winners of CPH:DOX 2013, click here.

CREATIVE CORNER

If you’re a creative or producer within the media field, you might be interested in some of the initiatives supported by CPH:DOX:

SWIM LAB  – Scandianavian World of Innovative Media, a transmedia initiative launched by CPH:DOX to stimulate innovation and new ways of thinking within media  – Call for entries now open, find out more here.

CPH:FORUM –  CPH:DOX’s international financing and co-production event, dedicated to supporting creative, visual and auteur-driven films. This was the first pitching venue for many great projects such as “Searching For Sugarman”, “Armadillo” and “The Act of Killing”, the latter now competing for a Best Documentary Academy Award.

DOX:LAB – a commissioned MEDIA-supported program for invited filmmakers from EU and non-EU countries. This program was established in 2009 by CPH:DOX International Documentary Film Festival and  is focused on training / project development, pitching events at international co-production markets and subsequent production.

DOC ALLIANCE –  a creative partnership of seven key European documentary film festivals whose is to support the diverse nature of documentary film and to increase audience awareness of the fascinating possibilities of this genre.

Should Truth Always Prevail? Acclaimed Documentarian ALEX GIBNEY about THE ARMSTRONG LIE

Known for his gripping, deeply insightful documentaries, Academy Award winner ALEX GIBNEY is one of the most accomplished non-fiction filmmakers working today. His 2008 film, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, received an Oscar for Best Feature-Length Documentary, a Best Director nomination from the Director’s Guild of America, as well as a Writer’s Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay. He also received another Academy Award nomination in 2006 for ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, which also won the Independent Spirit Award and the WGA Award, and he served as an Executive Producer on the Academy Award-nominated NO END IN SIGHT (2007).

Alex-Gibney

Alex Gibney

His new documentary, THE ARMSTRONG LIE, follows one of the most fascinating stories in the history of sports, the extraordinary rise and  fall of former cycling champion, Lance Armstrong. Embarking on what he believed would prove the ultimate comeback story, Gibney started by turning his cameras on the sports hero, his teammates and trainers in 2008-2009.  But once Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs in early 2013, the film emerged as a riveting insider’s view chronicling the collapse of one of the greatest legends of our time.

The following interview was taken on October 16 at Filmmakers Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel as part of LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013.

Dana: Why Armstrong in the first place?

Alex: Well, I had an opportunity, a famous producer Frank Marshall and a guy from Sony, Matt Tolmach, were developing a fiction film on Lance Armstrong and they couldn’t get the script rights so when Lance wanted to come back they thought of making a documentary and asked me if I would direct it. And I thought that that would be a pretty interesting film, following a champion as he came back, and what interested me about Armstrong, even with the rumours of doping that we all knew even back then, was his will. So I was interested in making that film.

Dana: When you found out everything that happened suddenly, what was your first thought, that you had been lied to or that the film was a lie?

Alex: I was pissed off, not so much that I’ve been lied to, I’d certainly been lied to before, but I felt that I’ve been used. That I was used as kind of a prop and promo campaign, and that did piss me off. But remember this happened over a period of time, it wasn’t like there was a lightening bolt that came down and suddenly it was like: “Oh my God, everything’s changed”. Bit by bit by bit stuff came out and Lance for a long time responded as he always had, which was: “bullshit”, denial, so I had time to work it out. And was I pissed off?Yes I was pissed off but I wasn’t shocked.

the-armstrong-lie-posterDana: What do you think of him?

Alex: On a day to day basis, I like him. I like hanging out with him, I’m interested in talking to him but I also recognise that I can’t always trust him.

Dana: How challenging was it to change the initial film into the final version?

Alex: It was hugely challenging. I think the only way it was going to work was for me to became a character in the film. I had to become the person to whom this had happened. So that I could explain it all in its many levels. And also I stood in for the fan or for the cancer survivor who felt that they invested so much in this myth that Lance had created and now they were disappointed. From a filmmaking standpoint it was hugely complicated because it involved fracturing the narrative, going back and forth in time, in 1999, before that, 2009, the present, pre-Oprah, post-Oprah. It was a very complicated story in that sense. And the only way possible to make it I think was telling it through the first person.

Dana: Michele Ferrari was quite a cue, how did that interview come about, was it just a question of building trust?

Alex: He wouldn’t do the interview unless Armstrong gave his permission and Armstrong did. And I think that was all part of a campaign at the time which was: 2009 – I have nothing to hide, come take a look. So I was surprised that I got the interview with Ferrari but I was pleased.

Dana: How do you think Armstrong felt when the truth came out?

Alex: Well it came out over time. I think Armstrong was probably surprised that the old tactics didn’t work. Let’s remember, he’d already accused his critics? many times in the past, he always defeated his enemies by attacking them or sometimes slandering them and he tried to do the same thing here but it didn’t work this time. Why?Because the level of details was so enormous that his story was no longer believable and I think that was a blow to Armstrong and suddenly, while he always had enemies and critics he also had millions of fans and suddenly his fans started to run for the hills.

Dana: Has he seen the film?

Alex: No. He sent his representatives to see it and so far he hasn’t seen the film, I hope he will. We gave him the opportunity to.

Dana: Have you spoken to him since making the film?

Alex: The last time I spoke to him was when, there were some bits that I went to him with while making the film, because he had some interesting information about UCI and sponsors but the last time I contacted Lance was when I told him it was going to be called the Armstrong Lie.

Dana: And what was his response to that?

Alex: I don’t think he liked it but he accepted it. I heard from other people that he said: “I’m ok with it. I did lie”. In some ways Lance is honest, in some ways he’s not so honest.

Dana: As a filmmaker, are you glad about everything that happened, because you now have a much more interesting film than the original one…

Alex: That was a different film. This one is much more layered and frankly much more like the themes of all my other films. So in that sense while I was hoping to do something different, I ended up being back at base camp for me as a filmmaker.

Dana: What has been the biggest challenge in making this film?

Alex: The biggest challenge in making the final film was to find the structure for it because it was so intricate and complicated in terms of understanding what had gone on before and how to present to the viewer a sense of going back in my experience in 2009 and seeing with the eyes of today what I’d seen in the past. And at the same time recreating my feeling in the past so you could see how I would become excited and enthusiastic about Armstrong only to realise I’d been deceived.

Dana: Where did you stand with him at the beginning anyway?Were you a fan?

Alex: I didn’t know that much about him, or about cycling. I told him the first time I met him: “I know you ride a bicycle and that you’re good at it. That’s about all I know”. But I’ve come to a lot of subjects that way, I was interested in him because of his will. And I assumed from the beginning that will was both an inspirational thing and something that was also quite dark.

Dana: Does he come from a position of arrogance, he can sometimes strike viewers in that way.

Alex: He certainly does and he rubs a lot of people the wrong way as a result.

Dana: What did you learn from this film and would you do it differently if you had to do it again?

Alex: I hope I wouldn’t have to do it again. I guess what I learnt from this film was one of the most amazing things about this story, I talk about the Armstrong lie as if it was a big secret that was suddenly exposed.  But it wasn’t really like that. It was a secret hiding in plain sight. Hundreds of people knew that Lance had doped, not just a small number, and a lot of critics had come forward with the evidence. But it was the power of the myth that Lance created that was so enormous that no one wanted to believe any of that stuff. And in fact everyone realised that they could make so much money, and the cancer survivors realised that they can have so much hope from this story that no one wanted to believe that it wasn’t true. That was the most amazing thing to me.

Dana: On this note, do you think truth should always prevail, considering how powerful and beautiful this story was, and important for some people?Is truth more important than anything?

Alex: Almost.  Truth is very important and I can think of times where a little truth is not necessary to tell within a certain context but in an essential way, truth is very important.

LOVE, MARILYN – Interview with LIZ GARBUS

blonde-diva-love-marilyn-monroe-simle-Favim.com-302754 IF…If somebody asked you what Marilyn Monroe was really like, how would you answer them? And if you’re lost for words and can’t imagine what her inner world looked like, this film will help with shedding some light on that.

One of my favourite documentaries at London Film Festival 2012, LOVE, MARILYN is showing in UK cinemas until Wednesday 27 November, only one week left so don’t miss out…

Based on a bunch of recently-discovered personal documents that Marilyn left behind and drawing on a wealth of well-chosen film clips, archive footage and recent interviews with people who knew or worked with Marilyn, this is a truly mesmerising film in which the voices of a stellar cast – Glenn Close, Lindsay Lohan, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, Viola Davis – mix to recreate one of cinema’s most fascinating movie stars.

Below is an interview with  LIZ GARBUS, the Oscar-nominated documentarist who put the many pieces of the mysterious puzzle together.

Dana: Where did this project start for you and what did you think of those documents when you saw and read them for the fist time?

Liz: The project started for me with the documents that were found. I made a film called Bobby Fisher Against the World and the producer of that film was an advisor to the Monroe estate which was entrusted to the Strasberg family. And much of it had been catalogued and archived and filmed but there were two boxes that were discovered in a storage closet, letters, notes, poems, and finally they decided that they should bring them out to the world. And my producer was helping them figure out what to do with them. And so when I heard about them I said: “Oh, I’d be interested in making a film”. And I wasn’t someone who was so interested in Marilyn Monroe but I wanted, you know, you hear about these documents and they started telling me about them and the kinds of things she was saying, and I found them irresistible, I found them really interesting.

Dana: How do you explain the phenomenon that was Marilyn Monroe?

The filmmaker Liz Garbus

Liz: I explain it in terms of female sexuality and femininity at a time in the US of the great repression, it was the gray flannel suit of the1950s, when sexuality was bursting, it was trying to come out, and what happened is that it came out in the form of Marilyn Monroe. If you look at Marilyn next to Jane Russell, her co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, at Grauman’s Chinese theatre when they are doing their entrance, Jane is wearing this big 1950 poodle skirt, with a big collar and Marilyn, every contour in her body is showing, which I think is a metaphor for the generational shift that was happening at the time, but I think it’s naive or overly simplistic to say Marilyn was an early feminist. But what she did do was discuss sexuality…you know there were these nude photos that emerge of her, we are all familiar with nude photos today, then it was less frequent, but instead of doing what the studios wanted her to do and deny them and say it was somebody else, she decided to go out there and give an entry and say “Yeah it was me, and I did it because I needed the money”. She dealt with sexuality in a very frank way, that I think had an indelible mark on the culture and I think dying young and beautiful and that mythology around that tragic life story, the little girl who achieves everything and then at the height of it all dies, I think that is our modern myth, that’s our Cinderella story that has endured in our culture. And because she created it at this very particular moment, it was incredibly powerful.

love_marilyn_filmposterDana: As you say, she’s got a very iconic image and we’ve all got a perception of her, how does this film go about changing that perception?     

Liz: The perception I had of Marilyn before making this film was not incredibly deep, she was an image, a subject of still photography, I didn’t even think of her as an actress in her movie roles, I think I thought of the types of roles she played, the dumb blonde who was maybe a little wise but I didn’t think of her necessarily as a human being or as an actress, I thought of her as more of a model and an image, and with this film, in using the documentary letters that she left behind, provides the flesh of that person, and the viewers will judge for themselves whether it’s something new and different. For me it was, for me looking at her as a working woman who was having trouble balancing the demands of family and work, that’s a struggle that is relatable to modern women. That was the way I related to her that I didn’t expect to. So I think that there are things that are in the documents that I found that were different than what I expected, maybe it will be for viewers as well.

Dana: There seems to be a great focus on Marilyn this year. How would you say your film compares to or complements My Week with Marilyn in terms of the portrayal that they put forward?

Liz: Well, it’s very different, that film is based on a week, one moment in her life whereas this film deals with a much longer span of time, not her whole life but really the period that the documents come from, which is her adult life, pretty much, and they talk a lot about acting and her fears, they talk a lot about love and her struggles to balance that, include men in the life she had that was so complex and busy and public, […] and of course they are overlapping because they are about the same person. But I think one thing that happens when an actress plays Marilyn, even as superbly as Michelle Williams has done, you are always comparing her to the real person, so you’re watching Michelle in which ways she is and isn’t Marilyn. And whilst she is superb, she is not Marilyn, nobody is 100% somebody else. So the approach I took in the film is, we had a cast of actresses but none of them were playing Marilyn, what they were doing was using their own experiences as actresses working today to bring to life Marilyn’s experiences. They had insights into them that even I would rather document twenty times, they would understand that this was a note about an acting technique that to me it seemed like maybe it could have been from a dream or nightmare but it was about technique, they could understand these notes in a way that was unique and profound, so I think in the reading of them you do feel something more of Marilyn’s experience. And because they are not playing her, you’re not looking at them and saying “Oh, how was Uma Thurman like Marilyn, how was she not like Marilyn”, you’re just listening to the words and maybe feeling them more because you’re not constantly comparing.

Dana: Why do you think contemporary actresses relate so much to her, for instance Lindsey Lohan among others, is it to do with putting on the sexual character aspects of it?

Liz:  Yes I think it has to do with who Marilyn was sexually in our culture and that she was vulnerable yet powerful at the same time, things that are an incredibly powerful cocktail, that combination, and I think people like Lindsey have embraced that. And Marilyn died young and beautiful and she is the subject of much gossip and social speculation that never goes away, and the fact that people think there’s no definitive answer there which I don’t think is as as mysterious as everybody does, but it keeps the myth going. And she really is about the myth of celebrity, she really is about that eternal feminine vision and people wanted to buy into that.

Dana: What do you think of the way the industry relegated her to the category of “sex pot”/“dumb blonde” during her acting career?

Liz: I think that’s very unfair, you don’t create a figure that is so enduring if you’re stupid, she was very carefully crafted, there’s a biographer who talked about how she read the Times magazine, like she knew that in Italy there was this kind of busty, sexual female figure that was being embraced. So she adapted things from other cultures and she very deliberately created a new type of American figure. And that was quite brilliant. Maybe that’s giving her more credit, maybe some of it was quite instinctive but you don’t create that by accident, something very new and very different…And in the film we include a lot of her press conferences, and you see the way she talks to the press, she’s so clever, she handles the press so well, they are all trying to ask her these little zingers  and she deflects them very gracefully like a great politician. Her public persona was incredibly well calibrated and she was a master at it.

Marilyn with bookDana: I read somewhere that she really liked to be photographed around books, is it true?

Liz: Well, I think that’s a bit of a cliché around actresses, they all like to be photographed with books but she was quite a reader, I mean everybody says she was, and I think that was part of the image she wanted to project.

Dana: What were some of the challenges involved in the making of this film?

Liz: Stylistically it’s very different than anything I’ve made before, and I haven’t seen a film like it, which is fine, we’re all filmmakers and are creating films, I was doing something that was risky, I had a whole bunch of different actors reading fragments, thoughts and ideas, and you had to edit them to become cohesive, yet still relish their fragmentary nature. I mean they are not meant to be a narrative, they are meant to illuminate moments in time and brief thoughts, some of them pleading, so the goal was to respect that as well as providing the viewer with a cohesive narrative, that’s a balancing act.

Dana: As far as editing is concerned, you’re pulling so many different cuts for this film, the letters, the performances, home videos, how difficult an editing process was it?

Liz: It was difficult, there’s always a time in editing, especially with a documentary because you don’t have a script, where you’re like deep in the woods and it’s very dark and you don’t know how you’ll find your way out, and because I’ve made some films, I’ve now come to embrace that period of like “okay, this is when it’s all happening, I know this feels like I’ll never find a way out but this is what has to happen” so I was there and I knew I would get through it and you have to constantly tell yourself that, sometimes all of a sudden there is a break and you find that things that won’t work, they work.

How To Love Creative People – Interview with ZACH HEINZERLING, the Director of CUTIE AND THE BOXER

A while ago, Ideas Tap published a very amusing article on “How to date creative people” and the advice was: give them space, don’t compete, get creative with your dating ideas, don’t plan too far into the future, lower your expectations even further, etc.

All very sound advice… And then? What happens after the dating stage?Any hope for a “happily ever after” dénouement?

cutie_and_the_boxer_biggieCUTIE AND THE BOXER, winner of the documentary directing prize at this year’s SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, offers one of the most surprising answers to this dilemma.

Imagine this “stranger than fiction” scenario: You are a super cute Japanese 19-year old girl, an aspiring artist, and you move to New York to start your art education. A few months later you meet Ushio, a very charismatic artist-provocateur,  21 years your senior. He asks you on a dinner date, sparks fly, then you go back to his place to see his art among other things. Then the following morning he asks to borrow money to pay his rent. And because you’re nice and he seems trustworthy, you part with the tiny allowance that your parents gave you to get by in New York lest poor Ushio get evicted. Six months later you become pregnant with his child, which forces you to give up your art education as the money doesn’t stretch to cover both… And you become Ushio’s full-time wife, cook, assistant…Thus began one of the most enduring romantic and artistic entanglements we ever heard of: 40 years later Ushio and Noriko are still making art, love and especially war…

Zachary_Heinzerling_Headshot

Zach Heinzerling

In an interview taken on October 18 at the Filmmaker Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel, as part of LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013, the film’s director ZACH HEINZERLING tells us more about his most endearing subjects…

Dana: How and when did you first discover Noriko and Ushio, the “Cutie” and the “Boxer” of the title?

Zach: I like taking pictures and I was in Dumbo one day, this is a neighbourhood in Brooklyn that a lot of artists used to live in, art studios are still there but it’s become very posh and expensive. They have an open studio day when you can walk in and meet artists. A good friend of mine speaks Japanese, we went together and he introduced me to them. I was an art student, I’d just moved to New York and I was interested in getting to know them, they are very welcoming, they want to share their art, their art is about their lives and you get personal very quickly, which I think for a documentary subject is really interesting because you don’t have to work very hard to understand what they want to say, it’s out there and they are projecting it and drawing on it. First I made a short film about them, kind of a day in the life. Then, I just kept going over there, sometimes with a camera, sometimes not.

Dana: Did they welcome the idea of you making a documentary about them immediately or did it take some effort to convince them?

Zach: Yes they welcomed the idea immediately. Ushio is obsessed with being filmed, he’s a performance artist, his art results in paintings but it’s the performance really that is the art itself, so the idea of being watched is important for him. Noriko was more shy but with my interest in her art she really opened up for me and that became the basis for the film, it’s more her story as opposed to his.

Noriko and Ushio Shinohara

Dana: Their relationship sounds very interesting, there’s a bit of dominance/submissiveness going on…

Zach: Yes there is, they’ve been married for over 40 years, she met him when she was 19 and within six months she was pregnant and basically taking care of him. He’s sort of the classical drunk, egotistical artist, the “only thing important in life” kind of guy, and I think she was wooed by that and fell in love with him for his purity but then had to sort of clean up after him.  And I think there’s an element of, you know, in Japanese culture, sticking with your spouse through thick and thin, and she suffered through most of their relationship…The film is about them now in the present and how that past affected them today. And the resentment she holds against him, but also the power that she’s trying to extract back. She is the dominant personality now, she very much wears the pants in the relationship, she’s very strong, fierce, competitive. It’s always very interesting to have two headstrong artists, when you combine them something beautiful is created, and complex, and I think that’s really what the film is about, it’s about what’s created from the two of them as opposed to either one of them individually. The tension is drama and that’s what the film is.

Dana: How did they receive the film?

Zach:He didn’t like the film. When you see the film you’ll understand why, he only really cares about his art and the film starts out to be more about him and then transitions to be more about her. And he expected the film to be more about him, for his art to be more featured. And the film is not only about art really, it’s about this relationship, and love in a way, and he doesn’t enjoy love stories. But he wasn’t critical of it, this is something I worked on for five years and we’re very close, we’re like family, so his reaction wasn’t like “You have to change it”, it was more like “I didn’t expect this”. But he’s since come to really appreciate and compliment the film and he’s supportive of the film because it’s essentially promoting his artwork which he likes. She’s always loved the film, she takes ownership of it and uses it in a way as more of a weapon in their battle…

cutie at work

Noriko at work on her Cutie paintings

Dana: What made you choose to focus more on her, is it because you found her the more interesting character, or is it because she is kind of the “underdog” and you wanted to side with her?

Zach: Yeah she’s definitely the more complicated character, she’s layered, there’s a complexity to her.  And she’s got a fascinating story, she moved to New York when she was 19, and she was kind of taken under the wing of this crazy personality and she lived in this bubble that he’s created ever since. And she’s now 60 and looking back on her life. The film’s title, Cutie, comes from this comic that she’s created, the Cutie character is basically her alter-ego, she’s created herself as this 19 year old girl with pigtails, and part of it is tied to this longing for a youth and an innocence that was taken from her at a young age and she’s trying to recreate it through her artwork and deal with a lot of her problems through her artwork. So it was fascinating, she wears her pair of pigtails today as a 60 year old woman, she has this kind of ageless beauty to her and a real strange way of dealing with things. So yes I think that her character has legs and it was also something that over the course of the film would shift and I could observe that shift…

Dana: It sounds almost like a feminist film, a woman who really comes into her own…

Zach: Yes, in her art now she creates drawings of herself dressed as a dominatrix and whipping her husband who’s in chains, she’s revenging against her husband …and she’s this cute Japanese woman so it’s crazy…(laughter)

cutie-and-the-boxer._V1._SX640_SY480_

Dana: How long have you spent with them to make this documentary and what were the challenges?

Zach: I met them five years ago so it’s technically a five year process but the film really takes place over the last two years. Early on, it was a film more about art and more of a slightly traditional style of documentary where I was using other people to kind of contextualise them and their art, historians, and their friends and curators. And then it shifted to being only them, observational in style, where they were sort of interviewing each other. But there’s no interviews in the film, it’s just reality observed, reality sculpted obviously, the editing process creating a story out of these two years where she starts to gain the respect of others and the relationship shifts from her being the assistant to her being a real artist in her own right. And the challenge was that I’m not fluent in Japanese and the film is almost entirely in Japanese. So a lot of time when I was shooting I had no idea what they were saying but I could generally understand the idea and I would just film scenes in their entirety and then get all of the footage subtitled and recover scenes from that…It’s an inefficient process but I was interested in things other than exactly what they were saying, the rhythm of the scene, or what it looked like, or what it sounded like…And I shot the film too, trying to get that kind of intimacy that’s needed for the kind of scenes that I wanted…And it took that long, it was only after three years that I started to get scenes that were natural…and to observe them in more vulnerable situations. So obviously that’s an immense amount of time, I was working on other projects throughout but the film is really as much about my relationship with them as it is about their relationship…

Dana: Are you in the film?

Zach: No, I’m not in the film.

Dana: Because you mentioned the word “observational” and I was wondering whether you put yourself in the frame in the style of cinema vérité or whether your film is purely observational in the style of direct cinema?What was your approach?

Zach: I wouldn’t describe it as purely observational.Traditional cinema vérité is this whole idea that you don’t direct at all, it’s just the camera as is. […] But the genre shifted and these sort of hybrid films were created. I mean everything that happens in the movie, happened, but the order that you place it, the way that you shoot things, we use music in the film, we use animation, her comics are animated, there’s a level of me deciding which stories to tell. And even cinema vérité is subjective, nothing is observed reality, it’s always sculpted reality so I constructed it slightly more than say 60’s vérité films, but that was always the intention, you turn something into a cinematic experience to make people understand your version of the story, this is my version of their relationship. They understood that and that’s why they weren’t critical of it because they knew it was my version as opposed to the real version or…

Dana: What they wanted to project…

Zach: Yes…when you film artists, a lot of the time that’s a benefit because there’s a sort of understanding that “ok, this is my art”, even though it’s about them, they are more exhibitionists…(laughter)

Dana: This is your debut feature film and you made shorts before. I was wondering what you have lined up for the future, will you continue to make films?

Zach: I think so. I went to arts school, I studied philosophy, I didn’t go to film school but I do think I’ll probably continue making films, I’m currently writing a script for a fiction film, so my ambition is to create and construct a story. I would do another documentary, this documentary was special because the subject lent itself to an interesting and creative style of documentary, you can’t find that in every subject…

Dana: What would be the main themes you would like to explore?

Zach: I think I’m most apt to continue exploring this sort of morally complex relationship stories, smaller personal stories are what I’m most interested to catch on film…Why I like cinema is that you can approach this idea of something or someone without having to define it, you can make an audience sympathetic to a character then turn around and make them disgusted by that character. It shows how complex people can be and you can shatter people’s preconceived notions of why someone does what they do, I think that’s the most interesting thing about film, it’s very difficult to find another medium that doesn’t rely on specificity. Ambiguity is something that is sometimes scary and hard to sell but if you can make a film that is ambiguous but also engrossing, I think the audience feels perhaps changed in some way or their perspective is shifted. So it’s those kinds of films, with characters that you might not always like. I mean in this film Ushio the husband is kind of demonised at the beginning and then by the end maybe you feel differently.At the beginning, one of the lines in the film is that he is a genius and his wife is average so it’s her job to support him.

Ushio boxing

Ushio performance art

Dana: Oh no!He really said that?And you left that in?

Zach: Yeah.So you might hate him. But then there are other things that you might like about him.

Dana: Did he know he was being filmed?Didn’t he say it as a joke?

Zack: Oh yeah, he knew…Well, she wasn’t there but no, it wasn’t a joke. He laughed and the camera was on… As you’ll see in the film, there’s no place he won’t go, his life is to be as exposed as possible but the irony is that you never actually feel like you get to his core, it’s always a performance with him, he’s always kind of acting in a way, so I think that line is probably a version of acting and finding out what he really thinks. And he definitely cares more about his art than hers and he definitely thinks he’s a more important artist than she will ever be, and based on what he’s done, he was part of a 60s post-war Japanese group that’s very important in the art history of Japan, so his paintings are all over the world. But now he’s actually not selling at all, he’s not known for his work of the last 30 years, so in some ways he’s sort of this washed-up artist who’s not really relevant anymore. She is the more sort of fresh, with something to say, you know. Whether he actually respects her or not is still a question, and whether she actually respects him or not is a question…

Dana: Why are they together?

Zach: I don’t know (laughing), that’s the subject of the movie…

If we managed to pique your interest and you want to find out the secret to Ushio and Noriko’s enduring love, don’t miss out on the film’s cinema release, Cutie and the Boxer is screening at ICA and other cinemas in the UK starting today.

To book your ticket at the ICA click here.