Tuesday, October 24, 2017

RIGOR MORTIS: Director Juno Mak Interview [From The Archives 09/10/13]

                               Director Juno Mak speaking with Robert Aaron Mitchell

First of all, I would like to say I feel very honored to be able to participate in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival ”midnight madness” section. I'm writing this email in Venice at the moment, where the film will be premiering here tonight. -- Juno Mak writing from Venice
What do you like about genre films?

I guess what’s fun about genre films throughout cinematic history is mainly because of the specific ”sets of rules” that apply to them. Such as zombies, you have to shoot them in the head. Vampires with silver and all. And then we have ”gueng si”, the traditional hopping vampires from Asia. Glutinous rice, wooden swords, yellow amulets, taoist priest, etc., etc. These rules only apply to this particular genre. A funky, yet special, type of rules, may I say.

But these genre rules have been evolving throughout the years too. It's a sort of evolution amongst us storytellers.

How are you putting your own spin on genre storytelling?

I want to explore the evolution of this genre. More humane, more focused on the drama, the sadness. We have also gathered the original elements from the genre, deconstructed and reconstructed it. Giving it a new touch, and most importantly, I, personally, wanted to explore the emotional side of it. The struggles these characters go through in life. The main theme of this film is about ”the fear of being forgotten” or even the fear of losing youth. Some sort of loneliness among us as humans. The world changed, everyone changed and adapted to a better life. But these characters they didn't.

What did you like about the original Mr. Vampire films that were apart of "gueng si"genre?

To me, the original Mr Vampire films represent not only a big part of my childhood. But also a golden time period of the Hong Kong cinematic history. Anyhow, the ”gueng si” genre has been gone for almost 30 years now.

You cast a lot of the original actors from the Mr. Vampire films, what made you decide to bring them into the film and what was it like to work with them?

What really fascinated me was the wrinkles on the actors and actresses faces after so many years. It, for me, represented their sorrow, their struggles in the most powerful, yet subtle way. I'm sure they have been through a lot being on the film set of RIGOR MORTIS. I sensed that this was not only a sort of revisiting the genre for myself as a director, or even a script writer. It was  a revisiting for every one of them. A bond that belonged to them. I'm glad to be among the original actors.

What would you say you have done with the "gueng si" genre conventions and made them your own?

RIGOR MORTIS itself is not a remake of the original, nor a sequel or prequel. To me personally its more like some sort of a revisit to the genre. The film is about life, not purely a gore slasher, but also an evolution of the genre, with a heavy yet dramatic twist on the story. I have personally taken out the comedic element from among the elements in the original. There might be some sort of humor in RIGOR MORTIS, but the film is not purely a comedy.

Originally Appeared 9/10/13 Midnight Madness Blog

Monday, October 23, 2017

BASKIN: Pushing Boundries Interview with Director Can Evernol Interview [From The Archives 09/07/15]

 Actor Görkem Kasal speaking with Robert Aaron Mitchell at the premiere of Baskin

Although Baskin marks Can Evrenol's first feature film he has been behind the camera for many years. He has made several short films including To My Mother and Father (2010) which won The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Special Jury Award for Most Disturbing Film. In 2013 he wrote and directed the short Baskin which was the genesis for the feature length movie. As well as the controversial Don't Text PSA The Pencil. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Can. -- Robert A. Mitchell

You have said that the idea of Baskin came from Cthulhu are you at liberty to elaborate upon that answer?

I'm like Eric Zahn. Ideas come to me while I sit by my window at Rue d'Auseil
You have made several short films, and have a successful commercial career. How steep was the learning curve as you took Baskin from the short film into a feature? Could you share some insight into what you have learned?

It's like almost two different valuable schools for the short films and the commercial work. My short films were where I experimented with every aspect of filmmaking on it's most basic form. Production, scheduling, editing, pasting, sound design, foley, you name it... I was on my own with everything, but I was good at finding a couple amazing friends to collaborate on each project. With each short film I was setting a bigger task for myself, slowly increasing the scale of things. It was more like a hobby or a game to me. On my 5th short film, To My Mother and Father, my producers James & Russ (Neer Do Well) + prod designer Sara Sensoy + D.O.P. Stephen Murphy have set up this amazing guerrilla set in the storage room of in a secret Central London location.

It looked and felt like an actual film set! It was one of the best weekends I ever had in my life. At some point in our 2nd day of shoot, looking at the beautiful blue set lights in awe, I suddenly had this very happy and confident feeling that if can run this set, then I could very well run a music video or commercial video set too. There I decided I would be a film director for the rest of my life. Being a commercial filmmaker, I later found out, is more about human relations, and practicality. (Of course I can only speak for the industry in Istanbul, which is big, but lately too formulaic) Mostly I was the most inexperienced person on the commercial sets. Yet everybody had to treat me with respect.

Every Day 1 morning was a test for me to gain the trust of the set. I just treated everyone as I would treat my friends in my short films. And luckily, nearly all my sets were very fun. It was like being a systems manager, as Seth Brundle puts it. You have a team of artists and crafts people who are better at their job than you are; and you manage to collaborate them into a single goal which you shape in your head. It was through 3 years of TV commercials, I met with many people on sets, and built up a like-minded and very talented crew to shoot my first feature film. It was the best formula. Indy attitude, with a commercial discipline.

Baskin has the distinction of being the first film from Turkey in the 27 years of the Midnight Madness program. Can you talk about the current state of film making in the country? Censorship seems to be a major issue, has this affected your film making in Turkey?

If you watch First Blood on Turkish TV today, -even in pay per view- when Rambo stitches his own arm, the wound will be pixelated. If you're watching True Detective, the beer bottles and cigarettes will be blurred. It's out right Orwellian, North Korea style bonkers. Unfortunately it has been a slow but sure decline in the freedom speech in Turkish media, which I fully witnessed.

When I was 7, it was a single government channel in late 80's Turkey. It was a bit fascist, but also liberal. Every Sunday morning it was 2 hours of classical Western orchestra. Unthinkable today. The whole nation had only one option to watch and it was 2 hours of classical Western orchestra. It has become a kind of joke really. And it was a good example of how out of touch with the general public, yet intellectual the authorities were at the time. With the Gulf War, suddenly we had private TV and cable. Everything was colorful with the arrival of Transformers, GI Joe, MTV, Eurosport, and crazy game shows. It was an era where TV and entertainment industry went crazy. No foundation, but tons of Western stuff to copy from. The result was pure craziness.

Soon after, when I was 10, we had Playboy TV, Tutti-Frutti (Italian Striptease game show), Batman, The Fly, Tremors and all the box office movies uncut and all kinds of other good and bad craziness on prime time TV. There was no regulations. We had these crazy domestic crime shows (eg. Sicagi Sicagina) where a news crew would enter a crime scene before the police and put a microphone on a crying kid's face whose father has just been murdered by knife. So things got ugly and degenerated extremely quickly. It was a premature pop culture. And soon after, following a huge economic crisis, the religious conservative party took over and day by day things started to get censored. I stopped watching films on TV a long time ago. Nowadays my wife and I don't even watch TV at home. Only dvd, bluray or YouTube.

Censorship in Turkish cinema is much better for now, although cinema culture in this country completely changed in the last decade. Ultra shallow and ultra popular native TV shows completeşy took over. The only box office hits are silly comedies, religious exploitation so-called-horror films, and other shallow garbage.

There is a huge gap between a handful of very talented filmmakers whose slow paste Tarkovsky-influenced films get negligible distribution (but get significant recognition at top international film festivals) and the garbage at the box office. I am extremely curious about how Baskin will be received by Turkish audiences. We are at the brink of war with Syria. Just last night 60 soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack. Traumatizing. It will be a coincide of real life horrors and fantasy, when Baskin gets a cinematic release in Turkey in 2 months.
You are no stranger to pushing the boundaries as your 2012 Fright Fest Don't Text PSA The Pencil can attest to. How important is it for an artist to push boundaries. What is like to encounter the firestorm of criticism that can accompany pushing the envelope?

What's the point if you don't push any boundaries? I hope I can always afford to just close my ears to that type of criticism, and go about my own work. When The Pencil played at Empire Cinema at Leicester Square, right before Film 4 Fright Fest's midnight screening of Maniac, the 1200+ audience had such a strong positive reaction that I couldn't believe my ears. Even when it was over and opening credits of Maniac began, the laughing and giggling in the audience has still not died out. I am shocked that with all the communication and social media and the horrors of war and life is ominous, people still can get shocked with films like Human Centipede and Pencil. I honestly don't get that.
Baskin is already being described as a visceral cinematic horror experience on par with a film like Martyrs. How do you feel about the comparison? What cinematic experience awaits the Midnight Madness audience?

I would say it's more like a glimpse of Frontiers, than Martyrs. I wanted to make a film that begins like a modern low-budget Turkish/European art-house festival film, which then slowly becomes a dark and cold urban fairy tale. I hope enough people dig it. It's a slow burner. It's best if you watch it without knowing anything about it.

Originally Appeared 9/7/15 Midnight Madness Blog

Sunday, October 22, 2017

CUB Director Jonas Govaerts Earns His Feature Film Merit Badge Interview [From The Archives 08/28/14]

One of the most exciting aspects of the Midnight Madness program is the the emergence of new cinematic voices and talent from around the world. A film and director to look out for this year is Cub directed by Jonas Govaerts. After directing several short films, Cub marks Jonas' first feature film and the first horror film produced in Flanders. I recently had the opportunity to speak with him. -- Robert Aaron Mitchell

Director Jonas Govaerts speaks with Robert Aaron mitchell at the premiere of CUB.

Using one or two sentences can you tell me what the basic story for Cub is?

Cub is the story of a summer scout camp gone horribly wrong, seen through the eyes of Sam, our twelve year old protagonist.

Where did the idea come from? Were you, yourself a Cub Scout?

I've been jotting down loose ideas for this story since I was a cub scout myself. I had some wonderful leaders back then, who introduced me to the world of underground comics, horror movies and alternative music; it seemed only fitting I would set my first film at a scout camp, since that's where my imagination was first triggered. My scout totem is Imaginative Toucan, by the way--no lie!

You have made several short films. Cub is your first feature length film. How was that transition? What were some of the difficult aspects of production you had to overcome?

All of my shorts were based on existing short stories I loved: at least there I had the security of a decent script. On Cub, which I co-wrote, I was often second-guessing myself: do we need really this scene? What am I trying to say here? Also, the ambition and scope of the film far exceeded anything I had done in my earlier work. Luckily, I had my movie family around me: most of the crew have been with me since my first short, Mobius. I actually went to film school with my cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis (Michael R. Roskam's Bullhead & The Drop, John Hillcoat's upcoming Triple Nine): he flunked after the first year, while I needed six years to finish school!

There is that old adage in show business, never work with kids or animals. Obviously your film is centered around a story featuring kids. How difficult was the casting to find the kids to play the characters? What was it like to work with these young actors?

If I hadn't accidentally seen Maurice Luijten, who plays Sam, in the music video The Gift by Ralf Demesmaeker, I wouldn't be talking to you right now. He really was a gift from the movie gods. He looked like a young River Phoenix or something - that same effortless charisma. Once Sam was in place, it was really a matter of mixing and matching: for the other cubs, we saw a couple of hundred kids, and we tweaked the parts to fit their personalities, specific talents and looks. We didn't find Gill Eeckelaert, who plays the Masked Feral Child, until very late in the game: in his audition tape, you can really see my face going from absolute exhaustion to huge relief!...Animals, though, are another matter entirely. The most grueling part of the shoot involved a dog - of course, I had to pick the dumbest breed in existence. Safe to say, I'm in no big hurry to work with dogs again - though I doubt I'll get offered many animal movies after Cub comes out!

What would you say to folks looking at the film selection of why they should see Cub?

As a life-long horror fan, I've been disappointed with the direction the genre has taken lately, at least in main stream cinema: loud bangs, cheap CGI, grubby shaky-cam, cardboard characters... It's just not my thing. With Cub, I've tried to bring back those elements I miss most in modern horror: a decent build-up, some humor to contrast with the violence, a certain visual poetry, characters you can actually relate to... Oh, and a cool, Carpenter-style title font, of course!

Originally Appeared 8/28/14 Midnight Madness Blog