Sunday, February 11, 2007

'Round the Zoo: Part Five

A Chat With Robinson Devor

zoo 4.jpg
Devor and Mudede at this year's Sundance Film Festival


Part Five: Paradise Lost (for part four, click here)

Since you mentioned Brothers Keeper, it seems to me that what you might end up with is--and this isn't an obvious comparison--something like [Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's] Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, where they don't tell you what to think, but they lay out the facts. They interview the kids and the people from town, and they give you some context to make up your own mind. And people that watch the film do tend to come away with some conclusions. I was one of those that thought, I don't think they did it. The filmmakers never say that, but they definitely leave a shadow of doubt.

It's going to be a very unusual film, because it's so far from a traditional documentary. From the beginning, we have testimony that is verbal, not visual,
so we have an enormous quantity of voiceover we have to put imagery to.
And that's fine with me. It becomes much more cinematic and impressionistic recreating things that have happened. Some might say it's a fictional approach to a documentary. We have real people acting out things that happened in real life.

paradise lost.jpg
Paradise Lost (1996)
"Ecstatic truth." That's what Werner Herzog calls it.
He admits that parts of his documentaries are...fictionalized.

There's no one I adore more than Herzog. I'll give you an example. In Little Dieter Needs to Fly, he has an American-German who was shot, going back to the place where it happened and he explains what happened... We have real people acting out what really happened in places where it didn't actually happen. So, that's one example. There are those people who are seen clearly, those who are completely kept in shadows, and those you will never see, but just hear. So the constraints of making this are [in] bringing a different approach to the documentary. It won't be anything like Brother's Keeper or Paradise Lost... There are no talking head interviews in this film--nor do we want them. There's a constant stream of real people talking, but the visuals are completely--it's all about trying to film it [the story], in a way.
[Herzog has remade Little Dieter as Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale.]
So, it's more like Herzog, in a sense, because he doesn't use talking heads either.
No, it's not, because Herzog uses real people that you see.
Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)
[Then] it's removed from that, as well.
I think most people do. Some people would say this isn't a documentary, this is a fictionalization of what happened, except for the fact that you never see real people playing their roles and nor do you hear real people over the soundtrack, so we're excited about the fact that people will have a problem figuring out where this stands. It's not something that's clearly defined. We're working with the material we have, and so we're doing the story the way it can be done. Many people don't want to be on camera to talk about this. Many people in Seattle, our great liberal bastion of
the US, have problems with this film. It's very upsetting. People are like, Why
would you make a film about this? I mean, it's been very disappointing.
[Click here to see what he's talking about. It's the tip of the iceberg.]
How are you handling production and distribution?
I'm at a point in my career where I had to go down to LA and make this happen... Police Beat was distributed by the Northwest Film Forum, and it was a Start-to-Finish film, but our producers, Alexis Ferris and Jeffrey Brown, raised all the money.
Do you have an executive producer?
The way this got made was we raised a bit of private equity for four days,
shot four days, and edited about seven minutes of film. And I took that
film down to our agent in LA at UTA, and he set up some meetings to show
this footage, and it went better than we ever hoped.
A friend of mine saw that footage. He was really excited.
We ended up doing a deal with THINKfilm, and so they've been the catalyst
for raising money and moving forward. THINKfilm is the primary executive
producer, although they didn't cash-flow the movie. It's a classic negative pick-up.
We sold the rights to them in return for a guarantee once we turn in the film,
and that piece of paper is a marker for private investors to know that if they
put money into the film, they'll get a certain amount back. Then we have
THINKfilm behind us, distributing, and they're a good company.
Are you scrambling to finish in time for Sundance?
They very much like us...
They loved Police Beat. I mean, in general. You got great press.
Yeah, we got good press. THINKfilm would like us to be at Sundance. That's the
US nexus for distribution. It's going to be a mad dash to make that happen.
At the very least, they want to submit it as a work-in-progress. They had a similar
situation with [Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro's] Murderball.
Mark Zupan in Murderball (2005)
Maybe that was to their benefit. Long before I saw it, I was hearing from people who had been to screenings--although I don't know for sure that they were work-in-progress screenings--but I started to get really excited about seeing it.
It takes time to make a good film. Part of me wants to--it would be great to shoot it, edit it, wrap it up, and put it on the fast track. The fact is that finding the associations, the profound associations, between people, ideas, and images takes a long time. THINKfilm has been good enough to say they'll stick with us whenever we finish this, back us, and release it. So, if it doesn't come through for Sundance,
we're working as hard as we can, and I think there are other world markets, like if we're lucky enough to go to Cannes, they can do the deal they need to do. If it's delayed, it's only because we're trying to make it better. But also it takes time to raise the money to finish it up. They're not putting up the money, they're guaranteeing the money on delivery, which is good. So, I don't know. Sundance might not like the film. You can't assume that anybody's going to take something, but you [can] feel pretty good if you've got THINKfilm behind you. Every little thing helps, but we've got a ways to go to make it a perfect film. We're still shooting.
[Out of 856 documentaries submitted to Sundance, Zoo was one of 16 accepted.]
What do you want people to get out of the film?
Everybody sees the horse as something different. The rescuers might see it as a child needing help, the people who want to have sex with it might see it as a giant phallic symbol or a symbol of virility. Everybody sees the horse differently, and I think the film will probably be that way. Some people will see it is as a horror film, some people will see it as an art film, some people will see it as a comedy.
I really think it's going to be a difficult thing for people to--I don't know if I should say difficult, but I think there will be a broad reaction to it. So, I can't say what I want people to get out of it, because I think people's instincts and prejudices--their own ways of seeing the world--will be a big factor. I would certainly like to be [seen as] sympathetic. People who trusted me the most to tell their stories are who I want people to sympathize with. They have not been heard from in the media.
And so...I hope people see that they might be intelligent, emotional, sensitive people--like any other people--but I know that that's gonna be a challenge.
Equus caballus...a horse, of course
Zoo opens at the Varsity Theater on May 11th. Sundance
photo from The Seattle Times (Robert Fink, photographer).
Murderball photo © THINKFilm. All Rights Reserved.

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