AN INTERVIEW WITH THE WRITER & FILMMAKER M.A. LITTLER
Producer of Slowboat Films | Berlin 2006
Zownir: You’re just about to premiere your new film and halve already begun work on the follow up.
Littler: That’s correct. We’re premiering “THE DEAD BROTHERS — Death Is Not The End” and have begun work on a new film about the often censored photographer, filmmaker and novelist MIRON ZOWNIR.
Why the rush?
It just happened … the timing was not perfect because I’m currently writing the screenplay for a road movie to be shot in September 2006 but I was infected by the idea to do it, so now it has to be done.
Your output in the past two years is extraordinary…you seem to work incredibly fast.
Interesting possibilities arose in the past two years and we’ve managed to put our company SLOWBOAT FILMS on the map. Initially no one gave a rats’ ass but now people have started to take notice and things are possible all of a sudden.
Could you elaborate on the two current projects?
As I said we really have three projects on the go. The first being a film about the legendary funeral band THE DEAD BROTHERS. The bands’ full time members are three extraordinary individuals that I have gotten to know really well and they gave me an opportunity to deal with subject matters that are close to my heart such as the peculiar relationship between death and humour, the Diaspora, genocide, father-son relationships, the origin of creativity and such.
The second project arose out of the blue.
8 months ago I showed a film of mine in Berlin and two friends of mine took me to a gallery that had exhibited their work in the past.
That’s were I was introduced to the radical photography of MIRON ZOWNIR.
A few months later a friend gave me his book “Kein Schlichter Abgang”, a hard hitting and very realistic pulp crime story.
I loved that book…I didn’t think anyone could add anything to this genre that Raymond, Chandler, Dashielle Hammett and Jim Thomson had not done yet, but I was mistaken
I then found out that ZOWNIR had made a film about BRUNO S. of Werner Herzog fame.
I am the organizer of a film event called OUTLAW CINEMA and I contacted ZOWNIR to ask his permission to show his films and that’s how we started communicating.
I also had plans to have him act in my road movie and I half jokingly implied that some one ought to make a film about him.
As it turns out now, I will be the one doing it.
Zownir is mostly known for his depiction of cultural and sexual outcasts, correct?
You can probably say that but there’s a hell of a lot more to say about that man. What fascinated me was that he didn’t simply enter the world of his subjects for a few hours or days…he lived in their midst. He too was on the brink of being homeless and fucked up yet always kept working.
Another thing that interested me is that he never attached himself to a scene. The gay scene wanted to side with him and he turned it down, the underground art scene in NYC in the 80’s wanted to side with him, he turned it down…that man’s a one-man band and I respect that.
The good thing about Miron is that he’s got a working class attitude…there’s no artsy bullshit with him. The man worked as a money collector for the Russian Mafia, he worked on a ship, wrote phone sex texts…he’s rooted in reality and not in some pseudo art facade.
Another aspect that interested me is that he’s a contradictory character. One the one hand he’s got a short fuse and a bad temper and it’s advisable not to provoke him in any way unless you want to get seriously hurt, yet on the other hand he’s really gentle and kind with an eclectic taste in literature.
What is it like to collaborate with such a strong headed people? Have there been any ego clashes?
Look, I’ve worked with Reverend Beat-Man who is notorious for doing everything THE BEAT-MAN WAY, I’ve worked closely with Alain Croubalian of THE DEAD BROTHERS who is supposedly a tyrant and now I work with Zownir and I can assure you that all of the these characters have not displayed any ego bullshit what so ever…they trust me and I trust them.
We always joke that they are the emperors of their planets and I am the emperor of my planet, therefore there’s absolutely no basis for cockfights.
What interested you in Zownir’s work?
I deal with contradictions in my work…or what some people might consider to be contradictory. I refer to it as duality…the two sides of one coin.
I saw a primitive and physical side to Zownir’s work but also a contemplative, intellectual even sensitive side. That interested me. I then met him and found out that he really is a creature of those extremes not unlike myself.
You mentioned a third project.
Yeah, it’s a Road Movie Gangster film that is based on biblical themes…we’ll go into production in September.
Biblical themes in this day and age?
Nothing angers me more than the misconception that the bible is antiquated or that church equals religion. Read Proverbs and you’ll have a lifetime of inspiration ahead of you. Read Revelations and it will scare the shit out of anyone. The Bible makes all other literature look like Pepsi Light.
You told me that you don’t cast actors.
I’m not generally opposed to casting actors; I simply cast the people that I know. I write roles especially for them. That also has the advantage that we don’t have to go looking for a suitable wardrobe, props etc. for the character because these people have all the necessary items…I often times even write their own biographies into the film.
I like the idea of merging fact and fiction. Often times I cast musicians simply because I know so many and they don’t have a fear of performing, they’re used to doing that on stage where you don’t have a second chance to nail it.
One could say that you really stick to oddball subject matters.
I think you’re simplifying that. I make films about my world. I don’t think of these people as being odd, I actually believe them to be very normal in a positive sense. I marvel at people behind desks and in sterile hotel lobbies that all dress the same, I would consider that odd. Zownir is just a normal, really generous and kind bloke.
Let’s talk about the film industry.
I don’t know much about the film industry.
Well, you’re turning out plenty of films and are showing them in cinemas and distributing them on DVD.
Look I have a bad temper, which became obvious when I did service. Sam Fuller says: I don’t like to be branded, I am not cattle.”
Therefore I have to find alternative ways of getting my films out there, the industry and I that would not be a happy marriage.
I have invested plenty of time of finding a way to get my work out there and to live from that. My business antics are very primitive and I know nothing about numbers but I know how to convince people that our films are real and that they should at least check them out. Some people fall in love with this kind of filmmaking others start running back to the multiplex in fear.
Would it be fair to say that you have a punk rock attitude?
Again I’m not that fond of being pigeon holed…there is definitely a do-it-yourself attitude at work here…but you can also compare that to Harry Partch or John Cassavettes not only to Punk.
I read an interview with you in which you were described as a primitive intellectual and I have seen you in clubs showing your films…there’s a conversation about Celine and then there’s a case of beer and bottle of bourbon and a fist fight.
I like the description but it’s a bit exaggerated. I don’t think that a person is one or the other…primitive or intellectual…I think the good ones are both.
I like my literature and art as well as my seedy bars, binges and fuckups…to me that’s not a contradiction.
At the same time I dislike artsy fartsy intellectuals and totally brainless fuckup fret boys and weekend warriors…a Neanderthal is only interesting if he has a brain.
You refer to your style of cinema as “Raw Cinema”. What does that stand for?
I figured before anyone labels what I do, I better find my own label…at least this way I can choose. Raw stands for unpolished for not giving a rat’s ass if it coincides with broadcast formulas or current audience expectations. At the same time it’s crucial for me to make films that are technically impeccable. I’m not a fan of trash cinema at all. I want to do justice to my films and in order to do that I take great technical care. We work as professionally as any major TV network, we just make better films.