DID YOU READ

Robinson Devor on “Zoo”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photo: “Zoo,” THINKfilm, 2007]

Only one film at Sundance this year sparked more controversy for its subject matter than what everybody now commonly refers to as “the Dakota Fanning rape movie,” and that’s “Police Beat” director Robinson Devor’s “Zoo.” The documentary is based upon the notorious 2005 Enumclaw, WA farm tragedy in which a community of zoophiles (also known as “zoos,” or people with a sexual fetish for bestiality) videotaped Seattle businessman Kenneth Pinyan (a.k.a. “Mr. Hands”) having sex with a full-size stallion. It wasn’t the first time this shocking subculture had participated in such an outing — it was still legal at the time in the state of Washington, but when Pinyan died of internal injuries a few hours later, it became a bona fide media sensation. Devor’s film, strikingly shot as an expressionistic tone poem, attempts to take out the provocation of the story in favor of humanizing those who were publicly persecuted after the scandal erupted.

What was your goal in making this film?

I’m not so sure that I’m a goal-structured filmmaker, but as an independent filmmaker living in Seattle, we keep certain things on our radar because we like to shoot up there where we live. We thought it was an opportunity to do something relevant regionally, but I suppose the goal was to see if we could have any impact in resurrecting the reputation of this man and his friends. As my writer Charles Mudede said, “to see if we could help him rejoin the human community posthumously, and not be viewed as a monster.”

If you present a sensational story with good intentions and restraint, is that enough to do away with its tabloid appeal?

You could look at it in an anthropological sense where you’re an explorer or scientist, and you’re going to a remote part of the world, to a society that does things you don’t particularly understand or comprehend. But you go in there, listen, record and try not to put judgment on it

That’s tough, too. If you editorialize the events, you show an agenda. But if you attempt neutrality, you may not be giving enough ideas for audiences to re-think their preconceptions. What’s the happy medium?

They’re going to get things that they never got close to in the original newspaper articles. These are people who were never given a voice. Nobody ever interviewed them, spoke to them, and nothing was ever printed for a variety of reasons. So, if it could be seen as something skewed [with] a bias towards them, it’s merely because this is an opportunity for them to speak, whereas before they did not have that opportunity.

What did you personally take away from their points of view?

Let me ask you a quick question, because it helps me sometimes if I know what somebody’s reaction was to the film. What was yours?

Personally, I have problems with it. It’s an audacious experiment, but in trying to humanize the “zoos,” I was hoping for more to think about or a richer understanding into their psychologies. Maybe I expected a different kind of movie.

Finding more of a basic commonality, as opposed to going into deep psychological analysis, was preferable to me and Charles. That’s why there’s very little referencing and contextualizing who they are in terms of other societies, historical precedents, et cetera. It’s just not the kind of documentary we wanted to do. We wanted to lay them out in an unadorned manner and let them speak. It was difficult to get them to even speak to us for an hour in a hotel room, so we were working with what we were working with. We felt it was enough to do an interesting film and, you know, why not just let people talk about what they want to talk about?

I do love the cinematography, which has a ruminative quality about it, but there were times when I was thinking less about the people than the images themselves. What do you hope audiences will be contemplating in these quiet moments?

I use myself as an example. I wasn’t exempt from letting my imagination get the most of me when I imagined who these people were and what they may be like. All I can ask is that audiences might just say, “Hey, these guys aren’t drug addicts,” or that some of them might actually be intelligent and sensitive. They’re not too different from us on many levels. Again, a commonality was more interesting than the deviance.

You propose a question about Mr. Hands in the press notes interview: “What does this particular human life tell us about humanity as a whole?” I’d like to ask you that question, not necessarily as a director, but as a critical thinker.

I think that was written for me, Aaron.

Really? It’s a Q&A that was accredited to coming out of your mouth.

It might have been embellished a bit, but I can give it a whirl. I don’t know about humanity as a whole, but I’ve always looked at Mr. Hands as a guy who is kind of the ultimate embodiment of an American citizen. That is, this guy started off believing in the classic paradigm of American life: went to college, got married, had a kid and worked for a Fortune 500 company. As life went on, he decided that those things were not right for him, and finds himself ensnared in a great ethical dilemma about what he was working for and doing to contribute. He expanded and shifted his social and ethical circles by his sexual choices, and his politics shifted radically from right to left. He’s a guy who had it within him to move from one fairly extreme position to another that’s extreme, all within the legal limits of the law, and somebody can do [all that] as an American. That’s an interesting thing, and we’re not posing any morality on it.

How do you think the medium best works in humanizing this subculture?

It’s showing that sex is not a huge part of what these guys are doing. The movie is trying to stay away from the sex. It might have been a boring camaraderie, but it meant something to these guys, and so I think the humanizing is in showing people who are not involved in sex with animals all the time, if not the vast minority of times.

For me, the most interesting thread was the participation of “Coyote” in the reenactments, as he was comfortable enough with his lifestyle to show up on-screen. Did you ever consider pursuing him as a main character since he is alive, able to defend his choices, and offers a human face to the psychologies at play?

The thing is, he wasn’t there the weekend that the event went down, and he was not the person who was persecuted by the law. He was definitely a factor, I like the guy a lot, and I think we could have possibly used him more. You also have to understand, this is a project that we started in the summer, our financing wasn’t in place until late October or November, we finished shooting at the end of November, and got 60 minutes to Sundance that we’d edited for two weeks. Suddenly, we thought ThinkFilm wasn’t even going to submit it, and the next thing you know, it got in. I’m proud of the work that everybody did on it to get it into the shape it is today. If I had more time, would I have wanted to explore my relationships with these men more? Absolutely. But it is what it is.

You interview Michael Minard, who plays “Cop #1” in the re-enactments. Why did you include only his personal observations, and not the other actors?

We filmed a lot of our actors talking about incidents in their lives that we thought would be impacting after the journey to the barn — where they’re about to have sex with horses, and the audience is sitting back, thinking these are irredeemable characters, feeling superior and looking down on them — the idea was to have our actors talking about the injustices and painful experiences they encountered in the human world, human-on-human interaction. One had been sexually abused, and another guy was possibly involved in a murder. We wanted to remind people as a lever to maneuver some hypocritical thinking we were anticipating. So we did all these interviews, and really, Michael Minard just told this story I thought was very interesting because he said something that I was unable to say in a straightforward manner. That is, “Look, forget about your position on horse sex. This is a guy who died. He had people who loved and missed him.” One might think that that is a trite sentiment, but we had to push the meter aesthetically to balance the luridness of the subject.

Did you feel the need to cover your own ass based upon how people might judge your point of view?

Not at all. I was very confident in what we were doing. It was the last thing we filmed, as a matter of fact. After we were in the editing suite, it became a substitute for something we couldn’t film: we were going to get people’s reactions throughout Seattle, to show how people were laughing it off and taking moral stances. But that felt bogus to us, so we tried a different approach. We thought we would give the actors a chance to speak and just talk about their lives, to see what we could cook up.

I’m sure you’ve heard it all since Sundance. What was the most outlandish, knee-jerk reaction towards the film you know of?

I’ve heard nothing but great things. There have been things written on blogs and far-right sites who think the film is ridiculous. I do know that there was a guy in our city that attacked me on television before I even made the film, which is kind of an honor; he gave me some award or something for being an ass. That was a bit pre-judgmental. Certain people in our city, even people within the film community, felt it was a subject that should not be addressed. To pass judgment on an artist who is trying to explore things in a way that a journalist or scientist can approach something is ridiculous. I’m sure I’ve been attacked here and there for all sorts of things. I can’t remember anything exact, and why would I repeat it? [laughs]

“Zoo” opens April 25th in New York (official site).

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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