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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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

via GIPHY

IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

via GIPHY

IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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