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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.