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The Many Meanings of Chris Smith’s “Collapse”

The Many Meanings of Chris Smith’s “Collapse” (photo)

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“Collapse,” the title of Chris Smith’s new documentary, is a loaded word that applies to the film in a variety of ways. Its obvious implication concerns its main subject Michael Ruppert, a former police officer who turned in his gun and badge for a library card and a newsletter-turned-web site called From The Wilderness, which prizes itself on intensely researched investigative work about government corruption, corporate malfeasance and suspicious activity in every corner of the globe. When presented with the idea that he’s a conspiracy theorist, he quickly replies, “I deal in conspiracy fact.” And the facts he presents in “Collapse” are both overwhelming and chilling, as he lays out the ways the world is headed towards economic and environmental Armageddon.

“Collapse” could also refer to how Smith has wasted no time in releasing the documentary — it’s been only eight months since he first met Ruppert for a narrative film he was developing and just over a month since the film made a triumphant premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. In a sign of the times, “Collapse” will be released simultaneously in theaters and on VOD through Cinetic FilmBuff, where the claustrophobia-inducing nature of Ruppert’s analysis of the global financial crisis will literally hit home. Yet “Collapse” may resound most as a compelling portrait of a man whose views have alienated many and whose work has come at a great personal cost. Shortly after putting the finishing touches on the film, Smith called to talk about the film’s reception in Toronto, dropping everything to finish it and getting inside Michael Ruppert’s head.

Why the rush to release this?

It felt like the movie was very much about what’s happening now. It’s very much a film that people, when they see it, want other people to see it so they can talk about it — parts they agree with, parts they disagree with. Seeing that energy out of Toronto, it just made us all the more want to get it out as fast as we could.

It’s explained very succinctly at the beginning that you met Ruppert while working on another film about the CIA’s connection to drug smuggling, but why did you decide to switch gears to make this film instead?

We were looking at a lot of different narrative projects and one of the directions we were going in was the CIA-drug connection and in doing that, we set up to meet with Michael Ruppert. At the time, I’d said to myself that I was going to stop working on documentary films and move back to narrative, which is where I started in 1996 [with “American Job”]. It’s funny how you can think and plan what you want to do in your life, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

I think when we met Michael, he was such a fascinating character that it just was just too hard to pass up. Initially, it was more [like] let’s do this small side project where we’ll film him for a couple days, cut it together quick and see what happens. Then of course, as you get into a project and you start getting further and further invested on a creative level, it can evolve and change into something else. It just seems exciting that from inception to release has been something like eight months. When you compare it to our past films and probably most independent films, that period is generally much longer.

Your previous documentaries like “American Movie” and “The Yes Men” have had a vérité style that has let life unfold, but I would imagine this was a different experience since you have a controlled environment and appears you knew more about what to prepare for, to a certain degree.

Well, I’m glad that it appears that way. [laughs] This one was incredibly challenging because to be able to question Michael and to even try to debate him on certain things required so much research in terms of trying to take in everything that he was going to talk about. He covers so many different subjects and his breadth of knowledge is so vast. But yeah, we had much more control. In the other documentaries at least, and even to some degree on the way we made “The Pool,” you’re at the mercy of the situation. In those films, it was really about trying to capture as much as you could in the period that you were filming and then put it together in the end, whereas this one was really about trying to prepare as much as you could before so that you could then allow the interview to unfold in a way that felt natural. I wanted to be able to have a dialogue with Michael. When he’s working off of a train of thought is when he’s at his best — when you can keep the conversation going as opposed to stopping and saying okay, let’s get back to this subject and do these in order. I think one of the things that worked really well in the way that we made the film was the ability to just roll with it and let him go off on tangents and be able to follow up with questions that furthered that conversation.

11022009_collapse_1.jpgDid Ruppert seem immediately interested when you proposed a movie?

I think he was okay with it. He wasn’t interested in going back to the past and trying to work on something about that period of his life because he felt so consumed about what was happening now. That was very clear to us. So we wrote him a proposal of what we wanted to do, a sit-down interview about his book and the material that’s covered, but beyond that, his life and how he’s gotten to this point. Ultimately, to me, the film is more a character study on Michael than it is a full examination of the issues that he presents.

Many people have made movies [about the breakdown of society] whether it’s food or energy or economics or population, but all those deservedly have been films on their own or are big enough issues that you could make a film on each one. What we thought was so interesting [about] Mike as a person [is] the way that he thinks about the world.

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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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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.

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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!

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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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