This year's film festival theme is simple. Direct. Movies matter. And who could argue? Sitting in a darkened theater, laughing, crying, and thinking beside friends and strangers is perhaps the epitome of equality, fraternity. And it is in these plastic seats, eating buttered popcorn that we discover the best and worst of ourselves, of humanity.
Movies remind us of who we are, and sometimes help us amend these identities for the better. They call us to arms--for our planet, for our fellow humans. They transport us through the breadths and depths of human emotion, all in the space of mere hours, or even minutes. They are art. They are politics. They are history. They are laughter on a dark day when there doesn't seem to be anything worth laughing about. And the SLO International Film Festival is more than happy to oblige its audiences with tears, laughter, nostalgia, and maybe even a little bit of knowledge.
- Josh Brolin on the set of X
# This year, residents of the furthermost corners of the county can dry their tears, and pocket their gas cards. Screenings will take place at three locations in San Luis Obispo--the Palm, the Fremont, and Downtown Cinemas La Perla del Mar in Shell Beach Park Cinemas in Paso Robles the Santa Margarita Ranch and Sycamore Mineral Springs in Avila Beach.
The King Vidor Award for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking will be awarded to Peter Fonda, and the county will be awash with talent--both in front of the camera and behind it.
It's the day after the Oscars and Josh Brolin, who starred in Best Picture-winner No Country For Old Men is a happy camper. Several of his closest friends struck Oscar gold the previous evening, and he's currently filming Milk with Sean Penn. On top of that, his stock online is on the rise. He took the time to discuss his current projects, the recent roles that catapulted him into the public eye, and why he can rightfully be considered SLO County's hometown actor.
BROLIN Hi, how are you?
NEW TIMES Nervous actually.
BROLIN You're nervous and you're on speakerphone.
NEW TIMES That's not a good combination.
BROLIN Don't be nervous, nothing to be nervous about. How old are you, 12?
NEW TIMES No, I'm 24. I just sound 12.
BROLIN You're lucky.
NEW TIMES Lucky?
BROLIN Yeah, you've got that 12-year-old sound. It's easy. You don't make people nervous.
NEW TIMES Well, I guess I'll take that as a compliment then.
BROLIN Absolutely. For sure.
NEW TIMES So, you're filming Milk right now, which like American Gangster is based on a true story. Do you feel any additional pressure playing a non-fictional character?
BROLIN When I did American Gangster it was a composite character. It was a character that was taken from a few different people because of the research I did. So the primary thing was you start to put these elements together and you resort to your imagination after a little while whereas Dan White, there's so much footage of him and there's so much video and audio in his confessions and all that, that yeah, it's definitely more nerve wracking because you feel like you have to do the family justice in some way and the person justice but you don't want to do a carbon copy, you know? I mean, that's what they do on Saturday Night Live. It's the same thing with Bush. I'm getting ready to play Bush, George W. We're talking just about how close we want to get to him and we want to stay in the spirit of it instead of trying to do a carbon copy because there's been so many comedies based on George Bush and what Will Ferrell does. So yeah, it gets a little more nerve-wracking. But I think once you get those iconic portions of the character then you can go and kind of do your own thing and get away with it and still feel free instead of stifled. That's a long-ass answer.
- No Country For Old Men
# NEW TIMES Regarding the fact that you are portraying Bush, to what degree will your own opinion of the man inform the way you're playing him?
BROLIN None. I hope. I mean I hope not. I honestly do because this movie is not a bashing of Bush in any shape or form. I think it's very hard for people to believe coming from a very democratic family like my own and then Oliver [Stone], who usually has an angle, but you look at a movie like Nixon, I mean he stayed pretty neutral with Nixon so this is really more of an interesting coming of age story, the fluctuations of Bush's life from about 20 years old to 55 or 56 years old up until almost the beginning of the war.
NEW TIMES So, more biographical than political.
BROLIN Much more. Much more biographical than a perspective piece.
NEW TIMES You read Cormac McCarthy's book No Country For Old Men before you even knew a movie was being filmed. How did the book shape your portrayal of Llewelyn and what did the Ethan and Joel Coen give you in the way of character study?
BROLIN They didn't give me any character study at all. I had read the book. Sam Shepard was the one who turned me on to the book when I was in Austin doing Grindhouse. I read the book the next day and was really taken by it. I'm a big reader anyway. When I read it I was really taken by the story, by the characters, by the cadence of it, by his voice as a writer. So I didn't even think about it being a film or 'Wow, I'd like to play that character, I'd like to do that.' And when the Coen's thing came around I didn't really reference the book. It wasn't until we got the movie that I started going back and reading the book again but it was more to try and find the cadence of Cormac's writing and how I could find that same rhythm that Cormac wrote with. That's not what I normally do. I mean, I don't normally do anything. It's whatever works for that character and you just try to find the hook and the Coens and myself and Javier, we tried to match his voice and I think we did a fairly good job.
NEW TIMES You mentioned that you're a big reader and a lot of people, when they love a book, groan to themselves when they hear a movie is being made.
BROLIN I don't do that.
NEW TIMES What were your expectations for the film?
BROLIN I think we were pretty convinced that the movie was not going to do well. We were pretty convinced that pretty much nobody was going to see this movie and we were just kind of doing our thing and that's kind of what the Coens do anyway. That's why they don't have huge studios backing them with hundreds of millions of dollars to do their films. It takes a lot to get financing for their films and they have a very small niche in the industry. It's like what Joel said at the Academy Awards last night he said thanks for letting us play in our corner of the sandbox, which I thought was really accurate. They just kind of do their thing and strangely enough this movie has made more for them than any movie they've ever done and then garnered all these accolades on top of that which, I think, surprised all of us. We felt like it was a good film but I've done a lot of films where people said 'We have this nailed, audiences are going to love this' and then nobody saw it. Hollow Man is a good example. And then there's other movies that you think 'No, it's just too, it's too strange, it's too offbeat for a grand audience' and then suddenly it's made $100 million and you go 'Wow, I had no idea.' Jason Reitman felt the same way. I talked with him last night. He directed Juno. He just kind of felt like, you know, it's our small little movie and it will be nice and hopefully it will make $10, $15 million and then before you know it it's made $125 million just in the states. So you never know. What I appreciate about the filmmakers that I've worked with recently, they don't cater to the audience. They do their thing. And the audiences seem to appreciate that more and more as the years go on.
NEW TIMES Was it difficult transitioning from a stylized, comic book like movie like Planet Terror to more serious projects like American Gangster and No Country for Old Men?
BROLIN No, it's just a different character. I've been doing this for a long time. We had a theater company for five years in Rochester, New York where I would direct one play and then I'd be acting in others. So after you get over the initial psychotic shock you find your stride and you realize 'I can put this down and I can pick this up and not think about the other thing.' Sometimes, it's even better because you hit this creative stride because you're having to stretch in so many different directions but it can actually help one job when you're thinking about the next job 'cause it may bring up something you wouldn't necessarily have seen because it's a different perspective and a totally different job. There's a big part of your imagination being used.
NEW TIMES Given the incredible year you've had, I imagine I'm far from the only person that wants to interview you. Do you ever start to feel like a commodity in this industry?
BROLIN No, because I don't allow myself to feel like a commodity. The minute I don't want to do it, I won't do it. And the minute I've had it with interviews I stop. Not angrily so. Just self-preservation. That's why I take the films that I do just because I like talking about these films because I find them interesting. These are movies that I would see myself if I weren't in it. In No Country if someone else were playing Llewelyn I'm sure it's a film I would see myself. A lot. I like films like that. I really enjoyed American Gangster. I really enjoy the extremeness and the hilarity of Grindhouse. I thought Robert [Rodriguez] and Quentin [Tarantino] did an amazing job. So, I just try and do stuff that I'm interested in. Period.
NEW TIMES I was going to ask you how you pick your roles, but it sounds like I don't have to.
BROLIN Yeah, I don't necessarily think as far as, are a lot of people going to see this because you never know, you never really know. I do think that there's a portion of me that says 'OK, is this accessible in any way or is this too much?' You have scripts out there where 'Oh Josh is an edgy guy who likes to do offbeat things' and then I get sent a lot of kind of pretentious offbeat stories and I go 'It's too much, it's offbeat because it wants to be offbeat' other than just somebody's voice whose just organically offbeat. The Coens, as you can tell by their acceptance speech last night, there's no affectation there at all. None of that's a put-on. That's exactly how they are. How they were on the stage was exactly how they were on the set.
NEW TIMES You've worked with Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Ethan and Joel Coen. Did these larger-than-life figures take any getting used to?
BROLIN Yeah, a little bit. Rodriguez I've known for a long time. I've known Robert for 10 years or 12 years now so that was easy and we just had a lot of fun together. But I had a lot of fun on all the films. I think the Coens, in the beginning, there was a feeling like 'Wow, I don't know if they really like me or not.' And then it was really nice to get over because you realize as an actor that you look for some kind of stroke. Like 'Wow Josh, that was a great scene' and none of that happened which was actually for the betterment of the film in the long run because you drop your ego and you just go 'We're doing our work and that's it, we're doing our work and it's about the story and it's not about being stroked and it's not about being told how great you are.' It's just about the work. We're all in it together. I wouldn't turn around to the Coens after every scene and go 'God, the way you guys directed that is unbelievable, I mean it's amazing.' 'Cause you don't know. You don't know until the end of the process. And then you look at the movie and what you thought might be a great movie maybe turns out not so good or what you thought might be a not-so-good movie turns out to be great. A lot happens in the editing process too.
- Slava Ross
# NEW TIMES What's the best compliment you've received in terms of your career and who did it come from?
BROLIN The Coens for winning Best Picture. And it came from the Academy. That's the best compliment we could get. I mean, the best compliment I could get from the Coens is the fact that they trusted me to fulfill a role that they basically could have gotten anybody for. You know, it's the same with any role. Because there are millions of actors out there who would do anything to work with these people and I'm very grateful. I'm like 'Me, from The Goonies?'
NEW TIMES Hey, I love The Goonies.
BROLIN Well, I'm not saying it's bad but it's a different kind of film.
NEW TIMES Did you ever take the opportunity to talk to Rodriguez about Sin City and whether you might have a role in a future Sin City film?
BROLIN I always have an interest in working with Robert, always. And he knows that and if there's a part in Sin City for me I would imagine that he would feel comfortable coming to me and saying 'Hey, you wanna do this' because he knows that I'm very indebted to him, not indebted necessarily, but that I'm a very big fan of his. I like what he does. I think it's very cutting edge. I think Sin City is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. So, I'd basically work with Robert on anything. But no, to answer your question we didn't talk about Sin City 2 or 3. We talked about Sin City 1 and just how he did it and what it was all about and stories, how Mickey Rourke had to hear the same song on the soundstage every time he walked on set. Things like that.
NEW TIMES We know you grew up here, but there's been a lot of speculation around here about whether you're actually living in SLO right now.
BROLIN I think it's best left at confusion.
NEW TIMES Last night, at the Oscars, were there any actors or films that you were rooting for outside of your own work?
BROLIN I thought there was so much momentum behind Amy Ryan, who I don't know very well. I've met her a couple of times. But Tilda [Swinton] is one of my good friends and when she won Best Supporting Actress I was so happy for her because I think she's just one of the greatest people on earth. And I think she's probably one of the best actresses I've ever seen in my life. She's so funny, talking about George Clooney in a fat suit. And I was very, very, very, very happy to see her win. Or get the Oscar. I don't like this whole winning thing, but it is what it is. And obviously I was very happy about Javier, and not just because he's in our movie but just because he is who he is and I think he's an incredible actor. He's a very gracious person and it couldn't have gone to a nicer guy.
NEW TIMES Do you have a favorite project that you've worked on?
BROLIN A favorite project? No, I don't. Flirting with Disaster maybe was one of my favorites. Flirting with Disaster is probably one of the favorite movies that I have done for sure.
NEW TIMES You haven't necessarily done a ton of western-style films, but the ones you have done, you seem very suited to that setting. Would you characterize yourself as a cowboy at heart?
BROLIN No. I mean, I grew up on a ranch. I did all that kind of stuff but at heart, yes. Maybe at heart. In reality, no. I love being in the city. I love being in New York. I love being in Paso Robles. I love being in Texas. I love being in Italy. So I think I'm comfortable in a lot of settings. But I think every time I go back to Paso I feel like I belong there, which I don't necessarily feel anywhere else. I was just there recently for a week and every day I walked outside and I just thought 'God, this is the greatest. There is no other place in the world like this. It's the best.'
NEW TIMES How sick are you of hearing questions about The Goonies? It's a great movie but you must hear about it a lot.
BROLIN I don't hear about it a lot. People say they like it a lot. But I don't get a lot of questions about it.
NEW TIMES It's such a kids' movie. What do your own children think about it?
BROLIN When my kids saw The Goonies it was at Quentin Tarantino's theater in Los Angeles and it was a midnight performance, kind of like a Rocky Horror Picture Show. My son took my daughter to go see it. I think it was a better experience than seeing it at like a Cineplex. They loved it. I mean they just laughed because my son is watching me younger than him. My son's almost 20 and I was 16 during that part so for him to see me younger than he is doing this thing is pretty wild.
NEW TIMES I saw a screening copy of your film X--your directorial debut, which is playing in the festival. Is this new direction in your career a path you intend to pursue?
BROLIN Oh, for sure. There's no question. I've been writing and directing theater for a long time and just because I do what I do I think it's a really natural transition, being as involved with photography as I've been. Since I was a kid, I've had my own dark room and stuff like that so I just think it's a natural progression to go into that and I love making movies and storytelling through film, through any medium, but really through film. I love films, you know? I'm a film geek. I love watching films. I love talking about films. I did the film as cheaply as I could. I know people who have done shorts for $250,000 and I don't understand that. It's a short. You really don't get anything other than showing people what you can do. I think that you can show people a style or your capabilities as a director for a lot cheaper than $250,000. So we spent very little on that. And we did it on digital HD and we didn't have a steady cam. We didn't have a dolly. We didn't have hardly anything. We had car mounts that was about it. And my goal was to be able to tell a good story and have decent acting in it and I think that, at least in that regard, we really pulled it off. I'm very, very happy with how it turned out.
NEW TIMES That's pretty inspiring for everyday, would-be filmmakers.
BROLIN Yeah, that's all it was. We went to Palmdale for three days. We had 96 set-ups in three days, which is insane. And my daughter just pounded it out and was a real trooper and my theater partner Vince Vince Riverside, played her dad, with all the tattoos. And I got a guy who I had done a movie with called The Dead Girl, a guy who I thought was amazing, Nick Searcy and I hadn't even met him. I just said 'Hey, I did The Dead Girl and we never met would you wanna do this short for me' and he came up for the day and he played the mortician and it was amazing. And it's so much fun to put stuff like that together just at a whim, people doing it for the passion of it and not for a buck. It's the same thing with Milk. You know, nobody's really getting paid on Milk so we're all in there because we love the story, we appreciate the story and it's finally being told after how many years? Thirty years since Harvey Milk existed and was alive and was really instrumental in changing that city and opening up the whole gay movement. So it's nice. It's nice to be involved with that.
NEW TIMES What was the order in terms of filming X and No Country, because there seem to be some strong similarities.
BROLIN Those were totally unintentional, by the way. It was after I finished No Country. I did No Country from June until August. I did American Gangster from August to October. I did In the Valley of Elah in November. I wrote and directed a play, and then I did X in May of the following year.
- Arkady, the fat stupid rabbit
# NEW TIMES Wow, you've been going pretty much non-stop!
BROLIN And then publicizing these movies and all that. And now I'm into Milk. That's life man. Eighty years is not enough.
NEW TIMES Are there any questions that you've always wanted to be asked during an interview and never been asked?
BROLIN Wow. That's a first. A question I've always wanted to be asked in an interview. Let's see...No. I just thought of about 40. There's a lot of different questions that I think are great questions and I think that you're in there. You're getting into why I do what I do and how I like doing what I do, which is great.
NEW TIMES I read that part of what inspired you to accept a role in Planet Terror was watching double features at the Sunset Drive-In in SLO. How much would you say your childhood here has inspired you?
BROLIN A lot, especially growing up in Paso. We still go to the Sunset Theater, the drive-in. I've been going there since I was five. We'd go and we'd put a couch in the back of the truck and pull out the couch and watch. And I love those memories. So yeah, my childhood affects me in a major way in the choices that I make. Because that's what it is, man. The filmmaking is just a playpen, to me at least. Doing these scenes with Sean Penn right now up in San Francisco, it's a really heavy subject but we're having a ball. We're having fun. It's just dancing, you know. And it's fun to dance with somebody who just knows how to dance. It keeps you on top of your game. It's really fun. It's very satisfying.
NEW TIMES You've worked with some pretty big name actors recently. Have you ever been star-struck or intimidated by anybody?
BROLIN Probably Denzel: he's always been one of my favorite actors, bar none. And our first scene was the one in American Gangster where I stop his car after he got married and I tell him to give me $10,000 a month and all that. We ad-libbed about half of it, maybe a quarter of it. And I just remember thinking 'Just focus and stop shaking and it will all be OK.' It's a charged scene but the reality of what's going on, you're thinking 'Holy shit, I'm doing a scene with Denzel Washington. Oh my God!' And then Denzel gave us our award last night. He came out, I'm like, 'Denzel!' But that's about it. Now it's getting less and less. Now it's more about, you know Sean was the one that went to Gus [Van Sant] for Milk and said what about Josh, 'cause me and Sean and Woody Harrelson and Katherine Keener had a great night when we were in Toronto and me and Javier Bordem, we all went out one night and had one of the funnest nights I've ever had in my life. It was hilarious and we were all completely insane. I've known Sean off and on but really through that night Sean went to Gus and said 'What about Josh for playing Dan White' and then when they came to me with it I read it and thought it was amazing but I just thought it'd be fun. It'd be fun to play with Sean. Literally. Like a kid. I want to go play with Sean. Can I go play with Sean? Anyway, I know it starts to sound a little insane, but it's true.
NEW TIMES That's great. When you enjoy your work, it is like playing.
BROLIN It is! Even when it's torture. I want it to be fun. I'm not interested in doing it if I'm not going to have fun. In my experience, working with great filmmakers, whether it be Woody Allen or whether it be the Coen brothers or whatever, I find them very understated, very into their work and there's not a lot of ego and I enjoy that. I really like being around that, when there's a lot of trust and everybody's done their work and everybody's done their preparation and it's professional. Then you have time to joke around and have fun, not take everything so seriously.
NEW TIMES So, do you have a favorite movie or a favorite handful of movies?
BROLIN A lot. One movie my wife and I love is It Happened Last Night. That's not the whole title. It's with Clark GableI'll look it up. Let's see hereI can't believe I can't remember. My wife would kill me. Oh, It Happened One Night. That's one of our favorites, for sure. I love Dog Day Afternoon. That's probably my top film. I mean, I've seen it so many times it's just ridiculous. And I love Ratatouille. Can I tell you a movie that I cried, I mean I cried to the point where my kids were like 'are you OK?' The Iron Giant. I love it. When he takes off into the sky, it's like crying, awful, a gush of tears falling down my face. They're like 'Dude, what's the matter with you?'
NEW TIMES That's such a good feeling though.
BROLIN It is. It's the best.
NEW TIMES Do you have a dream role?
BROLIN I don't. I've been asked that. I don't have a dream role. I personally don't see it like that. It's like 'Do you have a dream house that you'd like to do the plumbing on?' I think all the roles are dreams, all the roles are their own thing. I'm so grateful to be doing what I'm doing with the roles that I'm doing but I've always felt that way. People say 'You've had a really good year and things have really changed for you' and they have but only in that I have more choice to be able to do what I've always liked to do. I feel very grateful that I have more choice now where I can do things like Bush or Milk and all that kind of stuff because that makes it fun for me. For other people that want to do other movies, they just want to be involved in big studio movies, I've had that opportunity but I didn't necessarily take advantage of it or haven't taken advantage of it yet just because the films didn't resonate as much as these others.
NEW TIMES What do you do when you're not making films? Is Internet stock trading your primary non-film pastime?
BROLIN It's not a pastime. I've been very involved with it. We started a company called marketprobability.com, which is now being turned into a different kind of software that we rent to hedge funds. And it's just something I enjoy. Mathematics is something that I've always been really interested in when I was really young and it seems to work very well in this venue. Our company does very well which I'm very proud of. But it's a different thing. It sounds lame to talk about stocks and then people start asking questions like what do you do and I start talking about indicators and shit like that and you can feel the glass start to build over their eyes, like 'OK this is boring.' See look at that, my apple went back up and we did really well today! How much did we make on my apple? We made almost one percent on my apple, that's amazing. I made one percent today on my money. It's incredible.
NEW TIMES So the Oscar and you made one percent!
BROLIN Yeah, that's good. It's a good day.
NEW TIMES You kind of have a reputation around here for being our hometown actor. Would you say that's an appropriate reputation and do you think people here treat you differently?
BROLIN They don't treat me like that. They really don't. People are so kind in Paso and in Templeton where I was raised. That's one of the reasons I like being there. I know it's a little different and I know there's a little bit of kind of star-struck feeling but it's fairly small. And No Country, I asked them during that one scene toward the end, I said I'll buy the jacket from the kid on the bridge and I said would you use a windbreaker from the Templeton Eagles. The kid looks like he was in high school. So we called the school and they gave us a Templeton Eagles windbreaker and that was really moving for me when I watched the movie to see me put on the windbreaker and see Templeton Eagles just plain as day on this 60-foot screen was just great.
NEW TIMES I think there was cheer in the audience at that point.
BROLIN Great. That's just how I feel about the place and I'm so happy. I mean, shit man, the movie just won Best Picture and Templeton Eagles is there forever. And I love that. That's a really nice thing for me and it's me saying thank you to them for just making my childhood what it was, which was really good.
Slava Ross' film Fat Stupid Rabbit documents the absurd, comic, and tragic plight of a children's theater actor named Arkady who longs to perform Shakespeare but is instead cast as a yellow rabbit. Filmed in Russia, with English subtitles, Fat Stupid Rabbit will be screened March 15 at 2 p.m. at the Palm. Because Ross speaks very little English, a translator gave him the following questions in Russian, then painstakingly translated his responses back into English. Because nothing says international film festival like an arduous translation process.
NEW TIMES How and when did you get the idea for this plot? Does this film express your own frustrations as an actor? Have you ever worked for a theater like the one in your movie?
ROSS I got the idea of the plot about a loser-actor long ago when I studied on the second course of VGIK. It was seven years ago. Since than the idea suffered a lot of plot and genre changes. As I've been working in a dramatic theater for seven years--I am happy it wasn't a children theater--I wanted to show the theater from inside. This film is an expression of deep respect for provincial actors.
NEW TIMES How long did it take you to write the script?
ROSS I wrote the script and rewrote it for several years. At first it was a script of a short film, 20 minutes long. But having filmed it I understood that it is too cardboard and new lines, expressing the world of actors, are demanded, that the main universal idea is demanded. After all it is a movie not only about actors, but also about all of us.
NEW TIMES When did you begin filming? When did you conclude?
ROSS The shooting strained for three years with large breaks caused by creative and financial problems. The movie was completed in November 2006.
NEW TIMES How large was your film crew? Were you satisfied with what you had, in terms of equipment and financing?
ROSS The film crew was about 40 people, including the producer and workers. We were always short of money and had to shoot in very hard economic conditions. But as is known, creative troubles cause creative decisions.
NEW TIMES Why is Arkady fat stupid rabbit? Why not fat stupid cat or fat stupid squirrel? Is there any special significance to the fact that he is a rabbit?
ROSS There was no special significance in choosing an animal. I just saw it, that he must be a rabbit. I found it funny and heart touching. A rabbit is usually small and nice and ours is fat, cynical and absurd.
NEW TIMES Is there a particular reason the movie had so many animals in it? The actors all play animals, the traveling troupe encounters sheep and pigs. Is it just for comic effect?
ROSS There is an opinion that man is the next stage of evolution after animals. I think we did not 'run so far ahead of them.' I found it interesting that the animals meet people acting animals and you saw the result.
NEW TIMES Why does Arkady recite Shakespeare instead of a Russian author or text?
ROSS In dramaturgy no one ever expressed the human passion brighter then Shakespeare. I wanted people to understand how desperate the actor playing the rabbit is when his soul demands real great creativity.
NEW TIMES How much thought did you put into the selection of the passages he would recite--Hamlet, King Lear? Is there any significance to the fact that it is King Lear, specifically, that he dreams of playing?
ROSS A lot comes instinctively. And only after that you begin to explain it and find suitable motivations. It was exactly Hamlet's speech which I did not want to include as it is too famous. But it is exactly that very dialogue which most perfectly explains the actor's thoughts, hopes and pain. The speech of Lear is the speech of a man left by everyone, disappointed in this world. The rabbit feels the same on the roof. And great passion, which is ready to make wonders storms in the soul of a little man.
NEW TIMES How much of this play is lost in translation? Will American audiences fail to understand some of the jokes?
ROSS Yes, I think that some jokes are much connected with Russian reality and Russian literature and they may be misunderstood by Americans. But an attempt to make something available to everyone usually produces something very neutral and boring. As far as my sympathy is concerned I loved each of my characters while writing the script. I hate human evil and wickedness, which the people possess independent on nationality.
NEW TIMES Who selected the music? What was the music supposed to add to the film?
ROSS At first I worked with the composer Alexey Aygi, who wrote six basic tracks for the film. But I found none of them suitable, not because I am a bad man but because I felt the picture another way. We finished working with him and I decided to take the classic music of Mozart, Bach and Haydn to shoot the film on contradiction: the great classics and the little problems of the children's theater artists. I still like this idea but it would not look good on screen because the music itself should then have contradictions between the trivial reality and the world of the rabbit's fantasy. Finally I invited two talented adaptors and together we built a basic music line out of two tracks: the rabbit theme--hara-mamburu by Nogu Svelo and the theme of love, Neva by 5nizza.
NEW TIMES There are several different points where the music is from the sugar plum fairy: when the actors are splashing around in the lake, when the girl playing the role of the mushroom is dancing in her room. Why this particular song?
ROSS This is what I was talking about above: along with the real world there is a world of dream and magic. And I believe the music of Tchaikovsky expresses this world wonderfully. It is that very music which lives deep in us till we unlearned to dream.
NEW TIMES Do you have a favorite scene or line?
ROSS Most of all I love the end of the film. In the combination of reality and magic the rabbit story goes on a new level. It grows from an individual story of a little man to an all-humans story of love, betrayal, friendship, faith in one's dream.
NEW TIMES How realistic a portrayal of Russian theater is this supposed to be? Are there a lot of children's theaters like this?
ROSS The theater is shown realistically. I would say it is even worse in real life. At first I thought the film to be just drama, but my aim was not to show life in documentary way. I don't want and have no right to leave the audience without hope magic is near us. Make a step forward.
NEW TIMES Vodka seems to play an important role in this film. At one point, on the bus, one character implies that you're not a Russian man if you don't drink. Was the vodka simply an escape for these actors, or do you see vodka as a symbol of Russian culture?
ROSS Sure it is the way to forget about your troubles, although for a short time. It is some sort of Russian culture and often a way of communication. So a non-drinking Russian is either sick or a spy.
NEW TIMES The concluding scene almost resembles a tribute to Easter--two adult rabbits lying in a pile of eggs. Did you have Easter in mind when you wrote that?
ROSS No, there is no connection with Easter. It is a contradiction to the rabbit's magic soar in the air. Without his falling the end would be too pretentious. But in life everything mixed: the great, the absurd and the funny.
NEW TIMES The film's "creative" person, the man who writes the scripts, is absurd. He gives people stupid roles, has the actors fluttering around and falls into a grave to illustrate the plight of the hen's soul. Do you think this is how the world perceives creative people, like filmmakers?
ROSS This is a character of a man who dedicated his whole life to art. In our rational world he is considered half mad. Yes, he is sure to be comic, but he is very heart touching for me. I knew such people in the theater. This character has prototypes.
NEW TIMES Everyone and everything in this play is bleak, and seems to have lost sight of any kind of dream. Arkady's only escape is Shakespeare and the girl that plays the mushroom. Why is Arkady the film's protagonist--because he continues to dream? Because he rebels? And why does he deserve this girl at the end?
ROSS Never kill a dreamer in your self! These are the words of Nietzsche and one of the main themes in the film. And the whole film long Arkady brings this message to us.
NEW TIMES What inspired you to write about the theater's traveling actors when the film would have otherwise been complete without them?
ROSS I had my own experience of similar tours. And for a film it is additional dramatic ability. This line helps us to preserve the audience attention and draw their attention from the sufferings of the rabbit to the comic adventures of the actors. It contributes the necessary absurdity to the story and shows us more completely the senseless provincial actors' life. And surely it provides the possibility for an elegant ending when the rabbit line and the tour actors line join together--the rabbit falls in the eggs being brought by these actors.
NEW TIMES How does the film differ from your original vision?
ROSS My original vision is better.
NEW TIMES Given the challenges of being an independent filmmaker--finding funding, writing, and producing everything on a budget, why do you do it?
ROSS This allows me to shoot the films I want. While shooting no one controlled me.
NEW TIMES There were several scenes with what looked like apples-- the producer at the theater offering them to people, an apple being crushed in Arkady's dream. And the theater patron is obviously obsessed with sausage, having it blessed and trying to turn the theater into a sausage market. It almost becomes a symbol of oppression in the film. Is there a special significance to food in this movie?
ROSS Food has deep sense. Food is one of the main symbols of the material world. Theater is an expression of the spirit world, although for a long time it is just formal. I suppose in our world the material site won a victory over the spirit site.
NEW TIMES I understand you played the goat in this film. Do you plan to always be in your movies in some way?
ROSS No. It just happened this way. It was pleasant for me to remember my actor past.
NEW TIMES In this film, the only expression of real creativity and passion is Arkady's recitation of Shakespeare, and even that isn't really original because he's saying someone else's words. Would you say that this film makes a negative statement about creative people and originality?
ROSS This film is not just about creative people, but about all people. The decorations of a children's theater can be changed for office decorations of a small company in which the same Shakespeare passion may boil but first of all it is a story of a man who tries to find the sense of his life.
NEW TIMES This film manages to be really funny even as it captures a bleak environment and scenario--actors doomed to spend their lives reciting the same bad lines over and over. How do you make circumstances that many people would consider tragic into a comedy?
ROSS First of all it is dramaturgy, and the exact feeling of the film may be seen in the editing and the actors' play surely makes the film's genre.
NEW TIMES How many festivals has this film been in?
ROSS Seventeen including yours. That is surprising for me.
NEW TIMES What is the significance of film festivals to an independent film producer? How did you hear about the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival?
ROSS I found the information about your fest through Withoutabox. Festivals are an indicator--they show if you are known in the world or not. One shoots films for himself, for people, for his mom, relatives, with which you are not yet in quarrel.
NEW TIMES When did you start the film company Tundra Films? How many films has the company produced?
ROSS I founded Tundra Films in 2004. We have two movies already filmed and two projects: an adventure comedy, The Incredible Adventures of Vasia Kurolesov and a drama, Godforsaken in Siberia. A movie makes heroes on which new generation grows. One should remember this when you shoot a film.
NEW TIMES Are you personally going to be traveling to San Luis Obispo to discuss the film?
ROSS I would be more than happy to visit you but the pre-production of Godforsaken in Siberia has already began and I am afraid I won't be able to come.
NEW TIMES Do you know what your next project is going to be?
ROSS Siberia. In an abandoned village somewhere in Taiga there lives an old man--an Old Believer--with his 7-year-old grandson. A pack of feral dogs is devouring all the living creatures in the nearby outskirts.
The boy is on friendly terms with one of the dogs, and that causes rows with the old man. Sometimes their relative, uncle Yura, brings them some food. Once, on his way to the village, uncle Yura comes across two soldiers who are on their way to the town to get a prostitute for their commander. He treats them to some home brew. On his way back Uncle Yura experiences an attack by the pack of dogs. They chase his horse into a gully. The soldiers, returning back from the town, are having sex with the prostitute when they hear the sound of barking coming towards them. As they shoot into the bushes, they accidentally kill Uncle Yura. The old man runs out of food, the dogs savage his goat so he starts hunting the dogs. The boy sees the old man shooting 'his' dog and runs away from home. Later, the old man finds him in the dried-up well, but cannot get him out alone. In order to save his grandson, the old man has to walk through the woods to the town. Now the dogs are hunting him?
INFOBOX: That silver screen magic
There are at least a dozen ways to learn more about this year's film festival. For a schedule, see page 35 of this week's New Times or visit www.slofilmfest.org. Visit the New Times Film Fest blog at www.newtimesslo.blogspot.com for advice about which screenings to hit (as many as possible, of course) and photos from dozens of films. Or check out New Times' own modest offering, The New Times Movie: The Making Of, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYSsfdUWp84. You can also catch a glimpse of the New Times editorial gang on the back page of this year's festival program. Individual tickets cost $9 and thriftier moviegoers have the option of purchasing a pass to six screenings for $45, among other packages. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 546-3456.
Arts editor Ashley Schwellenbach knows that movies matter. If you don't, don't bother contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org.