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Jim Finn Interview

Interview to Jim Finn

Publicado: 09/09/2007

How do you like to introduce yourself? As a filmmaker or as an artist?
Depends on the audience. I think of myself as a filmmaker but an artist is allowed much more leeway. If you're a filmmaker, are you a genre/dramatic/experimental director? Whereas people understand that artists want to make a unique piece of art.

In short films such as “Comunista!”, “El Güero” and “”Wüstenspringmaus” there appear some of the visual keys and topics of your future films: retro esthetic, the use of file footage and propaganda, the recreation of the spirit of the classic Hollywood and its musicals, karaokes, or the portrait of both, revolutionary and strange episodes of the animal life. What can you tell us about all of these aspects?
I see my work as starting with these films. I was completely committed to working in the short form and never thought of them as stepping stones to feature filmmaking. Now that I am working in a longer form, I have to use everything I can to make it work. Naturally I'm going to work in the same style and themes and use similar devices. The use of propaganda I'm interested in because I love the idea of communist propaganda films even though when you actually watch them, they are usually mind-numbingly boring. I thought of myself as a consultant that went back in time to make the propaganda more appealing and fit in more with our postmodern aesthetics. The 70's doc was the American version of communist propaganda. There were lots of long nature shots and doomy music and talk of how the last of the golden eagles was dying and stuff like that. It was more or less true and it served its purpose, to push along these laws that we need to protect species and habitats but it tended towards the hyperbolic and gloomy so I am just making them more revolutionary. The Hollywood musicals in the Golden Age were amazing but sadly lacked almost any political realities with the exception of the early Warner Bros musicals, so I just wanted to radicalize the genre. In a sense, what would Hollywood have been like had Eugene Debs been our first socialist president.

Which are, in your opinion, your influences at the time of filming your short movies and movies?
Star Trek, Hollywood musicals, 70's docs, Dune, Luis Buñuel's low-budget Mexican films, my gerbil Francoise and my ball python Martin.

In your short film “Wüstenspringmaus”, we see the “correlation between the life of a gerbil and the capitalism of the New World in its incessant energy". It seems that, in fact, in your films to keep the interest in connecting episodes of the animal world with relevant history events in the history of economics and politics during the 20th Century. Why do you have this interest?
It was a gerbil actually. I had this idea for a trilogy with the gerbil as the cute but destructive capitalism, the social and gentle guinea pig representing communism and the rabbit representing fascism. I never really made the fascist movie, but the gerbil one is wüstenspringmaus and the guinea pig part ended up in Interkosmos. During the Cold War, when I was growing up, everything was used for the benefit of our respective economic systems: space travel, sports, etc... so why not animals. Some animals just seem more capitalistic or socialistic. Of course, this is also an excuse to talk about capitalism, which is basically unheard of in the US. Talking about capitalism is like talking about the amount of nitrogen vs. oxygen in the air. It's just the natural way of things. We can talk about the excesses or imbalances of our system or we can talk about political and economic realities, but there is no meaningful discussion outside of academia about whether or not capitalism is really the smartest way for us to go. Is it really working for the majority of humans? I think that's an important question.

What can we find in the series of videos “La lotería”?
It's in a bit of a limbo right now. I'm trying to figure out the best way to distribute it. A couple are on youtube.

We had the opportunity to see “Interkosmos” in Sitges 2006 and we chose it as one of the best films in the festival, valuing positively the visual creativity and its humor. Since its premiere in Rotterdam, which is the attitud of the public and critic towards the film?
Interkosmos is the gift that keeps on giving. I had been used to a slow burn with my films. It took wüstenspringmaus nearly a year to get going and same with Decision 80 and el guero/comunista! But it great some great reviews from critics at Rotterdam which really helped. It's an odd sort of experimental film so it needed all the help it could get. It's still screening around. The American audiences that are used to strange cinema and are open-minded usually love the film; those that are prepared for a wacky mockumentary comedy are disappointed because the humor sometimes spills into a pseudo-scientific monograph or a political diatribe, which I love but kind of dampens the humor. I was at the screenings in Rotterdam and in Leipzig, Germany. Even though there's a lot of German, the film basically plays best to an English-speaking audience because everything is subtitled or in English voiceover and some of the German in garbled. So in Germany, people didn't laugh at the parts like the Trolley Song which normally gets laughs but they do laugh at the idea that Albany, NY is Germany and that the name of the program is "wundertüte". Overall it seems pretty universal, especially if there are subtitles in the home language.

How did you come up with the idea of making this film?
I had this idea of a communist space colonization mission involving guinea pigs and miniatures. It was going to be a sequel to wüstenspringmaus about the capitalist gerbil. Then I realized I needed humans and a space capsule and footage of outer space and then it developed from there including lots of references to (socialistic) dolphins. I had been talking about it for over a year and trying to figure out a way to get the funds and crew and cast together. Once we started production, everything happened fast.

Both the nostalgia of the 70’s and some affection towards human utopías are, in my opinion, present in “Interkosmos”. What do you think about this?
Well, certainly the 70's was one of the most open-minded time politically in the US. Post hippy, post watergate. Jimmy Carter was president. It's amazing that guy was ever president of the United States especially if you look at the animals that came after him. Here's a guy who really tried to run US policy (not always successfully) in accordance with Christian and traditional American values like tolerance and equality for all. And he was just destroyed for years. I doubt if Bill Clinton mentioned him 5 times in his presidency. Now he's basically a non-person as a president. He's considered a model ex-President of course but that really goes along with the narrative that he should never have been President. And that time with the Soviet Union was an interesting time as well: the detente years. How might things have developed if they Soviet states had been allowed to transition out of that system instead of being plunged into capitalism like a drowning puppy?

As it happens in many of your short films, the music is wonderful. Is this one aspect that worries you much at the time of making your films? What can you tell us about the work of Collen Burke and Jim Becker?
They are both amazing musicians and were willing to work together. They got along and liked each other's work. I gave them a number of examples of music I loved for the movie and they came up with their own version that really added so much to the movie. They gave me a copy of the opening jam of the movie and I was completely blown away. That's one of those moments where collaborators take some of your ideas and add their experience and their vision and energy. It was amazing.

Your new film is called “La trinchera luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo”, a film which has been seen in the Chicago Underground Film Festival and which shows us ine day in the life of the women of the Sendero Luminoso terrorista group in the Canto Grande Jail in Peru. What can you tell us about this film?
I wanted to make a film that would show a stylized version of a day in the life of Shining Path prisoners. This group, which was the most extreme left-wing guerrilla group in Latin America, had a high proportion of women commanders and guerrillas, all of whom were fanatically dedicated to Presidente Gonzalo. I wondered what happened to a lot of them after he was captured. The group has been more or less forgotten here in the states, but I've never stopped thinking about them. So I found a location, the 4H Youth Dormitory at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds, and casted women of Mexican and Navajo Indian descent. We painted the sets, got everyone in costume, recorded the music before the movie, practiced the marches and the lines, then put everyone in this prison for a week and out came the movie. I had a rough edit in a few weeks but it took months to make it watchable. The first edit was just wall-to-wall Maoist rants and non-stop subtitles. It's much more reasonable now. There's a lot of humor in the film but it's different than Interkosmos which lent itself to a lighter tone at times. This humor in this one is in some of the metaphors and situations the women are in. Overall, I wanted a really different kind of movie than Interkosmos.

Which are your future projects?
Right now I am shooting and editing a film about a South Korean video artist that goes to a North Korean art residency. I've mostly been working on her videos, what she's been doing there. Now I have to make it work as a longer format film. It's a fun project and hard since I'm back working in a language I don't understand. After that I'm not sure.

Thank you for everything Jim. It’s been a pleasure.

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