Naked Punch Contributing Editor and founder of Shoppinghour magazine Peter Eramian interviews Michal Kosakowski.
Peter: Three movies that I’d like to discuss: “Just Like the Movies”, “The Heart of It” and “Fortynine”. In “Just Like the Movies” you basically reconstruct September 11th using footage from Hollywood blockbusters. This seems to me to be a statement about the fictionalization of certain political events, you might say, through the media. What sort of questions are you exploring and, considering the controversial subject matter, how do you think it was received?
Michal: First of all, “Just Like the Movies” is a movie that is not actually on 9/11, it’s more a movie on the perception of images and how these images became in a way a reality, later on. The movie’s reconstructing the events of 9/11 as an example. As the most documented event ever it was a very good example, we all knew these images very well. In reconstructing this event with the help of these well known Hollywood movies the discussion of what was first, the egg or the chicken, is raised.
Peter: Because all the films you reference were before 9/11...
Michal: Exactly, so we can discuss for hours what was first, if there were these images from Hollywood blockbusters or these images of 9/11 which already existed in our heads, and how did we film them when this event happened, how did we frame the images when we saw it happening?
Peter: And you also have a series of photographs which compare the shots themselves.
Michal: Exactly. I think there is no conspiracy behind that. It’s just that we knew these images very well. That’s why we call them blockbuster movies and they are well known worldwide.
Peter: It’s definitely quite funny because technically at least you could even claim that you made your film before September 11th because you only use content from before September 11th. Yet, you probably wouldn’t have done it if September 11th hadn’t happened.
Michal: But I’m sure that if let’s say this event of 9/11 would have been an attack on Hollywood with nuclear bombs and then there are five huge cruisers being destroyed by bomb attacks, I’m sure I would find, for this, all of the same images, because almost all ideas have been explored before in the cinema. So as long as you know what you’re looking for in all these incredible amount of images you will find them.
Peter: So in a way cinema becomes a kind of prophesising medium which prophesises potential futures?
Michal: Yes I think this is one of the facts because there have been big discussions after 9/11 which were organised by the Bush government and they invited script writers from Hollywood, producers and directors to think of possible threads which can happen in the future.
Michal: Yes, they discussed it, and then I have a practical example from a friend of mine who is a professor at the University of Munich, his name is professor Bernd Scheffer. He basically does the same as I do but just in terms of writing. So he wrote a book with almost the same title where he discusses all these things which happened before 9/11 and in 2006 there was the Word Cup in Germany and before he was invited by the police of Munich to make a research on what possible events could happen during the World Cup in Germany. So they knew he was writing on this topic and thought why not ask him, he may have some good ideas of what could happen. I think people are aware that Hollywood cinema is predicting these kinds of events.
Peter: In a way it kind of becomes the subconscious of our time, and if you’re able to understand the subconscious you’re able to predict certain possible events.
Peter: So that makes you very political?
Michal: In a sense yes, but yes and no, because at the same time it’s a piece of art. What I do, I’m not writing about this topic, I’m making a movie on it, and I try to explore these similarities in a very artistic way rather than a scientific way. Of course the scientific discussion that comes afterwards is very interesting and necessary to analyse these events. These events of 9/11 were very big and global and I think nobody was left alone without discussion.
Peter: So, talking about the subconscious, your film “Fortynine” shows how, subconsciously, violence is something we all have internally, all of us, and how we conceal it externally often by not expressing and showing it because it’s not socially acceptable, obviously. So you basically shot the violent fantasies of fortynine individuals who were not actually violent at all, if I’m right? How do you think this may change our perception of violence?
Michal: It may not change but at least some people will maybe think of their own violence. There were more than 49 actors, there were 49 films with more than 160 actors because there were some killings with 10 people. The majority of actors were people from normal life, such as bankers, insurance agents, artists, dentists and kindergarden teachers. So I had a full range of individuals from society and different ages, and this was the most interesting thing that, almost everybody, told me their dark fantasies they had deep inside.
Peter: Was it difficult getting them to say that?
Michal: It’s maybe not so difficult, it’s just the way you approach these people. You have to start talking to them about their own life. It’s very intimate to talk about these fantasies; it’s almost like having sex with this person.
Peter: And sex and violence are often linked...
Michal: Exactly. So this was like a kind of pornography, for them, and how they revealed themselves in front of me. And maybe it was me who let them do this. I remember I talked to some people who before the interview said they had no murder fantasies at all and after long discussion and debating on that topic actually there was something, one spot, where they would like to kill somebody, or maybe not to kill, but to be violent. And this was very fascinating for me, to talk to these people and at the same time inviting them to be part of the movie. So basically fulfilling their fantasies and practically doing it in front of the camera. Not killing them for real, but doing it as they would be the killers or victims. Because there were many killers who said I don’t want to be killed but would love the experience of being killed. So for example they said I’d love to be buried alive or I’d love to be imprisoned for 3 weeks by a total sexual maniac who is raping me every day.
Peter: So would you say these are suppressed desires or natural desires?
Michal: Neither nor, these are fantasies which are coming from the media world, very strongly. Because when you see all these 49 short films then you realise that 80% of all the killings, the ideas of all these killings are coming from well known movies and scenarios we see every day on the television, like on the news, documentaries and video games. So basically, the imagination of how the killing should look like is coming from, again like in “Just Like the Movies”, the images seen before.
Peter: So we’re trained to be killers in a way...
Michal: Yes. So basically the concept of all my movies is always television based. It’s always about what we live with because Television is such an incredible tool. We’re not watching it anymore, we live it. We don’t think about television anymore. We just have this machine...
Peter: Hacking into our subconscious...
Michal: Yes, it’s like breathing air. We don’t think about it because it’s there. It’s part of our lives. And that’s why I do these projects, to step back and think about this tool in general, what it is, what does it do to us, what are the effects, what are the results of it, where does it go. This has always been my topic in my movies.
Peter: How does this work with your film “The Heart of It” which is about Serbia, ex-Yugoslavia, where you paint a kind of hypnotic portrait of the daily life of the locals in a more documentary style approach?
Michal: It’s the same thing. I made this movie with Goran Mimica who is a Serbian writer who lives here in Italy and he came up with this idea and I quite liked it because I always had this idea of Serbia being a brutal and dangerous country where all the people are killers. This is what we gain from the media, this image of Serbia being provocative and attacking other countries and I thought this is a good opportunity to go there and have a look at these people, have a look at the heart of it, and realize it is the total opposite. That there are people who are aware of what was happening and not everybody was behind the politics which was happening. And I thought it was a good opportunity to make a movie, let’s say a poetic documentary movie, on this specific town in Vojvodina, Novi Sad is called the town. And maybe nobody knows but during the war, especially during the Kosovo war in 1999, the majority in this city was totally Democratic, so they were against Milosevic, but NATO bombed it actually more than Belgrade because they had bridges and supply roads. So people were totally pissed off, why are you bombing us, we have the biggest opposition in the country but you still destroy our country. So, when you go to such places you always realise that it’s mostly not true what the media says. It’s the same thing like with the influenza we had one year ago. This was the biggest fake established by the pharmaceutical industry just to make money out of it, and basically nothing happened. Many more people die from normal influenza every year, much more, than from this bird flu. Every such topic is related to television.
Peter: And fear...
Michal: Exactly, this is basically how it works, you create fear and people get scared and they start buying things. Actually fear is the best motor for consumption in our society.
Peter: I’d like to finish off with a slightly more political question. The Kosovo war has often been described by political philosophers as the first ‘humanitarian’ war officially conducted to protect human rights. And this for a lot of people is extremely ironic. What do you think about this sort of agenda to protect rights?
Michal: I don’t know about that, but I can tell you one thing. If 9/11 had happened before the Kosovo war there would’ve been much more support for this, and there would be no talks about human rights. It’s the point of how we are influenced by the media, by specific events, like 9/11 was a big campaign for blaming the Muslim society on how they ‘destroy’ the Western world. And I say again, if 9/11 would have happened before the Kosovo war Milosevic would have been a hero.
Peter: And that’s only within two years...
Michal: It was bad timing on his behalf. I don’t think that anybody really in the politics care about human rights because it’s always about money and power, and they always try to find excuses and rules to make themselves richer and more powerful. This is always what it’s about. Like we see now in Kirgistan, this riot that happened, you think Americans or Russians will go there? Why, there is no interest. They don’t care. It’s always about a specific engagement for something to be gained out of it. And in the case of Iraq, maybe nobody knows, but the first day they invaded Baghdad what do you think was the first strategic point to be protected? It was the oil rigs. And nobody took care of the museums with ancient art. They were totally destroyed because there was no protection whatsoever. People were stealing all these ancient pieces but nobody was doing anything because there was no point. It wasn’t about bringing Democracy. It was all about political engagement and gaining a lot of money out of the situation. This is the truth but we don’t really know it because we don’t hear about these things in the media. We don’t want to hear it. We want to really clearly point out who the bad guy and good guy are, just to feel safe in our home.
Peter: What are you currently working on?
Michal: The “Fortynine” short films are done but I’m working on a documentary about them. I made interviews with these people afterwards. So we hear about the violence, how they had these ideas and what their point of view on violence is nowadays. Because I basically met these people ten years after. I shot these films with them and I asked them again, what would you do today differently? Would you do it at all? It’s a very interesting project I’m working now on, where you at the same time have the feeling that these people are like real murderers but at the same time they are reflecting on violence.
Peter: I didn’t know this, so you made the “Fortynine” short films over ten years?
Michal: Yes, between 1996 and 2007, and since 2009 I’m working on this documentary feature film about these people.
Peter: Are all your films available online?
Michal: Not all of them, actually only their trailers. But copies can be requested if anyone is interested.
Peter: Thank you very much Michal. It was a pleasure interviewing you. Best of luck, I look forward to watching your new documentary.