MAF podcast: Boris Mitić
Boris Mitić, srbski režiser in avtor dokumentarnega filma Sladki nič, je svoj najnovejši izdelek predstavil na 20. Festivalu dokumentarnega filma.
Kot gost je sodeloval v filmskem podcastu, ki je nastal v okviru 15. Mad About Film seminarja, ki se je tokrat posvetil tako filmski kritiki kot tudi filmskim podcastom. Pod vodstvom mentorja Žiga Brdnika sta udeleženki Ana in Evelin spoznali in izpeljali svoj prvi podcast.
Pogovor je v celoti v angleškem jeziku.
Avtorici podcasta: Ana Hancock in Evelin Bizjak
Mentor in voditelj: Žiga Brdnik
Transkripcija pogovora s srbskim režiserjem Borisom Mitićem.
Žiga Brdnik: Good day ladies and gentelmen, welcome to Mad about film podcast, today we have with us Serbian director of the movie In Praise of Nothing, Boris Mitić, here at festival od documentary film. Thank you for joining us and thank you for this wonderful rakia from Serbia.
Boris Mitić: Uzdravlje.
ŽB: The questions will be put out by two of my associates, Evelin and Ana, good day.
Evelin Bizjak: Hi, hello.
Ana Hancock: Hi, I’m Ana.
ŽB: So we can start. Please, with the first question.
EB: Ok, so I will start. Cinematographers from around the globe participated in making of this project. They were sending in their documentary representation of Nothing in different stages. Could you describe the process and its goal?
BM: Well, first of all, we are talking about documentary about Nothing, which is kind of my game. I set up the whole provocation, I set up all the rules, I wrote the script, I decided that Nothing will have a voice and that Nothing will speak to us for the first and the last time. Considering that all this is me, done by me, I didn’t want to film the film, to shoot the material myself. So I challenged many cinematographers from all around the world to do it for me. First, I did it with seven superstar cinematographers from seven corners of the world. But they really didn’t deliver the type of… you know, they were too spoiled, they really wanted directions, and me, I really didn’t want to give directions, I wanted them to provide me with their virgin kind of vision of Nothing. Very quickly I gave up on the idea of working with famous cinematographers, but I only wanted to work with motivated cinematographers. People who really want to play this game of trying to film Nothing in a documentary way, for either personal or professional reasons. Very quickly I expanded the base of cinematographers from seven to seventy-seven and then we worked on several stages. At the beginning they were completely free and over time I would give them more and more instructions on how to film Nothing.
EB: So would you say that your role of director in this democratic and collaborative approach changed, was not classical?
BM: well, Is my game. The whole film is my game. I am the master of the game. I am not even a director; I don’t consider myself as a real director. To answer your question, I would say that I wanted to have confirmation that my vision of Nothing, visually speaking, would be meaningful for people from other parts of the world and that people from other parts of the world could actually contribute material to the film, that could relate to me. So, the idea was to try to make a universal image of Nothing. If I was making film about more local topic, for example, like rakia, I would have filmed it myself. Without any problem of arrogance of entitlement. But since we are talking about Nothing and Nothing is very different for people, for every person in this world, and for every culture in this world, this is why I wanted do have people from different parts of the world to send me their little contributions, and then I had no idea how it would all come together. Thankfully, or maybe naturally, it did come together in a most organic way and the film looks like it is one person who filmed it all, but this was not guaranteed in the first place. So my role as a director is the same, except I dint have one cinematographer, but many cinematographers, but then again, I was also one of the cinematographers. I wish they contributed more in terms of directional decisions, but actually no, they were only providing the diversity of shots, these cinematographers. So, to answer your question bluntly, no, my role as a director of this film was not any different from other films.
EB: So, the documentary is not based on the classical principle of the integration of the spectator through identification with the characters, but on the dramaturgy of effective cinematographic images. How does that kind of film structure redefine the role of the spectator?
BM: Well, whoever comes to watch a documentary about Nothing, has already accepted to play a game. And to suspend their disbelief, you know, like they do in fiction cinema. I’m saying this is a documentary, it’s an even bigger provocation than saying I am making a film about Nothing. But somehow there is so many truthful elements, so many elements that resonate with the audience on a personal, subjective level, or maybe unconscious level, or maybe metaphysical level, or maybe… on who knows what level, that very quickly they become involved in the game. So the audience just enters the movie and identifies with this character, with the voice of Nothing, and they go for it. So far, so good. It works. But just to be safe, in the very beginning I say, Nothing says in the film: you can either believe this is me, or you can do whatever you want with this images and let your mind go free. In both cases it’s a win-win situation because it is so reach visually and in terms of suggestions that anyone can take what they make from it. Whether they play my game or their own game.
EB: Could you tell us more about your screenplay writing process? You have mentioned somewhere that you haven’t had any previous experience in writing poetry, however, all of the narrator’s monologue is written in verse.
BM: That’s correct. Nothing had to speak in a very special way. Because it’s Nothing, you know. We have no idea, we cannot imagine what that voice would be. But in my estimation it had to be, Nothing must have a special voice. For seven and a half years I had no idea what this voice would sound like. I knew it would be special in some way, I had no idea how stylistically particular it would be, and then it came out as it is now, in full, childlike, kind of bed time verse. Thanks to a deadline. A script writing dead line, that I had to fulfill. I got some money to develop the script and I all of a sudden I realized, uh, I have a few days to finish the deadline. I cleared the table, all the preparations, all the years of academic keywording, dramaturgical organigrams, were tossed aside. I said, ok, no time for this, what’s the first thing Nothing would have told us if it came down? Tap. What’s the second one? What’s the next one? Hey, thing is starting to rhyme, what is this? So it completely surprised me. And then, you know, in a strange hidden mechanism of the brain, I somehow felt entitled or encouraged to try to continue this way. I don’t know what gives you this courage. Ok, you can write like a few lines in rhyme, you know, it can happen to anyone, it happened to me accidentally, but to have the idea to continue all the way to the end, to basically tackle for an hour and a half, for fifty pages of script, the most elusive topic in the history of mankind, in a witting style that you’ve never tried in your life, you know, it must be some strange little people inside your head that do that. I don’t know who they are, I would wish to be able to invoke them intentionally, but that’s how it happened really, as a reaction to a deadline, as a spontaneous outburst of years of marinated information, so it all kind of fits in the head, and then when it has to come out, it sprouts out like a volcano, almost.
EB: That is amazing. Describing the approach to your documentary project, you mentioned somewhere you also view your movie as a sort of a reply, a criticism of the current situation in the film world. would you address some of the issues you find concerning in that area?
BM: I think documentary films today are being redundant on an informational level, there is really Nothing the documentary can say that is not known, but these documentaries can definitely say something about known situations in new ways. Combining the magic of film language and the various layers or levels of veracity that documentary film making is kind of coated with. So unfortunately, most of current documentaries are playing upon a standard, mainstream interpretation of things, and they take that as a premise, and they just illustrate it as an effective, almost fiction-film-like small excerpt, and they film that and they say, ok, this is how it is, and then everybody says, yeah, we know this from the media, we recognized it in this movie, it’s a documentary, so it must be true, so everything must be true, oh, what a story. But I think that’s a very superficial approach to things, it’s a waste of an opportunity in a sense that there is so many things that happen after, or before what’s shown in most documentaries, that’s much more interesting. There are so many layers of complexity for any given situation in the world, that are not treated in a documentary film, that they are simplified and I don’t want a documentary film to be another form of simplification. On the contrary, I want documentary film to be like a celebration of the complexity of this world. And then it’s our job to make this complexity accessible.
EB: So in your opinion, what is a creative approach towards the documentary making?
BM: Well, I think definitely there needs to be a personal component, and I am more curious to see a very subjective take on things than to anyone who aspires to any kind of objectivity. Because objectivity, in a very limited medium, like an hour or ninety-minute documentary, it’s almost like an oxymoron. You know, you cannot fit everything that should be there in ninety minutes. So I would love documentaries to be very personal, but on a completely authentic, organic level, like films that must be done by that person and no one else. And also that those films should have various levels of stylistical freedom and very special access. And to feel like an almost passionate, obsessive amount of work that the director must put into that movie so that it really blossoms like a beautiful plant.
EB: So you would say it should come out of you as a sort of an urge, not as a choice?
BM: Exactly. I completely divide documentaries for those which are made out of pocket and those who are made from the stomach.
EB: Ok, great, so let’s return back to the movie. Who or what is Nothing, actually? You characterize it, give it personality and unique, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes cynical voice, that is, by the way, narrated by Iggy Pop. Why did you decide for that kind of approach? Could you tell something about that?
BM: Well you spoiled the answer, Nothing is Iggy Pop, you know. If we start from Iggy Pop, he is this kind of…He came at the end of the movie, as a choice of the narrator. I always thought that I could afford to ask any type of interesting narrator: would you play Nothing for an hour, an hour and a half? Would you do that? I always thought that anyone, who’s playful, would accept that. Had no idea that it would be Iggy, he is one of my two last childhood heroes, he aged so beautifully, his voice matured really perfectly, he embodies that spirit of decadence, resilience, clownishness, childishness. He is such a charismatic character, and he smiles, everybody smiles. It’s completely like little children.
*izrezek teaserja filma In Praise of Nothing*
BM: I wanted to have this type of rock’n’roll, almost punkish energy, so this is all part of my characterization of Nothing. So in my film Nothing is a dad. Is like a misunderstood anti-hero, who longs to be loved, longs to be accepted, but knows that it’s impossible, bust still, knowing that it is impossible, wants to give it a try and wants to say what it’s bothering it. So that’s it. Nothing is an invisible angel, some sort of a positive force, some sort of a long lost friend, like a crisis management ally. Generally I wanted to make a film about the more positive sides of nothing.
EB: It is interesting, because for most of the people nothing is just like a concept, something you cannot grasp, and you give it a character, you make it a person.
ŽB: Wait, wait a second. We have another guest. Also Nothing has joined us and he will present himself. Please, take a seat, speak what you have to speak. Thank you for joining us.
*izrezek iz trailerja filma In Praise of Nothing*
Yeah. Well, I mean, I could have made this film without words, I could have made this film without images, I could have made this film without making this film. The history, especially of contemporary art, is full of more or less witty and more or less successful mind games on the concept of nothing. I chose to really put all the chards on the table and say, well, let’s imagine, if Nothing was a character, how would it feel and what would it have to say to us. That’s one part of the game. So in that sense I needed to create…and that also helps when you have a character, because we are all used to characters, main character in a movie, you can play with all the rules of dramaturgy in the film. What happens to this character? So in my film basically Nothing is some sort of an old teenager, who is kind of tired of being misunderstood and runs away from home. Comes down and starts discovering a life on earth as we know it. It basically doesn’t know what we know, but it knows what we don’t know. It has a completely reversed, opposite point of view on things. And what happens to Nothing is that it goes through every stage in a human life during a weekend on earth. Basically, it starts with an initial feeling of all and amazement, like a baby, than it starts to feel spoilt like a little child, oh, I deserve this, I deserve that, then it starts to be a little depressed and goes through an identity crises like a teenager, then it tries to be successful like a twenty year old, then it doesn’t work, then it accidentally succeeds, then it becomes rich, almost by accident, then it becomes arrogant, thanks to that fame, then it deflates down the situation, understands some things and slowly settles down, pulls away and goes through some old man’s conclusions. All that happens throughout the movie, you can notice it or not, but that’s how I built this character. Normally you should, anyone should or could identify themselves with this character. Maybe not through whole movie but in certain parts, certainly.
EB: So you are saying this was based on your personal view of Nothing.
BM: Absolutely. This is my take and I challenge or I invite anyone else to make their own.
Ana Hancock: So, your film is also dealing with philosophical themes? Do you try to say that nothing exists in a sense that is not just absence as you said before?And also do you try to say at the same time that we are in some way degraded because we must banalise something to understand it or even to hear it?
Boris Mitić: Well, you know..straight from the beginning I knew that the least I can do in a game like this is to a invest a big amount of work, a big amount of thinking and a big amount of research. I didn’t want this to be like one of those cheap easy provocation: hey, I am gonna make a dokumentary about nothing and then play like a blank screen for an hour and a half. So, in the course of this research I started with a quite an extensive bibliography, but this bibliography kept growing day by day. So in the end my bibliography in this film is probably the most eclectic that’s ever been used in any documentary film ever in terms of diversity of topics and sources. And this is where I really got to understand (to my great amusement, my general amusement and also in the context of the film) how nothing… how pervasive and how omnipotent and omnipresent and omni-everything nothing is. So you know.. to qualify it as a mere absence is really like a big simplification and most people you know tend to dedigrate it to one concept or one idea or one philosophical school of thought or one personal experience. Also vocabulary is very limited because it really has one word for nothing whereas some cultures have many many different nuances for nothing. So I wouldn’t say that.. you know..I even refuse to discuss the idea »Is nothing more than absence or not« because you know it would imply that it’s a legitimate starting point. I say it’s much bigger than that absence being again one of the guys of the nothing and not necessarily even the bad one. Most people fear absence but there’s so many powerful and positive aspects of absence that even that can be twisted around on a more positive level.
AH: So you make a big theme out of nothing so nothing become a big theme but do you otherwise oppose big themes like a big stories?
BM (premišljuje): I think that..you know..it has to be a grotesquely big to be interesting. You know..Because if you say I am going to make a film about ecology, you know I am going to make the film that will change the world, I am going to make the film about the situation in…Syria..you know..That’s a big theme that I don’t like. But if you say o I am make you know the funniest film in the world I am going to make you know the last film ever I am going to make the first film ever..whatever..you know.. like..if you hyperbolise this whole game of bigness of themes of the size of themes than it becomes more of my territory. I think documentaries has not much to say today in the term of themes but they have a lot to say in terms of discourse and the way you discouss themes. So we can theoretically… you could say…we can make..we should have 2019 be the year of one theme and then have all the documentarians in the world make a film about that theme and that’s what it would be interesting. Let see how this would be different, let see how..and then you will see like there will be like a massive amount of like a big average like a majortiy of people will film like a most average things but what am I interested in is the people who would film the odd ones, the odd pieces, the quirky ones, the unusual ones. That’ s where I thing is the new kind of a lighthouses of a documentary territory.
Žiga Brdnik: Do you think that we like despise… or nothing as a question… or we downgrade it as not an important question because also in physics we have dark matter which is eighty percent of the universe and we didn’t researched it.
ŽB: Also in the thought we always go to making new ideas not to make nothing or to reserch nothing.
BM: Physics and theoretical mathematics are actually the only branches that are respectful of nothing. But..I mean it is not a question of thinking that nothing is not important or banalising it is more a question of people not even thinking about nothing. You just don’t bother because it is complicated it is.. you know.. you don’t need to do it, nothing is forcing you to do it so you don’t do it. But my premise in this film is that I suggest that if you would bother to spend a little bit more time to put..of putting..nothing in to the equation of things then it will kind of level things up in a different way any you might just get the good kick out of it. And so..for me it started like as a kind of bold reverse premise but the more I see it the more I live through it the more I kind of take it as a my own kind of almost a system of values. So applying a little bit of nothing into everything that we think and do, looking at things through like a sunglasses filtered with nothing, through a prism-everything is reflected through nothing. I think that’s a great intellectual game that I would recommend to everyone. If you like it you can do it once, you can do it everyday, you can do it all the time. I did it for eight years, I made a movie about it, I feel even more relaxed now I am kind of at peace with my thoughts and with myself than I was before. You know…if other people want to join…I think that many people feel this at moments in film but when the film is gone they kind of go back to their firewall exclusion of nothing. But I would love that people continue this game beyond the movie.
AH: I didn’t try to say that you banalise nothing but I tried to say that… do you think that we must banalise something to understand it?In everyday life…nowadays…
BM: I think that is absolutelly the biggest problem. For me the biggest problem of society today is the level of complexity in everyday communication. You know…This is why I prefer that this podcast lasts half an hour or whatever…an hour rather than to have these soundbites that last like a ten, fifteen seconds or Instagram size clips. And also in everyday communication between people who know each other life, between couples, between parents and children, between teachers and kids… It’s so banal, it’s like a bad ping-pong. One player serves, the other one replies, the other one maybe kind of cathces the ball and goes out of bounce. It’s ridiculous, like very bad, it’s a waste of…it’s boring to watch, it’s meaningless… you know…and you compare this to how crazy Asian players play ping-pong: puf-puf! The ball is impossible to lose. The ball always gets back into the field. And it’s almost like a rhapsodic ballet of ping-pong. That’s how I think communication should be, but that’s how it’s not today. Today we have like a grotesque- vulgar banality, banalisation of things and I think and I try…you know… with my kids, in my interviews (poudarjeno) to try to say and to elaborate at least a little bit more than that.
AH: Yes and in this sense nothing is in the core of everyday life as you said-in communication between people and on internet and there is nothing like a…like a…a…hmm…blank space, like a absence of a pure content?
BM: Well…hm…but I see…I think that on a very simple level I think you can translate this as the power, as constructive role of silence, you know when two people talk and one person intentionally kind of keeps quiet, the other one feels the urge of »hey-I-must-say-somethnig«, there is something disturbing about this silence. So it’s inviting you to say something. So this nothingness in people’s conversation… I don’t see it as a waste of energy, I see it as an infinitive possiblity, basically. You and me, we can sit down and we can speak here in this beautiful corner about absolutelly anything we want. You can pose your question, you can throw this (moje liste s pripravljenimi vprašanji) away, you can write…that’s nothing does, nothing allows us freedom to dispase for those questions whether this becames meaningful down the road depends. Maybe it will be meaningful for you tomorrow, maybe it will be meaningful for somebody who will find this strange toy (diktafon) in five hundred years and try to decode English language. But…I think that if it mattered for the four of us here now I think it’s already more than nothing and also it’s more than nothing because nothing allows this thing, this event to happen, this discussion to happen and these people who are listening to us now to hear us…From nothing it’s already enough. I would always again give it like a positive mark.
AH: Countries from the northern hemisphere deals with nothing. The remains countries are labeled under label »other world«. Did you try to show our eurocentrism?
BM: I mean…no…I filmed in seventy countries just to make it as universal as possible, I researched sources from the entire world just to make it as all encompassing as possible. In the film there is one sequence, one series of chapters when nothing makes fun of a big civilisations: Americans, Asians, Arabs, Europeans and »the rest of the world« and in that sense everybody got an equal treatment, like slashed and made fun of, but also with again with some sympathy for their weaknesses in a way. So…in general:yes, I mean this is definitely…I mean…just the coolness of the character, the definition of cool in this film is very european or Anglo American definition of cool, like Iggy Pop, punk, like antihero like a Cryano de Bergerac, Onjegin. It’s very European in a way. Who knows what’s cool for a tribe in Africa…Maybe it’s cool to be quiet, maybe it’s cool to express yourself with body language or strange body noises or strange body decoration. So in that sense yes, the film is definitively Eurocentric. I would even go further and say the film is very egocentric in the sense that it’s my game. I involved many people, I spiced it up with a lot of universality, but I would never claim that this is the ultimate film about nothing. One of the working titles of the film was »My Nothing is Bigger Than Yours« (vsesplošno hihetanje). That answers this question.
AH: Yes but it is also at the same time the criticism of eurocentrism.
AH: Of course…In your previous film Goodbye, How Are You? you showed that it is easier to live if you have a satirical point of view. Do you try to say in In Praise of Nothing that we should deal with philosophical themes with humour?
BM: Hmm…I am trying to say that we should…ja…not maybe with humour, but with a sense of deflation, with thinking of giving us less importance that we give toward ourselves usually and of integrating more philosophy in everyday life, it’s for sure. In a funny way I was thinking what will I do next. And I thought…the last two films- they are very similar to each other, so hey why don’t I make a trilogy? All the big directors have trilogy so let’s make it trilogy. But ok, what’s my trilogy? What’s common in the first two films? What is common is actually- I define this as »inverted verité«, like a achieving a layer of truth by having like a opposite point of view. So in Goodbye, How Are You? it was satirical verité, in In Praise of Nothing it’s »nothing« verité. So I said ok let’s find the third inverted verité in this. And I was thinking about it…then again to come back…It must be very organic, it must have like a total personal motivation. So what I want to do now, I want to play with my three kids and to invest all the…and to scrutinize all the fantastic emotions and ideas and surprises of that world. And then I said: but wait, why I am looking any further to get another type of inverted verité when the most extreme form of inverted verité is »parental verité«. So what I will do now, next is to make like the third film in the trilogy about parenting. So again, it will be a voiceover, again it will be a crazy challenge. I am thinking of making it in one ninety minutes shot. A film about the kids, for the kids, but without the kids, with a crazy narration again…Would there be philosophy there? Would there be humour? Would there be deflation? I really don’t…It’s easy to make this type of analysis a posteriori, but…you know…I just take it as tools and not even as a quantifiable tools. Like my daughter asked me today: »Why is my English book called New Building Blocks?-English language for I think the fourth grade. And I said well that’s how you learn language: you use some blocks, you learn some elements of the language and you use it to build it. But I don’t even think that I acknowledge any building blocks in my filmmaking. I see it as a complete blank space and then I build it from, really from scratch. That’s why the films are a little bit unusual, but I prefer to make them in this way because they are very satisfying to me, not because I think that they’re great, but because they represent two hundred percent of my maximum potential of the time of their making. And if some people find them to be these lighthouses which are above or beside or beyond or even below average than it’s good. Because that is different than the standard offer.
ŽB: Maybe connected to humour but not humour, do you think director concerning with big things in documentaries maybe should take himself and the topic he is evolving little bit less seriously?
BM: Well, that’s the absolute message of In Praise of Nothing. I mean…even the title In Praise of Nothing has double meaning. In Praise of Nothing means: Let’s praise nothing-let’s praise the concept of nothing, but also it means: there is nothing to praise, nothing is worth praising and especially not one director and his or her idea.
ŽB: Ok, are there any more questions?…
Thank you Mr. Mitić for joinig us, for the wonderfull conversation, I think a great conversation about nothing.
BM: (ponosno): Thank you, I think it was a very elaborated, meaningful and rich conversation as oppose many many interviews, it was much more than the average let’s say so thank you for that.
Thank you (spraševalci družno). Thany you for joining us.