Original English interview here:
Q. You are known as one of the most provocative names in the underground culture in the USA. How did it happen to gain that kind of fame? Do you feel comfortable with this qualification?
A. I really don’t know how to answer this. I don’t think of myself as provocative nor as having any kind of fame. I know that there are some elements within the Remodernist Film Manifesto that have provoked people from time to time (particularly big fans of Stanley Kubrick), but I don’t intentionally set out to provoke. I’m just trying to figure things out and am sharing that process and the results when possible (either through films, paintings etc) or through the manifesto and related thoughts.
Q. You have been a director, an actor, a painter, a producer and a photographer. Is it necessary nowadays to be multitalented to succeed or it’s the inner necessity of the creative person to find the most appropriate way of expression?
A. I think for me the reason why I am working with different mediums and creative activities at different times is mostly out of as you said finding “the most appropriate way of expression”. I’m constantly changing how I think and what I want to express, so I’m never satisfied with staying at just one thing. I can tell you that as far as success goes (if success is gauged at whether I can make enough money to survive or have funding to do new projects) I am a total failure. I make almost no money at any of these creative things. And if success is gauged by feeling like I’ve accurately expressed what I need to express then I’m a failure at that too. I’m never satisfied with my work. But it’s ok I suppose, because I am still learning and still trying to share appropriately what I feel I need to share.
Q. You quit with a bang your education at The School of Visual Arts, New York. A lot of people at your age here in Bulgaria had the same experience in their younger years, thus showing their protest against the communist regime and its rules. In your case was it a nervous breakdown as it’s often described in your biography or was it a kind of rebel?
A. I left film school at SVA in my second year for a few different reasons. A big one was that there wasn’t a lot of support for people to explore their own artistic visions (although I did have one professor that was very supportive during my first year at SVA), especially if the artistic vision didn’t fit in with mainstream Hollywood, American indie, or mainstream art house expectations. And even worse, the whole film school system seems designed to train people to work on other people’s films, to set people up for careers as production managers, assistant cameraman, stuff like this. Of course some films need people to do those things, but I doubt that most people go to film school with the intention of having their future mean they will be working in an office or loading film into a camera or carrying cables and lights on someone else’s film. So those things were discouraging. Also I was new to New York City and having that kind of independence and I didn’t do well with it. I drank too much. I didn’t adjust well. Just before I quit I saw one person die in front of me when he and his motorcycle were run over by a bus, and saw someone else who had jumped off of a building. The jumper was especially bad because he jumped from the building I lived in (with a bunch of other art students) and students were leaning out the windows taking pictures of him and videotaping him lying there dead, and it just disgusted and depressed me. I didn’t want to be around people after that, particularly people as cynical and empty as those art students seemed. I know those are small problems compared to what a lot of other people in the world have seen at that age, but for me at that time those things were very traumatic. Anyway so I left, moved back to my home town and got involved with some girl and never went back to SVA. By the time the relationship with that girl was over I decided it made more sense for me to try working on things without going back into film school. So I started directing plays, shooting photographs, painting and making short films on super-8.
Q. You’ve got strong interest in the punk culture and the street life and art. Why do you find them so appealing?
A. Well I like roughness and texture, so I think that’s part of it, and so that’s probably the same reason why I like the Die Brucke group of expressionist painters, early blues music, Japanese art aesthetics, and even certain mediums, like super-8 film, charcoal (for drawing) and impasto brush work in oil paintings. The other thing is that “punk” used to denote things that were DIY, and therefore to me, more sincere, because people were working with the materials and knowledge that they have readily available, and were making things regardless of whether they fit into whatever standards they were expected to fit into. Now of course “punk” has pretty much lost its meaning, because now you could say to someone “what punk bands do you like” and they might think of a pop band like Green Day or something like that.
Q. You are the author of the Remodernist Film Manifesto calling for a new spirituality in cinema and the use of intuition in filmmaking. Can you tell its main ideas for those that are not aware of them?
A. The manifesto is made up of a series of 15 points/ideas, which as you said calls for a new spirituality in cinema… Spirituality in the sense of communicating with each other in a more authentic way, communicating on a deeper level. The manifesto was written with the thought of encouraging myself and other filmmakers to make work that is more personal, more risky, more of the kinds of things that the contemporary business of filmmaking discourages from it’s filmmakers, to the detriment of filmmaking as a whole. So many of these points, like exploring Japanese aesthetics, embracing your mistakes, using intuition, not getting bogged down by a screenplay or not trying to tell a conventionally narrative “story”, these things fly in the face of what we are told WE MUST DO as filmmakers- which really just encourages a culture of dishonest/insincere filmmaking. So the manifesto hopefully encourages us to engage in the filmmaking process differently. The points in the manifesto are not rules though. They are points or ideas or prompts. But not rules.
Q. What is your conception of a remodernist film? You’ve stated that numerous times but I would like you to point out the difference between a remodernist film as you see it and a mainstream film.
A. The main thing I guess is that the Remodernist film and filmmaker risks it all in the attempt to share something real or truthful (whatever that might be). Risks looking foolish, risks being wrong, risks failing completely, risks looking insane, risks going insane. Where the filmmaker offers his or her heart to the people they are sharing with, under the knowledge that doing so may mean that heart is stomped flat. A Remodernist film doesn’t talk down to the audience. A mainstream film would never risk those things.
Q. In the Manifesto you criticize the use of digital video as well as Stanley Kubrick. Later you relaxed your criticism. What is your opinion today?
A. Personally I don’t have much enthusiasm for sitting in front of a computer screen and making a film, or building the aesthetics for a film that way. It just seems so uninvolving, so inorganic. And for me process is about as important as my results. So those things make digital cinema kind of problematic for me. Yes it’s cheaper, which is great, but it is not really the same process. However, since I originally wrote the manifesto, I’ve seen digital work that has been pretty authentic, and so some people have found a way to work this way and express themselves honestly. And that’s the most important thing I guess- to be able to express oneself honestly, regardless of medium. For myself, I’ve recently been exploring digital on my own. I made something a year ago using an iPhone, and I recently got a DSLR camera, which I’m just starting to try out. But like I said, I’m personally not very excited by sitting at a computer to make a film, so I’m trying to create as much of my aesthetic during the shooting process with DSLR, so for me that means trying things like pinholes and zone sieves instead of lenses, using old Russian Helios film camera lenses, Holga lenses, playing with the camera picture style settings, things like that. I will say so far that at this point I personally still prefer using super-8 to DSLR. But I’m still investigating things.
As far as Stanley Kubrick goes, I think it can be problematic when a filmmaker known for being a compulsive perfectionist (for example shooting over 100 takes of someone simply crossing a room and opening a door) is held up as being a hero or god of filmmaking. Obsessing over perfection can be a real stumbling block to filmmakers who can get caught up in preparing rather than doing. For instance a real problem I have with everything is obsessing over whether I am being truthful, or expressing myself honestly and accurately, and something like that too can become a real problem if it stalls you or paralyzes you from continuing. So even with this interview I’m wondering constantly if I am offering you the most truthful and accurate answers that I can.
Q. What’s your opinion about the contemporary US films? What do you think about their aesthetics, their authenticity and the messages they convey?
A. I’ve been to the movies only 3 times in the last 7 years to see US made films, so I feel like most of the films that actually make it to distribution here have very little of value as far as aesthetics, ideas and authenticity. However some recent US films that I’ve really appreciated were “The Brown Bunny” and “Frownland”.
I do think there are US filmmakers doing important work, but they are very difficult to find because their work doesn’t get distributed. This seems to be a problem everywhere though, not just in the US.
Q. The Bulgarian audience will have the chance to see your experimental movie “In passing” which will be shown at the short film festival “Short Circuit”. The Remodernist Film Manifesto forms the basis of the joint project. Do you see it as a sample of what a remodernist film should be? Does it bare the Japanese aesthetics in which you have shown deep interest?
A. I think it works as a first interpretation of the ideas in the manifesto. For this film I worked only as the producer, helping to organize it, giving the film its title, deciding on the order of the pieces, and that there shouldn’t be titles separating the pieces within. Other than that I didn’t have creative involvement (or interference) within this film. So these pieces were totally in the control of the filmmakers that wanted to participate. So I don’t see “In Passing” as being a definitive statement so much as being a starting possibility. And so there are pieces within it that I identify with more on a personal level and other pieces that I identify with maybe little less. However I will say that I was shocked by the connections within the pieces when the short films came back from the filmmakers, because there were no rules attached to these films ahead of time other than using the manifesto as something to use as a catalyst, and that each film should be around 10 minutes long. So to me there is a connecting spirit within the pieces even if the aesthetics and mediums change throughout the film. The pieces were shot in a combination of Super-8 cameras, Flip video cameras, and DSLR, so that is a pretty wide range.
Q. And finally, of course, what’s your next professional goal?
A. Producing a film was a different and interesting experience, but now I would like to get back to my own work for a while (and hopefully be able to find someone to take on the producer role for my projects). There are three things I have in mind right now. Two are film adaptations. The first would be an adaptation of a Knut Hamsun short story “The Call of Life” and the second would be an adaptation of Rilke’s novel “The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge”. The Hamsun adaptation would be a short film and the Rilke would be feature length. Both would be heavily improvised, using a combination of notes and the source writings as the starting place. Neither piece would have a screenplay. I’ve been talking with filmmaker Mario Mentrup in Berlin about co-directing the Rilke film with me, because we seem to share a lot when it comes to our approach and I think it would make for an interesting collaboration. I would also really like to make an erotic vampire film, but one that is heavily impressionist, something that gets to the heart of the atmosphere. Blood, misty fields; emphasis on the imagery and tone. Something that doesn’t back away from the eroticism of the vampire. This I would also like to do without a screenplay and improvised. Not that I’m looking to do a homage, but something probably closer in spirit to films by Jean Rollin or 1970’s European horror, but maybe even more intense, yet quiet and dreamlike.
Q. Wish you good luck!