Wednesday, January 25, 2012

David Dusa on His "Flowers of Evil"

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David Dusa on His "Flowers of Evil"

(from 5/19/11)

One of the fun things about covering the Tribeca Film Festival is that you can be sitting in the press lounge eating your third bag of puffy cheddar cheese popcorn and notice that right across from you is one of the directors you thought you'd have to chase around the city to interview. That's the true miniseries-worthy story of how I met and interviewed David Dusa, the director-screenwriter of Flowers of Evil. I had made a date with someone to see this French entry to the festival the following week, despite knowing it wasn't a horror film on the order of The Day of the Triffids, but when I quickly asked Dusa if he had a few minutes to spare, I realized that I'd forgotten why I had wanted to see it. Fortunately, he had to finish a phone call and I was able to open the Tribeca press guide and remind myself what it was about, and that it was in French and Farsi. It began: "Paris-Tehran. Forced to leave Tehran after the controversial elections in 2009, 24-year-old Anahti [Alice Belaidi] desperately relies on her laptop and smartphone to stay connected to the friends shaping the revolutionary movement in her homeland. Captivated by Anahita's urgency and sense of purpose, Rachid [Rachid Youcef]--a young French-Algerian bellhop at her luxury Parisian hotel--tries to impress her with videos of his improvisational, parkour-syle dance moves on YouTube." It says more but that's all I was able to read before do the following interview with the personable David Dusa about a film I saw the following week and very much enjoyed because the politics and romance outweigh the technology that plays a big part in the film--it's a generational thing!                                                                               Danny Peary: I overheard you saying you're not able to stay for the final screening of your film.
David Dursa: I have to go back to Paris, but I have to go on to Copenhagen because my films in competition there.
DP: So you're screening it all over the world?
DD: The film started its career about a year ago at the Cannes Film Festival. That was the first place I was accepted, which was very exciting. It was not the big glamorous official selection, but it was still very, very nice. And since then the film has been touring the European film circuit a lot. This is the North American premiere, the first time I am showing my film in America. It's really, really great, an amazing experience to be here.
DP: Have you been to New York before?
DD: Yes, but only for four days. I didn't know New York very well. I've been amazed at the audiences, and how engaged they were in the film, how they asked lots of questions. After a screening, there's always a mediator who asks questions, but usually nobody else asks anything because they're shy or something but here at Tribeca, it was completely different. People were engaged in the film.
DP: What do you think they excited about the most?
DD: I think what has been going on in Africa and the Middle East, what in France we call the Arab Spring--the Arab revolutions, I think it has made people aware about what's going on the Muslim world, the grassroots democracy movements that have grown there. People are very much interested in the film from that perspective, but I think the thing what makes them the most intrigued by the film is the way that we mix images from YouTube and the footage that we shot in Paris. They also are interested in how we use social media in the film--how we use Facebook and Twitter--and how we created layers--texts printed on the image--like the tweets--and how we created dynamic storytelling using these social networking tools. I think they're very much interested in that America is very much into social networks and social media.
DP: What you're saying makes me want to ask: Are you a Jean-Luc Godard fan, by any chance? His films are very weird now, and I'm not sure if you saw his more accessible earlier stuff when he used alienation techniques.
DD: Well, his films now are very weird, but he's a genius, you know. His early works for me are fundamental, and actually there are similarities in terms of editing between our films. I've learned a lot from him in terms of the editing and the jump cuts and everything. I used that a lot. I have wanted to send him the film to see what he thinks. I'm going to do it, but I'm kind of afraid!
DP: When I was 20 years old, I went to the University of Wisconsin, and Godard came there and I sat at a table with him and I was totally in awe and couldn't talk. Nobody could. What do you ask this guy? You're not alone being intimidated.
DD: Yeah, I think hes very impressive. He has this kind of aura that he carries with
DP: I would think if he were starting out and young, now, that he would do something similar to what you're talking about--the YouTube and images with letters.
DD: These social media have entered our lives and they've changed our perspective of time, for example--what it means to be present and to feel present, all these things. I think that has a great impact. I think that the movie is strange in the way that it's always anchored in the present time, with all the drama in the present. You can feel that there's a past to the two characters--a backstory, and at one moment they do talk about it. But it's all about the present; almost a dictatorship of the present time, and how they react to the continuous present they live in.
DP: Are these two characters products of the technology and media of today?
DD: I think they are of the generation who grew up with the Internet, so they've definitely very much integrated the use of the Internet into their everyday lives. I don't think they even question it. They're so much a part of it that they don't even question its presence and the way it transforms their perception of life, in a way. But I wouldn't say they're victims of it in any way, too. They're products. The film is actually questioning, a little bit, that. This girl is from Iran and she's in Paris because her parents sent her there. They dont want her to participate in the demonstrations. She falls in love with this guy who works at the hotel, and she could live this wonderful love story.
DP: Does she speak French?
DD: Yeah, many Iranians have a second language. The high society people. So she's kind of torn between living this love story and going back home to fight for freedom. And it's through the Internet that she has this kind of attachment. But at the same time, she cannot be a product of the Internet because she knows it's not enough to watch. It's not satisfying enough to see what's going on, you have to be directly involved with what's going on. She's not a product of this, she's just made these tools part of her life. I don't think it has changed the fundamental issues of life. When you're in love, you need physical contact. When you want to change a regime, you need to be on the street to change it. That hasn't changed, I think.
DP: The two of them are sort of united politically, right? Are there protests in the film where they participate?
DD: No, actually the male character of the film is not at all political. He's apolitical. He doesn't know anything about the outside world. For him the Internet is kind of a tool to record his dancing videos--hes a dancer--and to put them on his Facebook page. That's what he does with the Internet. Until the moment that he meets her, and she's the one who introduces him to this other aspect of the Internet, where it can also be a tool for finding information or for social change.
DP: When people protest, and are active and in the streets, that's exactly the time when a lot of them fall in love because there's an adrenaline rush. Is that a theme of your movie?
DD: Let me tell you an anecdote. I have a Serbian friend who was living in Belgrade when the NATO bombings were going on, and he told me that there were never as good parties in Belgrade as during the bombings. So I think there's something like that taking place, but I think in her case its more desperate because she's all alone. She's in this unknown city where she doesn't know anyone, and she's only confronted with these images that she's powerless to do anything about. So she's kind of very open to having someone to hold onto and to engage with.
DP: That sounds like he's good for her; how is she good for him?
DD: He's a very strange boy in a way. When you first meet him, hes completely alone. But he doesn't really seem to be suffering from this loneliness. He seems to live in an isolated, very routine world, but he doesn't seem to think this is in any way bad until he meets her. Through her, he kind of gets out of his solitude and embraces her as well. We find later that he's been hurt many times-- that's why, maybe, he chose the solitude. But he engages with her, and also lets go of her, eventually, when she has to go back. Tha'ts how he maybe gets out of his solitude.
DP: So they both change by the end of the movie in a positive way.
DD: Yes, yes, definitely.
DP: Did you ever live in the Middle East?
DD: Never.
DP: But you grew up in South Africa for a time. Did what went on in South Africa influence you to think about social change?
DD: It might have, I'm not sure. I was there at a very strange time. I was 14 and it was the year that Nelson Mandela got elected. I was old enough to remember and I remember very clearly, and I'm sure it influenced me in many, many ways. I'm not sure how much it influenced this film, but I think what influenced me the most in terms of this film is that I've been rootless; I've always moved around a lot because of my parents. They divorced while I was still in Hungary, and then she moved with me to Sweden, and he moved with his new family to South Africa--that's why I went back and forth. I go back to Hungary all the time because my grandmother lives there, but I never went back to live there. I go back three times a year to see them, I speak Hungarian to my son, for example.
DP: So you're from different places.
DD: Yeah, I'm a kind of chameleon sometimes. I feel in my depth anywhere. And sometimes that's kind if important in my filmmaking.
DP: In all of your work, do you feel that comes through?
DD: Definitely. I have two short films on my YouTube channel, which people can check out, especially Amin, I think its clear that one of my main centers of interest, at least up until now, has been rootless existence--when people are somewhere where they don't feel at home, or have nowhere that they really feel at home. It's very important for me to explore that feeling.
DP: Does being at the Tribeca Film Festival around the 10th anniversary of 9/11 have an impact on you? DD: Of course, of course. First of all, to show my film in New York is completely insane. In my youth I was into punk rock, and lots and lots of the music came from here. Also all the cinema and literature that is New York. So for me to come here to show my film theres a lot of emotion. I mean, were showing it in a theater next to the Chelsea Hotel! I read about the Chelsea Hotel, heard songs about it-- it's extremely exciting. Then the Tribeca Film Festival I think is enormous. It's really still hard to believe that they selected my film, in a way, because its such a big privilege.. So many people would love to come here.
DP: But you were at Cannes...
DD: Cannes was a very nice experience, it was very important, but at Cannes there are many sections, and it's not the same thing. Here it's different, and its very important for me because its the North American premiere, and Ive never shown my films in North America. So it's a great, great beginning. In terms of 9/11: I moved to France from Sweden three days before 9/11, on the 7th or 8th of September. Those ten years that have passed have been quite difficult for me, politically speaking, because I felt that everywhere human rights and tolerance and humanism and freedom of speech and all the things I believe in have been going backwards. Really everywhere. That's why Im really excited today. While we sit here talking, there are things going things in the Middle East that are real grassroots revolutions and democratic revolutions, and I'm very excited about that.

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