Everything is cool in eternity: an interview with Fabrizio Federico
Before being put in a straitjacket in France in 1937, Antonin Artaud wrote scarcely about cinema, a medium he believed was born dead. He believed the novelty of film demanded a vision unlike anything ever seen or produced by the industry. Artaud did not believe in film because it was swallowed up by the mainstream as soon as it emerged. Decades after his death, during the resurgence of a new wave of underground, marginal cinema in Europe, Fabrizio Federico started making punk films and guerilla cinema in 2012, without a formal education in film and rather proud of it. For him, this meant financing extremely low budget films in any way possible, shooting without permits, on phones, children’s cameras and stolen equipment. The most important concern was to reveal a vision. His work would later be compared to ‘Rubik’s cubes of images’; blurred zones between acting and reality, often described by himself with terms such as ‘Zen filmmaking’ and ‘DJ directing.’ Federico is the author of the infamous PINK8 Manifesto, starting with the affront, “Film school is poison” and closing with the call to action “Answer to one person only — yourself.” With its epileptic rhythm, it seems as if 21st century cinema still asks for the extraordinary themes and culminating states of the soul that Artaud believed it could contain, once the director assumes his role as that of the poet, the monk, or the DJ. Fabrizio Federico’s career is a vivid example of the possibilities that the present holds for young filmmakers who aim at creating work free from the restraints of film as an institution; films still committed to pushing boundaries, responding to political realities and fleeing formal categorizations.
Sebastián Jiménez Galindo: Anarchy in the UK: The New Underground Cinema documentary chronicles the UK’s Misrule Cinema Movement and the rebirth of the UK’s underground film scene from 2010 to 2016. Several organized groups of creators seem to have formed as a reaction to the abolition of the UK Film Council, which formerly provided support for young emerging filmmakers working outside of the mainstream. The abolition shed light on the autonomy of independent artists taking matters in their own hands, going into the streets and making films on their own. You finished your debut feature film, Black Biscuit, in 2012, wrote your own manifesto, independently released other short and feature films and founded the online Straight-Jacket Guerilla Film Festival in 2016, in order to represent “the cream of the Les Enfants Terribles of international cinema; a springboard for new filmmakers to create their own micro-budget epics.” It’s been eight years since the early period of the New Underground Cinema Movement, and it appears to be that punk films and underground cinema are going in a more global, international direction. What can you tell us about the current state of underground cinema stemming from the Misrule Cinema Movement and others of the like? Where has the Straight-Jacket Guerilla Film Festival taken you and other independent filmmakers?
Fabrizio Federico: I think a lot of new filmmakers understand completely the Misrule cinema and YouTube filmmaking. Because of the Internet you now have a world stage to screen your films, which completely blows away theatre film festivals and old fashioned cinemas; where only a couple of hundred people at most might see your film if you’re lucky, but there’s also a lot of filmmakers who are missing the point in a spectacular fashion! Because of organizing Straight-Jacket (which is an online film festival) I’ve realized that a lot of filmmakers for some insane reason want to keep their films private from the general public, which to me just sounds demented and insane. Why would you not want as many people as possible to watch your film, especially if you’re a new filmmaker? Just upload your full film onto YouTube or Vimeo and charge people if making money is your thing, but to keep the film private, what’s the point of even making the film? Misrule is about total freedom, D.I.Y., and war against the old cinema system. I want everyone to start releasing Misrule style films online so it over-saturates the film industry, destroys it and ultimately it will be reborn.
It has been said that the generation gap became visibly fractured during the Brexit referendum in 2016. Young people claimed their future had been stolen by the generations above who seemed to have taken the decision for them, but some polls showed high rates of absentee ballots among young voters. Pro-Brexit papers like The Daily Mail described the coming generations as “angry but distracted.” It is a generation that is increasingly interested in learning more about politics and the democratic process, but the massive easy-access to all types of biased and false information places them in a state of confusion and inaction. You were heavily critical of the social media generation in your film Pregnant (2015). How do you see the role of film, and specifically renegade, D.I.Y., aesthetically radical films, in the political positions of young people during times of crisis?
I think this Internet generation is completely gullible and has no attention span when it comes to discussing anything serious or topical relating to the future. I spent a year studying them online so I know what I’m talking about. Most of them are too hung up with their own micro-aggressions, but instead of listening to the bigger issue they just have this ridiculous self-entitled attitude to be offended by everything. It’s very distracting and boring, nothing gets solved. Brexit became a reality because the youth of Britain let us down, we could have won that vote, but instead we lost because the youth were too busy playing on their phones.
You were born and raised in an Italian family in the UK, and then moved to the United States at the age of 13. You entered school after having forgotten how to read and write in English, and had to start from zero while adapting to a different culture. After spending your formative years exposed to the underground music scene in Boston, you were deported back to the UK, where you started making films. How did those years influenced your particular stances on filmmaking? In what ways, if any, do you think your initial culture shock with the United States drove you to approach films in the way that you do?
While I lived in America I was a musician and a DJ, so other than watching a lot of cool films I was entirely wrapped up in music. In order to start a new life back in Britain I had to divorce myself from my past in order to move forward, so I decided to start making films. When I first moved to America it was a massive culture shock, I went from living in the simple countryside in Italy, which is full of hoodlums and fireworks, to being thrown into a video game! That’s what America is, it’s a karaoke, entertainment, cartoon bonanza. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it after I got used to it, but believe me, a twelve year old in Italy is a lot more street smart than a twelve year old American kid; they are more innocent and playful. I miss America very much, but their immigration system is merciless and evil. I had a good life over there before it was all robbed from me.
Pop culture is an important part of your films, or rather, specific ways of looking at pop culture through experimentation and accidental moments of strange lucidity. In your short film Who killed Vanilla Ice? you say that you can’t explain why we call certain pleasures ‘guilty pleasures’ if they are something we truly enjoy. It is almost as if the world of media, advertising, Hollywood films and Instagram ads decides what we enjoy and the ways in which we’re supposed to experience enjoyment, and then separates our likings according to the place in which we are situated in a specific society. From there on, young creators reproduce specific ways of making films and telling stories, which we have been brought up to see as the norm. Do you think experimental films, coming from their opposition to preconceived notions of what films are meant to be, as well as their radical politics of filmmaking, are a way of reappropriating the ways in which mainstream cinema has been ingrained in our personal life? Or do you think it’s just a way of autonomously creating whatever one wants to see, without politics involved?
Yes and no, because even when you get away from government politics there’s always social politics you have to face, and the notion that it’s not cool to show certain things, or to enjoy unpopular topics; for example, Vanilla Ice, etc… Everyone has guilty pleasures, but why be embarrassed about something you love? I don’t just sit around watching experimental and foreign films all day, I also watch a lot of pop movies. One day I’ll watch something hardcore like Dogtooth or Gummo, and then the next day I might watch The Bodyguard or Dirty Dancing. You have to be brave to be a filmmaker. It’s fun to play with form and to mis-manage; to be a charlatan, to revolutionize and cause an explosion with your film; to be anti-commercial but to also connect with people in a childlike way, and to disrupt. I want artistic anarchy in the mainstream — I’m a cultural assassin.
During your time in the United States you worked as a DJ, and you have talked about your editing process as a rather experimental one; for instance, editing Black Biscuit under hypnosis, or listening to Britney Spears non-stop while working with the footage. You have also referred to your film Pregnant as “a mix-tape journey into technology addiction, through a shamanic rhythm.” In which ways does your music background and sensibilities connect with the montage of your films?
Massively. I basically create films like an improvised mixtape, when I’m not shooting all I do is have constant music on in every room. Pregnant is a ‘pop symphony for film.’ I can conduct and feed the audience this magical alchemy of sugar or knives and fulfill lots of different emotions in one movie. I’m very greedy, I want it all now. But I need to know what vibe I want to capture before I start making a movie. My new one is called Teddy Bears Live Forever, and I listened to a lot of Clockwork Orange classical music, early Manic Street Preachers (when Richey was in the band), and constantly had on Nirvana. The spirit of Kurt Cobain & Richey Edwards is embodied in the film, they along with all those tragic faded ‘it girls’ such as Edie Sedgwick and Gia, were my spirit-guides. The combination of death, sex, and madness is really the ultimate artistic and cultural taboo still to this day. It’s a living work of art. In LOON I used subliminal messages. It’s cooler to not know what you’re doing, rewrite cinema, use street superstars in your films. The PINK8 manifesto has now become a myth, it’s too hardcore for most filmmakers, too big of a challenge.
You use non-actors in your films (‘street superstars’); often people you stumble upon, marginal characters willing to tell their story to the camera. You don’t write scripts and your scenes are not formally staged, but rather portray the process of real life happening as it is in the moment. Despite the fact that your feature films Black Biscuit and Pregnant are not documentaries, the rawness of their spontaneous construction places them in a very ambiguous zone within the imaginary spectrum of fiction and nonfiction. Your documentaries, Anarchy in the UK and The Evolution of the Earth Angel were actually made by your alter ego, Jett Hollywood, whom a lot of people believed to be a ‘real person’, and an investigation happened after his suicide note went viral online. How do you see the way in which the categories of genre, fiction and nonfiction interact in the medium of film, and in the creation of your films in particular?
I guess the movies have a very unique identity. You can’t categorize them, maybe they are ahead of their time. To me, imperfect is perfect. The films are so open ended and nonlinear that they have confused and angered film critics. They have taken the challenge personally, which says a lot. I think that challenge is heroic in an outlaw sort of way. I wanted to create an alter-ego filmmaker and Jett Hollywood is my version of a legendary Ziggy Stardust character, but as a filmmaker from Mars, the ultimate film director who created two inspiring films and then commited suicide and became a folk hero madman, an Anti-Eastwood filmmaker. I can see why there have been riots and confrontations at my film screenings. It’s a very sexual feeling being in a riot. I’d rather have that happen instead of having a bunch of film goes sitting there quietly in the dark eating popcorn.
To tie back together this interview with the issues we addressed at the beginning, it seems that global culture in 2018 is rapidly becoming as schizophrenic, combustible, and psychedelic as you predicted cinema would become in your 2016 interview with London Filmmakers. The point of reference for the new generations of filmmakers will be more inclined towards Internet content as opposed to television: populist and radical politics, violence and disinformation, the involuntary self-satire of the political circus and the banality of social media will all blend in a strange brew out of which daring experimentation seems to be an inevitable corollary, at least for those who pick the path of self-reliant, visionary and innovative films. How do you see the future of cinema as we approach the second decade of the 21st century?
Because I had a near death experience at such a young age, I see the world in a very freeform way because I understand that life is a game, a beautiful game. I have a vision and can predict patterns in a Fibonacci sequence-like way. In the future there will be a very blurred punk threat between what’s ugly and beautiful, garbage and gold. But being a pioneer has it’s disadvantages, just look at Van Gogh. Maybe I will be remembered as a dictator because I have very focused ideas but I think that’s just self-belief and confidence. In the distant future I think cinema won’t exist anymore, it will mutate into either the second coming of Christ; where films will be shown in the sky, or, cinema will become completely and utterly worthless, because we will live in a virtual reality and no one will have an attention span longer than five minutes.
All of Fabrizio Federico’s films are available online through http://fabriziofederico.co.uk/. The second edition of the Straight-Jacket Guerilla Film Festival will take place online between August 15 and 21 of 2018 at http://www.straightjacketguerrillafilmfestival.com/.
Sebastián Jiménez Galindo was born in Mexico City, where he is currently pursuing a BFA in Literature and Literary Creation at Centro de Cultura Casa Lamm. He is a director, translator, and critic, and his 2015-2018 film works will be premiered together as an anthology titled YOU’RE ON THE BALCONY TALKING ABOUT YOUR DREAMS at the Straight-Jacket Guerilla Film Festival in August 2018. Fragments of the earlier film, LAS BRUJAS, are upcoming in the experimental TV project Here Comes Everybody, running online and on cable access in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Portland, Seattle and Chicago.