Sunday, 9 August 2015

Frightfest London 2015: Levan Bakhia Interview

Landmine Goes Click pretty much sums up why festivals are important.  It's the discovery of movies like this that makes sitting through the occasional dreary, unoriginal snorefest worth it.  I'm going to say very little about this movie except that if you saw  director Levan Bakhia's last feature, the enjoyable 247°F, you could be forgiven for expecting something of similar quality here.  You would be very wrong.  Landmine Goes Click for most of it's runtime delivers an excruciating exercise in escalating tension before delivering one of the most powerful final acts I've seen in recent years.  Just in case I've not been clear.  DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE.  Without further's the interview.

AOTD: Tell us a little bit about your experience shooting 'Landmine Goes Click'. How many days did you shoot for? Did the script change at all during the shoot? Were there any unexpected challenges or did it all go smoothly?

LB: Best way to describe the experience of shooting our film is to check the playlist on my personal youtube channel, where we made episodes at every stage (link).

One of the most interesting and different aspect of this production was that we were pulling off very long takes.  70% of the shots are more than 5-6 minutes, and sometimes we had to do it 5-6 times.   And it was not rehearsed, we were improvising.

Actors knew what their objectives were, and they were free to do what they wanted.  I did not block their movement, I gave them total freedom.  But in order for this to work, there was a very unique experience of me working with cinematographer, Vigen Vartanov.  I worked with him as with an actor.  Instead of blocking the camera move, I would give the same kind of objective to him as well.  So basically, he was performing together with actor, he did not know what would happen, he had to reflect on what was happening.  He would have objectives like to be interested, or insulting, or sometime he would even have an objective to lead actors movement.  It's complicated to explain, filmmakers can take this approach and see for themselves how it works.

I love working with actors, that is my favorite part of directing.  So combining cinematography with acting was very special experience.

As for the script, well, biggest part of it was improvised.  I mean, we had a script, and I would ask actors that we are running certain pages, but I wanted them not to stop until I would say so, and then I would push them to the parts where they did not memorise the text, and approximately 50% of the takes in final edit are those parts.  Some lasted for minutes of unprepared improvisation.  I like improvisation.  But of course the script was always there as an outline.

AOTD. It saddened me to read that Kote Tolordava, who delivers an astonishing performance in the role of the villain of the piece, passed away recently. He was a mostly terrifying, sometimes hilarious and utterly unpredictable presence in the movie. I also understand that he was a great friend of yours. What made you think of him for Ilya and were there any qualities he brought to the role that surprised you?

LB: I met him on audition of Landmine Goes Click, and we became very close friends.  You see, when an actor has to perform what he had to perform, you really need to open up with them, he really needed to have full trust in what was he about to do.  He was very realistic in everything he did, he was "in the moment" all the time.  You see, even if your question started about him passing away, I avoid thinking about it.  This is a tragedy, I planned to have him in many films, he wanted to show himself to hollywood as well.  He was very famous in Georgia, but his talents are far bigger than that.  I think he had a chance to come to Hollywood and give himself to better project.  I'm sure he would surprise everyone on auditions.  Ehh, it's sad that I have to talk about him as someone who has passed away.  God bless him wherever he is. 

I don't know what made me think about him as Ilya.  I think it just clicked when I saw him on audition.  He was just right.  I knew it.

AOTD: Sterling Knight and Spencer Locke both give excellent performances that evolve over the course of the film. Can you tell us a bit about how you cast the American parts in the movie, and what work you did with them in preparation?

LB: Casting happened over skype, long distance.  It really makes it harder, but you see, you know when the actor is right by just speaking to them.  I wish I was there in person, but today's technologies give you all the tools you need. The fact that the actors perform so well confirms that theory.  I think both are great, I think Dean Geyer is great as well. 

As for preparation, I had the actors arrive to Georgia only a week before the shoot, and we did rehearsals.  I realised that we did not have time to prepare for the role more, so I trusted the instinct of all of us.  The situation helped, because in the story they are tourists and they really were tourists in Georgia.  So then we followed the story.

AOTD: Shooting the rape scene in the movie surely must have been an uncomfortable, emotional, possibly traumatic experience not only for Spencer but also for Kote as her assailant. What was the vibe like on the set that day and did it impact on your directorial approach with the actors?

LB: It was much more than I could have imagined.  I will never forget, when we did the first take, as Ilya's character did not even start the rape, he was dragging Alicia and screaming and yelling, being violent preparing for his act.  It was as uncomfortable as real assault.  We see violence in the movies, we don't even consider what it can be in real life.

When you are present at that moment, your body responds to it in a very stressful way.  I can't even imagine what actors can feel.

As for my approach, nothing changes.  I did the rape scenes exactly the same way I approached other scenes.  I think that should not matter, you aim for realistic results.  It's just that, you need to show actors that you are there for them.  You need to show that on any scene, but this kind of scene require more attention.  Actors need to know how it works out.  They can become cautious, if you don't show support, and if they lose trust in you.

AOTD: Your screenwriter is Adrian Colussi whose previous work has been in lightweight TV comedy. It would be a massive understatement to say Landmine Goes Click represents a departure. Can you tell us a little bit about how the script landed in your hands and what input, if any, you had?

LB: I met Adrian at workshop with Judith Weston in LA.  We became friends.  He is a very special guy, a great collaborator and high class professional.  We write together.  I mean he does the writing, but we come up with the story together. 

Adrian is Canadian.  I live in Georgia.  The country Georgia, not the state.  And my company has invited Adrian to Georgia to write scripts for our projects.  He has arrived for 3 months, but stayed in Georgia for over a year.  He even got married to a Georgian girl.   That's how we wrote the script for Landmine Goes Click.  We teach each other a lot, I think we are a great team.  I think I am not going to do anything without him, if he will feel like this too of course.  We do the story together, and then he does the screenplay.  

AOTD: You have chosen to go down the route of self-distribution. What prompted that decision and how is it working out for you?

LB: That really is a long story.  But I started a blog which is where your readers can see the whole story.  I think filmmakers will benefit from joining the conversation there.  But the simple idea is that, indie filmmakers I think need to convert into indie distributors, because that is the era that we are entering. 

AOTD: Sounds like something worth encouraging. 'Landmine Goes Click' played the Fantasporto Festival earlier this year with you in attendance where it won the Audience Jury Award and was nominated for best film. What was that experience like and, other than the accolades, did you gain anything valuable from attending he festival as a film-maker?

LB: Fantasporto was the first festival Landmine Goes Click played.  Actually, it was first festival that i have attended as a filmmaker in selection.  I did not know what to expect, especially the award.  Later our film was awarded on second festival, Fantafestival as well, and now I hope for more wins, it feels good, but at Fantasporto I did not know what would it feel like to be awarded.  And it felt great.

I met other filmmakers, that was the most important part.  I became friends with some of them.  I think being part of something is important, not the win, despite of how it feels, that is not a goal.  Sharing with other filmmakers is what it is all about.

AOTD: The final act of the movie and especially the closing scene really shook me up. Without spoilers can you explain to what extent was the ending instrumental in your wanting to make this movie and what kind of reaction did it get from the audience at Fantasporto?

LB: The closing scene is what this film is about for me.  You see, Landmine Goes Click falls under the genre of rape & revenge.  This is exploitation genre.  It exploits the desire of the audience to punish the villain for the sin he has committed.  The audience is so drawn to this revenge, in movies like "I spit on your grave",  they enjoy horrible tortures performed on the screen.  And I think this is not right.  I wanted to slap the audience for that. 

That's how the audience at Fantasporto, and any other audience reacts to it.  They don't like to be slapped, but I think it reminds them, that they are human.  I hope it does. 

AOTD: I noticed that your name is attached to an upcoming movie called 'She, Who Killed Us All' which will see you work again with your '247°F' co-director Beqa Jguburia. The poster and the tagline alone have me interested. Can you tell us a little bit about this project?

LB: I don't know if that project is still happening to be honest.  And at the same time, I think I will have something much more interesting to offer the audience.  I recently had anxiety issues, it opened up whole new world to me.  World of stress and recovery, world of fear and calm, world of wisdom and ignorance.  Hence, my upcoming project is going to be about that. 

AOTD: Are there any directors whose work you particularly respect and who have had an influence on your approach to film-making?

LB: I respect all great films, and don't like to admire particular filmmakers.  I like to have my mind free from authorities, in filmmaking and in life.  I want to have myself free even from my own "past self", who was fascinated by a certain film in past.  I want it to leave that impression right there, in past as I watched it and then let it go.  I think that is the only way to lead your creativity, and actually live your life. 

But Birdman was the film I could not get out of my head since I watched it.  Can't wait for the new film coming from Iñárritu, but I don't think this is forever.  I will not call that influence.

AOTD: Landmine Goes Click is screening at Frightfest in London next month. Do you have a message for the audience?

LB: Yes.  I want to hear your opinion, please be active, vote, review on your favorite site.  That's how you can support us, the filmmakers.  And thanks for watching my film.  Hope to be there with you.

AOTD: Just want to finish by thanking you for taking the time to answer my questions.  Hope you enjoy Frightfest if you make it.  I know that Frightfest is going to enjoy Landmine Goes Click.

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