DIRECTOR ELCID ASAEI
“I am no socialist, so my issue with regard to neo-liberal economy is not ideological. It is rather a critique of the function and outcome of a system, and not its general desired purpose. Thereby, I believe enlightened capitalism will give everyone from every creed that chance to become a successful member of society, and aspire to great things”.Born out of his passion for films and filmmaking, Elcid Asaei is passionate about communicating stories visually. He followed his Master’s degree in Film Studies at UCL, with a spell in journalism and photography, before making his filmmaking début with the award-winning short documentary, Revolutionary Roads (Rahayeh Enghelab in Farsi), which premièred at Sheffield DocFest and went on to win the Current TV ‘Short Cuts’ prize in 2011. In an exclusive interview with Cult Critic, Elcid reveals the reason of selecting Neo-liberal economy as the subject of his award winning short film ‘PIRANHA’.
Interview by Shailik Bhaumik for Cult Critic
Shailik Bhaumik: Elcid, Firstly, allow me to express my congratulations to you for the huge success of your film ‘PIRANHA’. Recently it has won ‘The Best Postmodern Film’ award at Calcutta International Cult Film Festival. What actually did compel you to select the Neo-liberal economy as the subject of PIRANHA?
Elcid Asaei: Before I begin, thank you for your warm words and giving me the chance to discuss my film here today. Now with regards to what compelled me to focus on the social and economic issues in PIRANHA, it was really the events of the 2 years that preceded the project. We had the London riots, and before that we had the banking crisis and economic turmoil that followed, which contributed to the social hardships that were an ingredient of the riots. So it was looking at the similarities and contradictions of how both events, the banking crisis and riots, were treated by the mainstream media, in which the rioters were vilified and the bankers were let off the hook, though comparably I would say the more catastrophic crime was the latter, not the former.
Q: ‘The Market is Open’. When almost every nation has accepted the victory of neo-liberal economic revolution and its value system, why do you think there is a fault in this revolution?
A: Well, it is interesting that you use a word like ‘revolution’ to describe the neo-liberal economic movement. In my opinion, the neo-liberal economy and to some extent globalism, have had detrimental side-effects on society, and particularly those who are the poorest and at the margins of society. I think the fault here with neo-liberal economics are first and foremost, the lack of regulation, which feeds into a lack of accountability. For years, the banking sector was allowed to flagrantly make up its own rules, and do what it liked, and this created the boom and bust scenario over the course of say 10 years, which like any bubble, is prone to burst. I am a firm believer in enlightened capitalism, and I believe that a system made by the rich to benefit the rich, without trickling down to the bottom, will always create an instability that manifests in protest, and sometimes even riots as was the case in London.
Q: It’s obvious that Neo-liberal reforms have produced an incessant ideological emphasis on material success and consumption as key desirable features of life. But can you deny the importance of material success and consumption based economy in today’s life?
A: I am no socialist, so my issue with regard to neo-liberal economy is not ideological. It is rather a critique of the function and outcome of a system, and not its general desired purpose. Thereby, I believe enlightened capitalism will give everyone from every creed that chance to become a successful member of society, and aspire to great things.
Q: Why do you think that successful neo-liberal revolution somehow failed to win a young generation who are more inclined to materialistic life?
A: On the contrary, I feel that the neo-liberal system has won over young people, at least in the mainstream, because holistically the system has adopted the media and popular culture as its tools of subjugation. Where the system has failed, has been to maintain the sense of an illusion, as people young and old have started to see the cracks, and great waves of anti-establishment and anti-elitism movements have sprung up.Thus it is here where the true failure lies.
Q: In ‘PIRANHA’ you have presented the story from a subjective perspective which is an Expressionist style. What actually influenced you to adopt this style?
A: Actually, my intention was to present the film in objective style, where audiences are left with their own interpretation of the events, and who is good and bad. I did not want to be on the nose about it, I wanted to present a story that shows, but does not tell, and so where expressionism is concerned, I wanted to make a highly visual story.
Q: I think you have tried to give a noir look to your film. The black rich, black and white photography is aesthetically good, but is there any other reason for selecting black & white medium?
A: I love film noir in its strategic use of shadows and light, for more than just aesthetic reasons. In PIRANHA, I used black and white as a device to visually convey the way the media portrayed the subject matter, in a very black and white manner – not nuanced at all. I really hoped that audiences would figuratively see the greys in the film, which are the nuances about who is actually to blame – is it the individuals or is it the system that is at fault. Nature or nurture.
Q: In ‘PIRANHA’ you have used many cross dissolve transitions. Sometimes it reminds me of Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’. But I have heard new generations of filmmakers saying that they hate ‘Cross dissolve’ and that it’s obsolete now. What is your opinion?
A: I find anyone who says they hate something and that it is obsolete to be rather shortsighted at the very least. For me, if it’s a question of what is fashionable, then the outcome of a film based on such shallow constraints leads to a highly formulaic and bland product, that is generic and like the other films which follow its formula. I rather think that we make aesthetic choices due to narrative, and thematic reasons of the film in question, and at no point in the timeline did I think is this dissolve current or in-fashion, hell no!
Q: The presence of nostalgia and pastiche clearly identify PIRANHA as a postmodern work. Why did you select meta-narrative to express such a complex subject as Neo-liberalism?
A: I am not sure, I intentionally set out to use meta-narrative as a formula. I simply wanted to simplify the complexity of this social, political, and economic issue, and I felt that mainstream conventions of narrative structure and characterization would not allow this story to be nuanced and subtle in its approach. Rather, I wanted audiences to watch the events without a narrator’s finger pointing at the screen, telling them how they should feel and think. Thinking back, I found parody a great tool in this regard, where in particular, the real events the film concerns are replayed, but with a twisted edge, that reveals their origin and truth. This is quite clear in a number of scenes in PIRANHA, not least the nightmare sequence, which for an action sequence, rolls along like a mellowed out B-movie.
Q: Which postmodern filmmakers have influence on you? And why?
A: My favorite question. I am a huge fan of Kiarostami, Ray, Lynch, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Godard, Carpenter, Argento, Roeg, and Farhadi, to name a few. Their films are filled with suspense, mystery, and unconventional approaches to narrative exposition. I also find they have all, to a greater extent, not only challenged our understanding of cinema, but presented subversive elements in their film that challenge the social order and our understanding of local and global events.
Q: Apparently people may compare ‘PIRANHA’ with ‘Eraserhead’ but I think you have consciously tried to avoid the Lynch effect. What is your opinion?
A: Hahaha… (Laughing Loud). Would you believe I had not watched ‘Eraserhead’ before making PIRANHA. I had also not watched ‘Mulholland Drive’ until a year after my films’ completion, but I have to agree there are certainly a few atmospheric parallels that can be drawn. From my perspective at the time, my biggest influence was John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’, Adrian Lyne’s ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, and most notably, F.W. Murnau’s ‘Sunrise’. These films all harbored a smattering of duality, be it societal or personal.
Q: Do you think Indie films should be made for Festivals only or should be made for wider audiences? How effective are the laurels of the Indie Film Fests for commercial success of a film?
A: I really have no concrete idea, to be honest. As an upcoming filmmaker, I can only make films and market them to festivals, with the objective for them to be selected, and consequently to give me the chance to find financing for my future films. In my opinion, there is little monetary gain from short films, and so I am well aware that for my career to flourish, my coming next steps are heading towards my début feature.
Q: In which direction do you think the British film industry is moving and what is the future of Independent film in the UK?
A: In my honest opinion, I find the film industry in the UK to be rather sterile and monotone, in both the types of film being made and the filmmakers behind them. It is with respect to this stagnation, that I think the best course for up and coming filmmakers is through independent production, financed by crowdsourcing rather than the official film bodies.
Q: Postmodernists say ‘we are at the end of history; there is no hope of social, political or economic changes’. What do you think?
A: Well, I disagree profoundly. As we have seen throughout the world, social and political changes are afoot, particularly when people are told that real change is impossible, or told not to upset the apple cart. We have seen this with Brexit, and we have seen this in the national elections of a number of countries around the world, where the neo-liberal order is being challenged from both the left and right by anti-establishment parties, and in the near future, from the center ground as well. When it comes to film, I believe the independent voice of filmmakers is important in exploring and deconstructing the established order and the current backlash against it.
Q: What is your next project?
A: I am currently in pre-production on a new film project titled ‘UNSKIN’ (www.unskinthefilm.com) that is a fusion of narrative cinema and contemporary dance, whilst I am also continuing to develop my début feature length film project, an animation titled ‘The Cage’ (www.thecagefilm.com), which is partly inspired by my short-lived childhood stay in India, and an enchanting encounter with a rose-ringed parrot.
Q: Thank you so much for your time Elcid. From the entire Cult Critic team, we wish you the best.
A: Thank you very much for having me. Carpe diem.
Shailik Bhaumik is an award-winning filmmaker and entrepreneur. Known for his feature film “Dasein”, Shailik is the founder and Chairman of Human Lab Corporation, a Multinational Film Company whose mission it is to help Independent Filmmakers survive and thrive in this highly competitive industry. Shailik oversees worldwide operations including production, distribution, and marketing for HLC’s live-action films, as well as films released under the HLC banner.