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About this film

A seasoned detective and a keen recruit cruise through Sarajevo unravelling a crime... but the investigation turns pear-shaped when genre tropes and an existential crisis get in the way. In this orphan episode of a lost detective series, filmmaker Graeme Cole turns his absurdist eye on the whodunit and deconstructs the genre into a maelstrom of giggles, nostalgia and bewilderment.

Peter Treherne (Filmmaker and SSFF Creative Director)

Interview with the Director
Welcome to tao films, Graeme. You were the producer of Aleksandra Niemczyk’s Investigations of a Dog, but you’re also a director yourself. How did your way into filmmaking look like?

Thank you, tao is a wonderful initiative!

Mostly I’ve been a ‘director’ or filmmaker or artist rather than producer, though I prefer Miriam Bale’s idea that the director is more of a mother than an auteur: you birth, feed, and change the thing but it’s the village that raises it. I work very closely with Niemczyk, we help each other’s films to happen, hence we are each other’s producers or doulas.

Filmmaking for me began with summer holiday videos, a basic media studies/video degree, and the L’Institute Zoom collective, then tentative steps onto the formal UK filmmaker development framework making shorts with the Film Council.

I was very privileged to get on that ‘development path’ but it was kind of loveless and focussed on very restrictive ideas of the moving image, and we didn’t fit each other. Instead, I gradually found an (unstable) artistic practice that’s benefitted most from working in small, informal groups, motivated by kindness, curiosity, and biscuits. Amateur (lover’s) filmmaking, even if we’ve sometimes been able to appropriate the tools of the industry.

Epizoda? is what you call an orphan episode of a [lost] detective show. Can you tell us more about how this film came about and where you took your inspiration from?

The movie was inspired by a handful of images of existential agony. My own and some I observed in others. And a few pieces of music.

The vision of a weeping TV detective was always the core of the idea. I always knew he was a TV detective and not a real life one. So I started to trace the clueless detective’s progress through the ‘procedure’ of solving a TV murder case to see where he would go when stripped of all social and professional cues. And although he goes off-road, the show remains recognisably a police procedural which means a) that it shows the power of the invisible structures in place around us and b) the tale remains universal. It basically has no content, just the rhythm of the genre and the rhythm of emotion.

The original plan was to make it in Manchester, but after I moved very suddenly to Sarajevo to Béla Tarr’s film school, and despite being determined to only work on new material, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I didn’t change the script at all, except that the lead actors translated it, so you could remake it anywhere - and probably someone should.

Epizoda and your first film It’s Nick’s birthday are very different with regards to their aesthetics, but they have one element in common. It’s the subtle sense of humour, almost dead pan, that underlies your two films. I cannot help but think of Albert Serra, who similarly infuses his films with comical elements without bringing them expressively to the fore. How do you, as a filmmaker, negotiate the difficulty of creating humour for an audience that might have a multitude of tastes?

I don’t negotiate that at all. In fact, I think it’s when I consciously try to add humour that these films most fall flat, because it’s my own stupid jokes. Most of the humour that works in these films is rooted in absurdity and it comes out naturally from the situation and the cast. Nobody laughs out loud, but I think that kind of humour is pretty universal to those who are tuned in to what life is like beyond the end of their nose.

I would be too terrified to make a comedy, but I don’t know how or why anyone would make films without humour. How do they take the humour out? Life is hilarious. We’re all walking around in circles with serious expressions on our faces. And then we turn to shit and dust. We’re the most absurd, peculiar beings, which is not to say that animals and meteorological phenomena aren’t ridiculous, too.

Another stand-out element of Epizoda is its visuals. In the last couple of years, there has been a strong tendency to create perfect images, smooth images. Technology has certainly helped with this. You go the opposite way in Epizoda and the film looks like taken from an old VHS. It reminds me of my childhood…a trip down memory lane, I have to say! (please respond)

Alongside ‘no humour,’ the one thing that makes me switch a film off is ‘no texture.’ Or when actors look too freshly-showered, which maybe amounts to the same thing. Not every HD film should be transferred to tape or film to give it texture, but it’s boring that so many filmmakers turn in these identical, pristine images. There are many other ways to give a film breath.

We shot Epizoda on a really heavy, really expensive Red camera but always with the intention to degrade it later. Actually when the original DPs, Manel Raga and Pilar Palomero, found out that it would be transferred to VHS, they did have some questions about why they were carrying this awful Red camera around the city. But their job was to make beautiful images that would look like they use to be something.

The use of VHS serves several purposes, such as adding to the watery, reflective aesthetic. Definitely nostalgia is an important one, but more particularly the feeling of déjà vu, or that this video and the patterns and structures it describes have been carved into the collective memory without us noticing, much like the behaviours of the characters.

The colour palette, which is rather dull containing only washed-out colours, is also a reminder of old TV shows. I wonder whether the aesthetics of your film have been clear from the beginning, or whether you have developed them while shooting?

The palette was clear from the beginning, to the point that we only managed to get the exact car we needed the night before the shoot. And then we were very lucky with the weather. Not only the blue skies, but a freak rain storm that dampened the ground, then disappeared so we had both the blue skies and the damp ground. Fred Kelemen had suggested we hire a street-flushing truck from the city to soak the roads before we filmed them. Maybe that would be more Béla Tarr-style – a fire engine to soak the city and then a helicopter to blow-dry it.

Liam Shanagher, who also graded It’s Nick’s Birthday, worked on bringing out the natural Miami Viceness of the colours in post, and beginning the ‘washing out’ process, which continued when he handed it back and I started transferring to VHS and back. Other than that, the aesthetic was very much defined by the locations and costumes we planned in advance, right down to the backgrounds when they’re driving around. Except that I didn’t allow enough time for extra set-ups, so it’s more static than I’d like.

You’re currently working on a new film, Murmurs, of which you screened a preview at last year’s Slow Short Film Festival. Can you tell us more about this new piece?

Murmurs is a feature-length experiment in intimacy, all set in one room, with just two actors: Elma Selman from Epizoda and Stewart Lockwood from It’s Nick’s Birthday. We followed a storyline, but it’s mostly improvised, and the actors themselves first met in the moment you see the characters meet on screen – so we kind of see their chemistry develop in real-time. They’re both a bit damaged. And Elma’s character is a maker of ASMR videos, so there’s an ASMR element that ties into this idea of how we cultivate intimacy but it’s really out of our hands, and very fragile.

It’s split screen, shot simultaneously on two cameras, so when the SSFF team – not knowing what to do with my mid-paced oeuvre – put three of my films on at once in a community hall over the road from the festival proper, we were able to hook Murmurs up on separate screens and emphasise the bargain-basement 3D appeal of the movie.

I’m also editing a final Sarajevo project, which brings Epizoda’s lead actors back together but in different roles. And I hope my newest film, The Curse of the Phantom Tympanum, will play at some festivals this year.

Thank you very much for this interview.

Thank you bringing people together!