Earth to Jim Finn
Chatting with the director of Interkosmos
Illinois-based film and video artist Jim Finn recently wrapped up work on his first feature-length film, the curiously delightful musical/comedy/sci-fi/tone poem Interkosmos. The film, which plays out like some long-lost, recently rediscovered documentary from behind the Iron Curtain, follows the training and deployment of two would-be astronauts enrolled in an ambitious Communist plot to colonize the moons of Jupiter.
Lest the hypnotically drab, badly faded footage lull you into thinking you’re watching the real ’60s-era thing, Finn worked with musicians Jim Becker and Colleen Burke (he of the band Califone, she of the “non-angular music” group We Ragazzi) to create an insidiously addictive, ear-awakening kraut rock soundtrack.
Interkosmos’ mixture of straight-faced recreation, gloriously low-budget modelwork and Busby Berkeley-inspired musical numbers caused Guy Maddin, the Canadian director whose outré oeuvre includes Tales from the Gimli Hospital and The Saddest Music in the World, to remark that Finn’s work was, “Charming and fantastic, so full of rare atmospheres.”
Now, Finn is coming to town, not only to premiere the film at the Guild Cinema, but to begin work on his newest feature, Senderistas, which will be shot here in Albuquerque. With all the recent influx of Hollywood films, it’s refreshing--and a bit surprising--to see a truly indie filmmaker choosing to work here in New Mexico. Naturally, we felt the need to chat with the mysterious Mr. Finn.
What is the genesis of Interkosmos?
Interkosmos began as a small film about a guinea pig as a communist mascot and then a vague story idea about guinea pigs on a mission to Jupiter. I got a small grant from the Illinois Arts Council for the models and the rear projection and then realized the story was much larger than I thought. So I held off on filming until I could get some capsule suits, humans, flares and build the interior of a space capsule as well as create a love story between the two principal cosmonauts: Falcon and Seagull.
Interkosmos has such an unusual feel. What are your influences?
Fassbinder, Buñuel's Mexico films and old Hollywood musicals and science fiction films. I don’t particularly like mockumentaries and so, although this film is built as a kind of found documentary, I really wanted to give this idea of a meta-project of someone being allowed to root around in the East German film archives and maybe telling a story based on reality but maybe not. I’m a big fan of the unreliable narrator.
What can you tell us about your new film project?
The new film is tentatively titled Senderistas and is about the Gang-of-Four Maoist group the Shining Path, which was a brutal leftist group that came very close to taking over Peru in the early ’90s. There was one man, Chairman Gonzalo, who was in charge; but the group had the highest proportion of women commanders and fighters of any Latin American guerrilla group in history. And when these women went to prison, they'd organize their cell blocks into Shining Path training camps. I've seen photos and videos. It’s unbelievable. So I am going to recreate a Peruvian women’s prison cell block in Albuquerque.
Will the tone be similar to Interkosmos or will this be a new direction?
I'm not sure about the tone yet. I imagine it will be pretty serious but with some of my humor in there. As far as a new direction, not really. I'm creating it to look like found video, perhaps a documentary. But I just made a space movie with no floating, no aliens and no demonic computers and I’m excited to make a prison movie with no killings or rape.
What made you choose Albuquerque to shoot the film in?
I’m shooting in Albuquerque because I like to use different languages and my friend Shawna Sunrise is Navajo and told me she would help me translate some of the script into the Diné language. And I've already found other people willing to help with the project. I want Navajo to stand in for the Quechua Indian language of the Peruvian highlands. And the rest of the cast will speak Spanish and I figured there would be plenty of Spanish-speaking actors in New Mexico. On the one hand, I am cheating by using Navajo and a mostly Mexican-American cast, but really I'm not trying to create a perfect representation of Peru in the ’80s as much as I am trying to get to the core of what was going on there and trying to understand how a 17-year-old Indian peasant girl could become a fanatic killer. I came to Albuquerque a couple years ago on tour with my short videos and had a really responsive, great audience. I know Keif Henley from the Guild Cinema and Basement Films. They are incredibly helpful over there as are the people at the New Mexico Film Office, which has helped me with location scouting, casting and by promptly answering my many questions. You guys have a good thing going here.
Jim Finn will present his film Interkosmos on Friday and Saturday, June 9 and 10, at 8:30 and 10:15 p.m. at the Guild Cinema in Nob Hill. A Q&A with the director will follow. For more info, log on to www.interkosmosmovie.com
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