The film “Zero Killed” is strikingly similar to other documentaries we’ve played at Thriller! Chiller! by the fact that it is so thoughtful of our own experiences as movie watchers. It can be said that watching a movie like this at a film festival dares to ask the viewer: “Why do you watch movies?” It dares to explore what is universal to all human beings who experience the horror/thriller genre and ask them how they deal with their own inappropriate fantasies and thoughts.
1. It was a long haul making this film come together over the course of a decade. Tell us about the emotional impact of these stories on you personally and why you felt the need to tell them?
First of all, the process of doing this project had a very personal approach. Since I was born in Poland and since I grew up during the times of communism, my access to western movies, or, generally speaking, the access to media, was very limited. My first touch with horror was a rare presentation of the music clip of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" when it was aired at late night in the polish television. I was immediately gripped by the "fantastic" and at some point violent theme of this clip. I wanted to do clips like this by myself. But it was only after my family and I moved to Austria in the 80's, where I discovered a video library that was something completely new to me. I was thrilled to have this huge range of videos that I could select by myself and watch them whenever I wanted to. This was also the time where my father bought his first VHS-C Camcorder, so I immediately felt like using this tool to fulfill my fantasies that I was constantly dreaming of.
Also, inspired by many horror movies that I watched en masse, I went on to make more than 30 amateur short horror movies, where I could practice the way of how to scare people and how to make them believable that it's a real horror that I'm producing for the screen. But after having experienced tough times during the communistic regime in Poland, especially during the state of war between 1981 and 1983 in Poland, where I witnessed real violence on the streets and how easy normal people can turn into monsters, I was wondering what if I ask only "normal" people from the street to tell me about their own violent fantasies. After what I had witnessed, I thought that anybody can be a potential killer under certain circumstances or at least can think about a scenario of killing somebody. So, I ended up with this theory/conclusion: If normal people fantasize about their own abyss or about plotting to get rid of somebody, these people must be the best actors in the world to act out their own personal crime fantasies.
So I started meeting up with different people with non-criminal backgrounds, and asked them what if they would play a killer or a victim (yes, some of them wanted to be a victim!) in a short film where the story is based on your own fantasy. I provided the necessary tools for them and I offered my skills as a director to realize their own murder fantasy as a fictitious scenario as realistic as possible. The more stories I shot throughout the next years, the more I found it interesting to delve deeper and deeper in the specific fantasies of the people I met. I must also say that I personally feel very proud that so many people - over 160 participants from 23 countries - wanted to be part of this project, and emotionally I feel very secure to have dealt with so many thoughts of people that were strangers to me. For me, it's all about the right approach towards the people in order to raise a discussion on topics that are actually taboos in the western world. Once you find a channel to deal with people's fears, memories or fantasies in an intelligent and "safe" way - in my case it was the project "ZERO KILLED" - then I think you are more open to any kind of progress.
2. What complications arise over creating a unique form of art called the docudrama in which real people, act out what are in one sense dramatized thoughts and fantasies, and in another quite real because they are inspired by things in their own lives?
Of course, in many cases during the first initial interview with the participants they didn't know really what kind of fantasy could be the one they would like to see them in. So we often talked about their fears. This was a great base to start developing ideas for possible motives to kill other people. And often we ended up with images and motives that were well-known from movies but still had this kind of unique and personal twist. As for the complications, I don't think anybody had problems with revealing their dark ideas and fantasies. It was not like I left them alone after shooting. I'm still in contact with almost all of the participants and from time to time we are talking about past memories, and how they see things today, or how the fantasy evolved today, or how they would act it out today. Actually they are proud to be part of this experiment that helped most of them to discover themselves through acting. Often it felt to be a kind of relief for them, it seemed to be even necessary that these people went through their own "hell" in order to realize what life each one of them is living.
As far as I know, and I'm quite sure about that, all of the participants are non-criminals or they never committed real crimes where people were harmed or killed. It was all about a playful way to see inside their own understanding of thoughts that are constantly there every day in their subconsciousness, no matter how cruel or subversive they were. Of course, there were also people that didn't want to be part of ZERO KILLED. Probably those were the more dangerous people that were not allowing me to look inside them.
3. What was your main goal for the participants in this film experiment?
I don't think that there was a main goal for the participants. As I said before, the action in itself - getting engaged in a project like this - is an interesting way to deal with issues that normally none of us has time for or none of us feels like dealing with because of many other things we have to deal with every day. Especially in the second half of the project, where I met almost all of the participants after a decade and where I asked them questions like "If someone murdered a person you love, how would you feel about it? Should torture be legalized? How would you define good and evil? Are soldiers murderers? What causes rampages? Are you for or against the death penalty?", and so on. I think that was the most interesting part of the project to see what these people actually think about these issues. In many cases, the answers were more frightening than the murder fantasies they came up with. But no matter what the answer was, just thinking about a possible answer is a big step towards understanding how each of us is functioning in the desensitized media world we're living in. If this is a main goal, then I think it was successful.
4. Your artist statements says, ‘Zero Killed’ is my response to the continuous flood of uncommented depiction of violence in and by the media which daily undermines and erodes our capacity for empathy .” This reminds me of something David Cronenberg said on the commentary to his film “History of Violence.” He spoke about lingering perhaps a beat or two longer than most films would on a certain moment of particularly graphic violence because he wanted the audience to feel it and understand its horror rather than just see and move on with the story without having been affected. Can you give me your take on what your film brings to the conversation about cultural desensitization to violence?
The original idea why I was shooting the short films was the video-installation called "FORTYNINE" which was shown in 2007 at the Lothringer 13 Kunsthalle in Munich, Germany and was curated by the Austrian artist Uli Aigner. It was a 5x4x3 meters mirror-walled cube that you could enter and look at 49 short films on murder fantasies simultaneously which were back-projected on a screen. So basically, when you were standing in front of the projection wall, the reflections of the projection gave you the impression of being inside a room with infinite TV-screens in which not the content, but an army of millions of TV-screens was looking at you and you as a spectator becoming part of the installation, looking at the screens. The viewer was confronted with the unpleasant state of shock, only the more closer view on the content revealed the short films on murder fantasies that were depicted on each screen. Firstly, this video-installation was my attempt to criticize the violent images on television in itself that we are consuming non reflectively every day and secondly, to look at violent content in a surrounding that is far away from a safe home with a cozy couch where you can sit down and relax in front of TV.
5. Your movie fits in with this whole meta movement because it is so self aware and in that it questions what is real and what isn't. Have any of your viewers or reviewers questioned you on how much of the story is fantasy and how much is reality? How do you feel about that?
Yes, many viewers that weren't familiar with the background story of the whole project, sometimes thought about the "snuff" character of the footage. Again, I thought if non-actors who are revealing their own personal and very intimate fantasies, they must be the ones who can portray them in the most realistic way possible. When I remember back in time, when we were shooting the first short films, we sometimes had real problems with the police. Many of the films were shot "guerrilla"-style, so we didn't have many people on set and mostly of the scenes were done in one shot, sometimes outside on a cemetery or an abandoned parking space. And once it came to a scene with shootings and slaughterings, passerby's thought a real crime was going on, and few minutes later the police were on the set. Well, luckily, I always managed to convince them that no real crime was going on. But sometimes I was arguing with myself, if there are limits that I shouldn't go beyond, but fortunately I never found myself in a situation where I had to question my morality which would go beyond my responsibility as a filmmaker.