AIFF 2013: Andrew Mudge Interview – by Daniel Rester

andrew mudge

AIFF 2013: Andrew Mudge (Director of The Forgotten Kingdom) Interview

by Daniel Rester

I had the pleasure of sitting down to interview director Andrew Mudge at the 12th Annual Ashland Independent Film Festival. His film, The Forgotten Kingdom, won the John C. Schweiger Audience Award: Best Feature at the AIFF awards ceremony just hours after our sit-down. Kingdom tells the story of a young man who returns home to Lesotho to bury his father. While there, he falls in love with a childhood friend — and sets off to find her after she moves away.

More on the film: http://www.forgottenkingdomthemovie.com/

Interview:

Q: “What gave you the initial inspiration to make The Forgotten Kingdom?”

A: “Ten years ago I went to visit my brother, who was living and working in Lesotho in the Peace Corps. I was just there for a holiday. I was totally struck by the country, the people, and the landscapes. I just felt like it should be in a movie. The vast, open landscapes – everything was just very cinematic. It was begging for a movie frame – the colors, the people, and the tradition. I just got really excited about the idea of making a movie in this country with non-actors. I get a thrill out of that kind of thing: going into a story, finding actors, training actors, and creating a movie where there has never been a movie before.”

Q: “How was the process for you when going into making a feature film for the first time?

A: “It’s just a massive amount of work. That’s the simple answer. It’s just tons more work than anything I’ve worked on before. It takes more time, costs more money. It almost becomes like your baby. I’ve been with this film for seven years, and two-and-a-half full-time.”

Q: “How was shooting in Africa compared to shooting in America?”

A: “Shooting in Africa had its plusses and minuses. There were certain things that were so much easier over there. This is the experience of all filmmaking: the further you go from where other people make films, the more welcome people are. It’s hard to do a film in New York, because you can go to a hot dog stand and they pull out their rates for filming their hot dog stands. There are famous stories where people say, ‘I don’t want to be an extra in New York City because it’s happening all the time.’ But in places like Ashland, Oregon, or Lesotho, people really embrace it. They get really excited about making a film and the community. So, the project was so welcomed. In terms of getting permissions and getting people on board to come and help make the film for such little money…people were on board, and they were psyched. On the other hand, it was really, logistically difficult to make a film in a country that had no film infrastructure. If a piece of equipment broke down, we had to drive two days to get something new. It wasn’t an option to just go down to the local camera rental house to get a filter, or even AA batteries. And the roads are really bad in Lesotho, so we did a lot of damage to vehicles. There was a lot of wear and tear on the production just because it was so difficult because it’s a very underdeveloped country.”

Q: “Were there any benefits or struggles when working with the cast?”

A: “There are lots of benefits. I’d say the greatest pleasure on my part was having these open auditions all over the country. We did it in many, many communities. We saw two thousand people, you know. And finding gems. Finding people who had never acted, but sort-of intrinsically had a visceral way about them that completely works for drama. They’re people who are just very present, and people who just had that thing. They had it, and they could act without any experience. That is such an exciting thing – to find those people. And to get people excited. To call people after we auditioned for weeks and call the finalists and say, ‘You’re in the movie.’ And to have rehearsals, and to build this movie – build this troop of actors from village folk. It was really cool. There were some difficulties. This is like everywhere. It’s how it always works. Everybody jumps on board because it’s so exciting, it’s so fun with the idea. But when you’re in it for months, it becomes like a war. It loses that romance. People get tired and grumpy, and the food isn’t good enough and no one’s being paid enough. So, you know, there was a lot of people upset at certain times but that’s kind of normal.”

Q: “Was there any kind of major language barrier when you were directing some of the actors or did you know the language pretty well?”

A: “I knew the language fairly well. I knew the script very well. I knew the script in Sesotho. I sort of memorized it. Ninety percent of the actors spoke fluid English. For the ten percent that didn’t, I had translators. But the thing that I like the most is that you don’t have to speak a language to know that the performance is real – if it’s authentic and people are being honest. You just feel it, and that’s the coolest thing. So as I director, I was just about feeling this performance. And in terms of the continuity, like in the script, I had somebody with me who would just make sure that they’re saying all of the lines just as they are written in a translated script.”

Q: “One of the parts of the film that really stuck with me was the story about the moth and the fire. I was wondering how that story came to you in the writing process?”

A: “Good question. That’s a good question. I think I liked the moth to the flame. It was actually the original title of the film. I sort of wish sometimes that I would have kept that title. A moth burns. A moth comes to a flame and burns. And I think there’s something about this country with HIV, AIDS, and people, you know. The flame was AIDS and the flame was this guy’s pain. There was something about this attraction to…this gravity in their lives. This flame, this heaviness, this sadness. And these characters are kind of circling it. And that’s how I feel, like they’re circling around this flame.”

Q: “How long did it take you with the editing process, since you also edited the film?”

A: “Let’s see. I started in October 15th, and I was done on March 30th. Five-and-a-half months.”

Q: “What’s it been like premiering the film at AIFF?”

A: “It’s been fun. I love this festival. I love this town. It’s a different kind of festival. There are all these locals. There isn’t a lot of industry people here. But it’s been really sweet to show it to the people. I’ve never been to Oregon. Well I’ve been here once, but nobody knows me, nobody knows this film. But it’s nice to have. The audiences here are very intelligent, sympathetic. They’re the right audience for my movie. People who embrace sensitive foreign-language films. And I love the audience here. I’ve had a great response.”

Q: “What’s the future for this film? You mentioned yesterday that you were going to take it around Africa. I was wondering if you could mention some of the fests and also touch on Africa?”

A: “It’s playing in Florida, Seattle, Durban. The Durban International Film Festival – it’s probably the biggest in South Africa. And that’s important for me, to have it there and try and sell it in that African market. But the really cool thing is showing it later, at the end of 2013, in the villages around Lesotho and South Africa. I’ve got a sponsorship from the United States Embassy and we’ll have this roadshow playing. It’s like a two-and-a-half week roadshow, showing all these villages.”

Q: “So by planning to sell it in Africa, are you trying to keep it over there, or are you trying to get an American release date?”

A: “I’d love to get some kind of American release. You know, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this film. I’ve learned that with a general audience there is a prejudice against foreign films, which I wasn’t fully aware of until I made this film. It’s an uphill battle for foreign-language films. Nobody speaks Sesotho. But for me, we’ll do the best we can. This film is like The Little Engine That Could. We’ll see what happens. I mean, we’ll try and sell it within the next six months at these festivals.”

Q: “If you had to use one sentence to describe your sentence to someone, what would it be?”

A: “The story of returning home, and I mean that as a physical, geographical home, and a spiritual home.”

Q: “Are there any future projects you are going to be working on?”

A: “Yeah. I have my second feature that I’m trying to get financed right now. It’s written. It’s ready to go.”

Q: “Can you say anything about it?”

A: “Yeah, sure. It’s called Commodore of Crash, and it’s a very different film. It’s more of like a Napoleon Dynamite-like comedy. It’s about a fifteen-year-old, weird, oddball kid in a rural town – almost like around here – who tries to bring back his town’s forbidden demolition derby. You know, smashup derbies? Like, this town has banned it. It’s like Footloose meets Napoleon Dynamite. So I’m trying to get that made.

Q: “What are some of your favorite films that inspired you to want to become a filmmaker?”

A: “Cinema ParadisoHarold and Maude. Hal Ashby films. He has this very strange, quirky humor that’s embodied in Harold and Maude. This film, though, I was really inspired by David Lynch. I love his films. He made a film called The Straight Story. That film was a big inspiration to me. It’s very fable-esque. And then John Sayles. Men with Guns. I love John Sayles’ films. But I think every film I come at is so different. The new film I’m about to start is so different from The Forgotten Kingdom. With The Forgotten Kingdom, I wanted to make something that felt very allegorical. Like a fable, you’re just sitting down to this quiet, mixed-magic realism and something real to create this kind of classic little story.”

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