Szymon Kapeniak, director of Moloch, met with James Baxter-Derrington and Elliot Burr prior to its screening to discuss everything that went in to the production, from writing to directing, and his own history with the picture.
The film has been nominated for Best Short Film of the festival, how was getting that recognition? Was that an expected outcome or quite a nice surprise?
No, completely not expected! [laughter] I really hoped, obviously, I always hope the movie will be liked by people when they watch it, but, to be honest, I didn’t know the system of the Raindance Festival. They show a whole bunch of movies, but only a few are nominated for a prize. For me, it’s already a big prize, to be recognised as a nomination.
Fantastic. The story, as far as we know, is a Cain and Abel tale. Was that the inspiration from the off? Did you always want to tell a tale of that sort, or was it built in from a different idea that you had?
The movie is a fusion of two different ideas that I had in mind on different levels. Firstly, I knew this environment. When I was young I worked in a steel factory like this, I was 16 years old and it was an illegal job. It was just after the end of the communism in Poland, and we managed to get this very well paid job, working on the heights painting tubes and so forth. So I knew that this was amazing, intriguing world that I’m going to use one day in a movie. But it had to last twenty years before I had the chance to do it. The second idea came from my readings of an interpretation of the Old Testament parable of Cain and Abel, which is not orthodox – not the one which is accepted by Church. I have found it reading Polish-Jewish writer Artur Sandauer, who was analysing Bible from literature perspective. He was studying the Bible, not in a religious way, but treating it more like literature. So he found out, well not himself, he was referring to other people’s studies, that the Cain and Abel is a much younger story which was reinterpreted, edited, and put in the place it is now. You can still find some interesting threads of the original version in Bible later in the text. So, what he claimed is that in the original story of Cain and Abel, there is actually women involved. This was a moment of revelation for me, I was like ‘Okay.’ For the first time I feel this story… there was always something missing in it. God likes someone or doesn’t like someone. Why? You shouldn’t care about it – religion says. Actually, in the original story, there was Naamah, a sister of the brothers, and, if I’m not mistaken – I’m not a specialist, so take me with a grain of salt! [laughs] – Naamah was the sister of Cain, and step sister of Abel. So, only Abel could marry Naamah, and “Naamah” in Hebrew roughly means beautiful, so obviously she was someone amazing. Now, if you put yourself into their position, it was, say, 2000 years before Christ, you live on a desert with a small community, ancient Jewish tribe, how many chances do you have to meet the woman you’re gonna marry? Maybe once, twice in your life. So, actually Cain, in some point of view, had the reason to kill Abel. Right? We don’t accept it, but on the other hand there’s part of Cain in every one of us. If the price is enough high… we may make it. So this is a different version of Cain and Abel that I actually found very interesting, and I decided, I’m going to make a movie about two brothers and a girl who stands between them. And of course, girl is not just a girl, girl is Love, and Love is a greatest gift of God, girl is the bravery to reach for fortune – if you are strong enough to take it. So there are different meanings around this.
“He was studying the Bible, not in a religious way, but treating it more like literature”
With the film, did you always want to make it as a short? Did you want it to be a feature or did you always know it was going to be in the format it is now?
Funny question! The point is, I knew it was gonna be short. I didn’t want to make it long as I don’t think there is enough story in it, or it could be, but I wasn’t interested in making it longer. When you see the movie, you’ll see that it’s actually so simple – some people say too simple – it’s very archaic, like a drawing on a stone, and it’s meant to be like this. I wasn’t intending to make it a long movie, but the funny point is that I actually made it quite longer, the original version of the movie was an hour long, and we hadn’t even shot whole script. So if I was to shoot two scenes that were missing, I’d have a feature debut. We decided not to, as it would be, in my opinion, a much worse movie. It was meant to be short, somehow I blow it up in the script.
It’s one that you’ve both written and directed – did you enjoy having that full control of the script, that story you’ve built with it. Or was it quite a lot to balance the both?
I hate it. [laughter] I hate writing by myself, albeit I almost always do. I enjoy working with the co-operation of a script writer, it’s a very important part. The thing is, if you don’t write the usual genre film, the co-operation is very hard because you need to find someone who is very close to your vision of making a movie… not that particular movie, but who thinks similarly to you, who has the same imagination and so forth. It’s a pain in the ass to be honest. [laughter] I’m writing now another script, a long one, it’s the same thing. It’s terribly hard. When I have a chance to co-operate, write with someone – there is a fight, also, involved, but I prefer to fight than sit, scratching my head, looking through the window and thinking ‘What am I doing here?’ So I wrote it myself, but I can’t even say I wrote it myself because I was developing the script on workshops, a number of people, mentors were involved. Many people, my friends were reading it, so it’s not like you are completely alone. I don’t like it, I don’t like writing the script and directing at the same time though.
Do you prefer writing or directing? Is there one you lean more towards?
There’s kind of a tension here. I prefer directing. But the question is ‘Do I have the chance to find the script that is so close to myself that I can direct it?’ I don’t consider myself a professional who is capable of taking any script and just make use of it. Perhaps, maybe in a future, I don’t know. But it’s not such an obvious thing. I think it’s a matter of a couple of your own films. Maybe if you’re a very talented person, a very well-educated person, I don’t know, TV storytelling, plays. If you don’t have a strong background, or you are not a well rounded storyteller, it’s really hard to make a good movie from other people’s scripts. Because you don’t have this insight into what’s going on in the story. You are always an outsider. And you can see it. The debut movies made from other people’s scripts are very often very objective, not involving, you see that the director didn’t have the insight into this story. It’s not his story. I think the few first movies should be your own, written in cooperation, but maybe after a couple of movies you can do someone else’s script.
“I’m just giving someone an experience which I hope is interesting enough”
With the interpretation of the Cain and Able story – did you feel that you had to make anything really obvious, or make any really blatant choices in the film to convey the alternative story that people may not be familiar with?
No. No, because I don’t believe it’s my job. I can talk in for hours in English and definitely more clearly in Polish about this story, meanings of the script and so forth. But I don’t think movies are about explaining anything. The movie is about inviting someone to my head and then everything else is just technical details about this – like script structure, three acts, all those things that you learn and you’ve heard about from the professionals. The bottom line is you’re putting someone into the completely imaginative world for two hours and you’d like to keep it as long as possible, and then he’s not going to regret it at the end ‘Oh fuck I waste my time – two hours of wasted time’ – right? It should be rather: my God it was an amazing experience. My job is not to tell anything specific – It’s not like I’m gonna lecture anyone the history from the Bible or whatever. I’m just giving someone an experience which I hope is interesting enough. If you dig deeper into what does it actually mean to experience something, you will know that experiencing is a sophisticated learning process. Immersing inside someone else’s mind, is something that is very important to human beings. It’s a foundation of civilisation. So I’m not just giving people two hours of whatever comes – by letting people virtually experience worlds they hadn’t been in, I hope I can give them a chance of understanding, a state of mindfulness, which will grow inside their own heads, not mine. So I don’t want to explain anything in the movie, I just want to keep the audience interested, wondered. Making people truly experience other worlds, not just watch the story, is the ultimate goal of cinema in my opinion.
That sounds fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing it. What sort of life do you see for the film beyond Raindance – is it more festivals? Is it a general release?
It’s a festival movie, let’s be honest. All short movies are – there’s enough number of festival on this planet, few dozens just in Poland! So the movie will live in the festivals. It actually was already released on a DVD in Poland, the studio who produced the movie releases every year a DVD with ten such films. So you can buy it among the other movies. So it’s kind of released. I hope it’s going to be released on the internet, but I don’t know any details about this yet.
Anything else you wanted to add?
Enjoy the movie!
Thank you so much.