“This Myth Has Plagued the World For Centuries”: Maxim Pozdorovkin on His DOC NYC Closing Night Film The conspiracy | Director’s magazine

"This Myth Has Plagued the World For Centuries": Maxim Pozdorovkin on His DOC NYC Closing Night Film The conspiracy |  Director's magazine

by Maxim Pozdorovkin The conspiracy

From robot-inflicted deaths (2018’s The truth about killer robots) to the rise of Donald Trump through Russian state-sponsored media (2018’s Our new president), Maxim Pozdorovkin recently took some unconventional paths down dark rabbit holes. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Russian-American director’s latest film, The conspiracy, which closes out this year’s DOC NYC, is both artistically inventive (with evocative animation perfectly married to archival imagery) and downright chilling. With a powerful score and big names like Liev Schreiber (Trotsky) and Jason Alexander (Max Warburg) added to the mix, Pozdorovkin weaves together the interwar histories of three prominent Jewish families: the Warburg bankers led by Max in Germany; artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus in France; and Lev Davidovich Bronstein, a Russian Marxist revolutionary better known to the world as Leon Trotsky. The conspiracy argues that in times of great upheaval, the scapegoat acts as the strongest of opioids, a nonsensical balm that nonetheless can quickly soothe a nation’s soul.

Ahead of the film’s DOC NYC debut on November 17, Movie director contacted Pozdorovkin (also behind 2013 Pussy Riot: a punk prayer and 2014 The infamous Mr. Bout) to learn more about this unusual history lesson, a mankind has yet to learn.

Movie director: It is related in some way to your 2018 paper Our new president, that covered Donald Trump’s 2016 political campaign entirely through Russian state-sponsored media?

Pozdorovkin: An intuition from Our new president fed the work on The conspiracy: When trust in the press and government erodes, a paranoid conspiracy fills the void. When institutions crumble, societies are invaded by conspiracy theories.

At the heart of all conspiracy theories is a belief in a secret group that keeps the truth from the gullible masses. In America today, 44% of US voters believe in a “secret cabal.” The conspiracy it really shows that this myth has plagued the world for centuries, and exactly how it has become the bedrock of anti-Semitism today.

The recent outpourings of anti-Semitic hatred have all been rooted in this vague notion of “Jewish control.” This myth also motivated the perpetrator of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. This idea has resurfaced in ever more alarming ways. The conspiracy uncovers the history of this bad idea – and by bad I mean both intellectually bankrupt and absurd, as well as toxic, an idea that has been weaponized in the death and persecution of millions.

Movie director: It struck me that you could easily have told this story through just archival footage and/or talking head interviews, even if you include some at the end. What made you choose animation as your primary storytelling medium?

Pozdorovkin: When I was approached by producers Dan Cogan, Allison Stern and Caroline Hirsch with the idea of ​​making a film about the history of anti-Semitism, I was struck by the sheer difficulty of the task. The obvious challenge was that a film about the history of anti-Semitism had to represent times before cinema and photography. In my view, a documentary in which historians tell ancient history is not cinematic. It is ineffective as a story and a bad alternative to reading books. A film has to do more.

From the beginning, I was certain that we would need animation to make our main characters’ lives. While researching the film, the idea came to me that the documentary foundation of the film would be the memoirs and letters of three Jewish families falsely accused of participating in the “conspiracy”. Evoking the inner lives of these characters required a synergy of animation, music and acting skills. I am beyond grateful that I was able to bring together such a wealth of talent to make it all come together.

Movie director: Yes, big names like Liev Schreiber and Jason Alexander voice key characters, even if your three main leads are Russian, French and German. Why choose American actors who speak English rather than hire foreign actors and subs?

Pozdorovkin: One of the most liberating aspects of working with animation is dispensing with the need to mimic photographic reality. When each image is handcrafted, more than reality can be depicted to make the images reflect the psychological state of a character or the essence of a moment.

The decision to avoid subtitles was, first and foremost, a way to allow the viewer to absorb more visually. More importantly, the task of bringing life and nuance to these key, often quite dramatic moments in which these characters confront their Jewish identity was no easy feat, acting-wise. For each role, I wanted actors who could inhabit the words on the page and put their body and soul behind the animation.

Movie director: The animation and stock images go perfectly together. How was the editing process?

Pozdorovkin: Given that The conspiracy spanning several centuries, I wanted our animated world to be infused with the texture of the archive, to remind viewers of the passage of time. Together with animation director Dasha Bough, producer Joe Bender and editor Matvey Kulakov, we managed a small team of researchers, illustrators, composers, 3D animators, etc.

Given how fiddly animation is, having everyone in the same space was key, as it gave us the flexibility to make changes on the fly and find the right balance between archive and animation. Too many signals would have been lost in the Zoom-o-sphere. The biggest challenge was putting together a rough cut with still images and temporary recordings, then trying to evaluate and improve the film starting from such a rough skeleton. Usually, you have at least some footage to edit. In this case, most of the film had to be scripted and made from scratch.

Movie director: I was also very impressed with the powerful soundtrack. How did you communicate with your composer? Did you provide a script? A rough cut?

Pozdorovkin: I’ve been a fan of Frank London for years. Many know him as the mastermind behind the Klezmatics, but I’ve always had a soft spot for some of the experimental records he made on John Zorn’s Tzadik label.

Given Frank’s extensive knowledge of Jewish music, I knew he could draw on that tradition without falling into the clichés that plague many films on the subject. Frank agreed to score the film before we did a rough cut. Given the historical scope of the film, I wanted each of the three families to have a distinct melodic theme that would evolve along with the story.

We brainstormed for months, discussing Morricone, Schnittke, Bill Laswell and the ways our score might evolve from the 19th century to the present day. As a trumpeter, Frank has played with just about everyone. When it came time to record the score, he brought together some of the best musicians from New York’s jazz, classical and avant-garde scene. Since we didn’t have image blocking, we did various takes of different themes, including extended industrial jams, ambient beds, etc. If we ever release a soundtrack disc, I hope some of these amazing tracks can be heard.


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