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Bonus Episode: Bold Visionaries

 June 18, 2022 at 12:06 PM PDT

Bonus Podcast: Bold Visionaries

Cinema Junkie is on a season break but serves up this Bonus Podcast on the bold visionaries behind "Mad God" and "Neptune Frost." Host Beth Accomando speaks with stop motion effects genius Phil Tippett about the 30-year journey to bringing his magnum opus "Mad God" to the screen. Then she talks with poet Saul Williams and Rwandan filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman who created the Afrofuturist musical "Neptune Frost."

Artists often go to extremes for their art and Phil Tippett is no exception.

PHIL TIPPETT: So it was not unlike Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, I went down with the whale and ended up for a few days in a psych ward and then recovery for about six weeks until I built myself back up.

The stop motion effects wizards talks about the 30-year journey to bring Mad God to the screen.

Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (drums)

Welcome back to listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie. I’m Beth Accomando.

Cinema Junkie The Theme bump 1 (Horns)

Phil Tippett has worked on such blockbusters as Star Wars and Jurassic Park. But to him those films were just has day job while he spent his spare time developing personal projects that he says were just too weird for Hollywood. The result of his painstaking labors is Mad God, a bleak and beautiful descent into hell. On today’s bonus podcast I speak with Tippett as well as with poet Saul Williams and Rwandan filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman who created the Afrofuturist musical Neptune Frost. All three are bold visionaries pushing film in exciting new directions.

Music theme bump out

Cinema Junkie is officially still on season break and will be back soon with regular episodes. But I wanted to do this bonus podcast because current top-grossing Hollywood fare has just seemed so dull and formulaic. Jurassic World: Dominion, Top Gun: Maverick, and The Lost City are so predictably paint by numbers that you know exactly how it will all play out before the opening credits have even finished . But there is absolutely nothing predictable about Mad God and Neptune Frost and I want to celebrate that.

First up is Phil Tippett. For an Oscar-winning special effects artist who was working on Jurassic Park as stop motion animation was giving way to computer generated effects, he is a decidedly non tech savvy person who took about ten minutes to log into the zoom session. I point this out with nothing but empathy. He looks like a Mad Santa and comes across like that curmudgeony relative who’s annoyed to be at the Christmas party. I was worried that if I asked a bad question he might just walk get up and walk away. But he put up with me and my questions and offered candid insights into his creative process.

Tippett is a genius at what he does and Mad God is an epic display of that talent.

The film is a wordless descent into hell. But on a certain level there are no words to describe it because it invents a new category all its own. It’s a fever dream that combines madness, chaos, despair, and beauty. Every frame is dense with detail revealing the influence of Dutch painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel. The end result is something bleak and dark but also gorgeously seductive in its meticulous craftsmanship.

Tippett is best known for his stop motion animation of such things as the ATATs in The Empire Strikes Back and ED-209 in Robocop. If you are unfamiliar with stop motion animation, it requires physically manipulating objects in painstakingly tiny increments between individually photographed frames. I began my interview by asking him what the first stop motion animation film he saw was His answer was the classic 1933 King Kong with work by Willis O’Brien.

PHIL TIPPETT

It just happened to be on. People in the room were watching it and yeah, that sparked my interest in dinosaurs, but that was the very first thing I'd seen.

BETH ACCOMANDO

So how did you end up getting into stop motion? Was that something did that spark the interest right there?

PHIL TIPPETT

I have no idea what it was. And then in 1948 I saw Ray Harryhausen in Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and that clicked and I was really enamored by the spectacle of it all. I had no idea how it was done. And it wasn't until years later when Forrest Ackerman, the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, he was a friend of Ray’s work, published some articles I began to understand. And then I saved up money mowing lawns and bought a stop motion camera and just started.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And what is it about stop motion that you love? What is it about that process.

PHIL TIPPETT

You know, as Ray called it, it's a very surreal kind of a process and that what you get kind of defies what you're seeing. And it's a model that you're moving one frame at a time, and it has a particular kind of movement that I find compelling. So when I was twelve, I just started messing around. I stole the GI joe and got clay, and I was sculpting at that time, learning how to sculpt, and would shoot eight millimeter film. And it took me months to shoot a roll and send it to Rochester, New York, and get it back in two weeks and look at it. And I equivocated to like attempting to learn to play the piano without hearing it for two weeks or three months, really, and then trying to figure it out. So it's a very precipitous learning curve.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And what do you think it is about stop motion that does make it so magical. It really is so engaging.

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, it's what I was saying. That is my answer. It's just compelling to look at, and I think the vibe of hand craftsmanship is evident in it.

BETH ACCOMANDO

So what inspired you to make Mad God? What inspired that story, that particular story you wanted to tell?

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, I had always imagined making my own movies and set on the path very early on to build a studio and accumulate lights and cameras and whatnot. And when digital photography came in, it really made things significantly simpler. I really hated working with film, and what inspired it was so long. I can only kind of graze a few of them. When I was by around ten or twelve, my dad, who was an abstract expressionist painter, had a collection of books and he knew I was into monsters and showed me Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel paintings. And so I was cooking in there. And then in mid late sixties that was around doing his more kind of surreal poetic work and that went into the pot and boy, the Czech film maker, Carl Zeman was a huge influence, of course, right here he hasn't well, so Brian, in the late eighty s, I shot about three minutes, 35 millimeter film, and the scope was too big and I put it on ice. And then I was archiving at some guys in my studio who had seen all the making of Star Wars and RoboCop documentaries, saw me archiving it and volunteered to do a couple of shots and it just took off from there. I just got a lot of other volunteers and I would give talks around the Bay Area and people would volunteer. Some students and aficionados of Stop motion would offer to come in and I mentor them and they turn into really good, terrific stop motion animators and went on to start their own companies. And then I would solicit the help of college and high school students that volunteered and I created a small army that allowed me to make it. And so we started in earnest in around 2010 and then worked on it for the next twelve years or so until completion.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And what inspired the particular themes that you wanted to deal with?

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, it was everything. Everything paleontology, archaeology, psychology, particularly Carl Jung, Dante Milton works because it's a pretty.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Dark vision of things.

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, we live in a dark world, don’t we.

BETH ACCOMANDO

But I have to say it's a darkness that is amazingly beautiful too.

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, that was certainly my objective. There were really two objectives. Most of what I do is I operate, but I want to be similar to Harama Splash that was both horrible and musical at the same time. And then I also study my dreams. I was at that time dreaming prolifically during that twelve year period and study my dreams and the narrative structure and the dreams. And there was a narrative structure in there, but it was not typical. It actually was kind of a three act thing at the beginning of the dream posed the question. The middle of it was kind of murky, as though a mind is processing something and in the end there is some kind of resolution to that. There is an end most of the time. One of my few intentions was to create the experience, the illusion of a dream wherein you pack so much information into say, a four second shot, that by the time it's impossible to absorb all that information, but you follow the narrative, such as it is, and then when the next shot comes up, the previous one evaporates because now there's so much more to behold. And I just went on from the.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Next I saw it at the virtual screening that they had for Beyond Fest or fantastic fest. And I was just dying to see it on a big screen because it seemed like every frame was so rich and packed with detail. What was it like creating that? Did you know how crowded you wanted some of those frames to be from the start? Or did you just kind of keep adding to it.

PHIL TIPPETT

Was all intuitive and driven by the unconscious. Pablo Picasso was interviewed and he was asked what he was looking for in his paintings. And he said, I do not seek, I find. Mozart would say, Well, I just transcribed and God told me what to do. So it was very much a process like that on many artists, and I was not interested at all in anything that was political, political, whatever. Although as I look back on it, when you're doing this stuff, you kind of don't know what you're doing. And then in retrospect, you kind of realize, oh, in fact, just the other day I was reading in the New York Times, the New Yorker, an article on Carlo Collie, who wrote Pinocchio, the original Pinocchio, and I realized, wow, that was a huge influence. I read that quite a few times when I was around the time I was thinking about God. But then it wasn't on my radar that it was actually an influence.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And you seem to have a little bit of fun with it too. I noticed at least one Ed 209, and I don't know what other Easter eggs or the fun things you may have added in in the background.

PHIL TIPPETT

Yeah, there's a lot of stuff sprinting in there.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Well, I'm looking forward to seeing it on the big screen.

PHIL TIPPETT

Yeah, that's how it was made. Built.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Now, you had a kickstarter for this at one point. What was that like? And is raising your own money, does that give you more freedom or does it just create like a whole new set of complications and challenges?

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, the kickstarters were really essential to Kickstarter the movie. And the first one I asked for $60,000 and got 120. Next 160 thousand dollars I made barely period $60,000. The next one, I asked for $40,000 and barely got that. A friend had to donate the last $6,000 and it was just too difficult to manage that stuff. Unfortunately, I didn't have to do it because I had a studio and people assisted me. They set it up for me. But the incentives that you have to put are just if you ship something we just didn't know, and if you ship something to Japan, it's ridiculously expensive. But then to finish up, then I have a lot of props from the movies that I've made and I auctioned those off. And then I have a wealthy friend that donated some money to me quite a bit so I could finish the film. So I just pieced it together.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And you worked with some of your Tippett Studio employees doing this and was this the first time that some of them got to do stop motion animation and kind of what was their response like to working in that?

PHIL TIPPETT

Yeah, when I was archiving it, they looked over my shoulder and saw what I was doing, and they didn't know what it was. They thought it was some old lost checker Slovakian movie. And I told them it was a process, the project, that I was putting the bed because it was a failed thing that I couldn't continue on. They had watched the documentaries on them, so it was a RoboCop and whatnot, and volunteered because that's what they always wanted to do. Now they have an opportunity.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And since this film took a long time to complete, did you feel that anything changed radically for the better or the worse or just different in that time frame?

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, eventually, like many artists, I just became completely absorbed in it, and I actually diagnosed myself and was substantiated. This is substantiated by a psychiatrist. I have Immunipol. I have a version of Bipolar where I don't get depressed unless there's something really depressing. But it's my superpower. I just can't stop. It kind of gets in my way sometimes and very obsessive. Once we started, it might be a 20 minutes film, then 40 minutes film, then what the hell? Why don't we go for trying to make a feature out of it? And there was no end to the imagery. And it's going to be released on Shutter on the 16th, and we're going to have a rap party in my studio. And the editor on the phone, Ken Rogerson, located a very early mash up of what we had with the very few shots, not much more than six or eight shots cutting with the storyboards. And it was all there. Even the drawings were some of the drawings were just identical to the shots that we did. I've totally forgotten that we had done that. Of course, it wasn't the entire narrative, but it was more than the bones. It was bones with some venue on it that was kind of surprising to look back on. 30 years ago or so, I wrote about twelve or 15 pages. That was basically a tone for it, and that stayed there. Even a number of the scenes were in one version or another.

BETH ACCOMANDO

You were working on Jurassic Park at a time when kind of stop motion animation was being replaced by CGI. What did that feel like? Do you feel that stop motion has managed to kind of maintain a place in terms of filmmaking that has surprised you? Because you felt pretty grim about it at one point.

PHIL TIPPETT

When the digital revolution, stop motion was no longer a vehicle technique to use, so it kind of evaporated from the stage. I made a lie with Tim Burton, Henry Selleck, and now Guillermo del Toro was doing Pinocchio, so there was a big dip in interest for it. And then gradually over the years, people started to get sick of computer graphics and then it started a slow climb into a resurgence where it kind of lurks today.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And is there any part of Mad God that you feel particularly satisfied with or proud of because of how difficult it was or just getting that vision on the screen that satisfied you?

PHIL TIPPETT

No. Sometimes I would have three or four set ups going at the same time and not going, but I'd work on one little bit. Or if I had two or three animators in the weekends or after work, I would have multiple setups going. And I have some great some of the world class motion guys working at my studio, Chuck Duke and Tom Gibbons, and they're far better animators than I am. They're very precise and they use the frame grabbers and all the techniques, but I just tend to kind of go for it and they plot everything out very carefully. And I am more intuitive and just kind of riff in some ways where if I get 6,12,18, 24 frames into a shot and get another idea, I go for that.

BETH ACCOMANDO

I have to say that after seeing Mad God and seeing that kind of dark vision that you had, I'm just curious. You also work on big Hollywood mainstream films, but do you always feel like you're kind of in butting heads with that?

PHIL TIPPETT

No, it's my day job and I was really lucky, really, to be mentored by Lucas and Spielberg and Paul Verhoeven. Certainly Paul was the biggest influence on me because we have very similar world views and approaches to cinema.

BETH ACCOMANDO

What do you think a person needs to be a good stop motion animator?

PHIL TIPPETT

Patience. Like anything on Empire Strikes Back, I didn't feel that I was at the level that I needed to be. And Dennis Murren located one of the first real surreal stop action tape reporters. And so while I was doing my other tasks and in pre production, which we had a good amount of time, maybe eight months or close to a year to prepare, I would just go in and practice with mock ups of the snow walkers and count on and until I get my whatever it is the kind of urban myth of 10,000 hours and then it's like riding bicyclers, skateboard, bank. It clicks and you get it. And Ray Harryhausen was asked I was with him on stage in Rochester and he was asked if he didn't find stop motion tedious. None at all. And he asked me if I did. He was like, no, but to mere mortals, it's like watching grass grow.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Do you have an idea for another film after this or do you need to recuperate a bit?

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, I certainly need to recuperate. After Mad God, I ended up hating it. It's not unusual, you know. I just have to get behind the mule and do it and force myself to do it. But that was my manic state. So it was not unlike Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, I went down with the whale and ended up for a few days in a psych ward and then recovery for about six weeks until I built myself back up. So it was really a religious journey. It was otherworldly I was guided by other spirits. And like Mozart would say, I just did what I was told, transcribed from God.

BETH ACCOMANDO

So how do you feel about the film now?

PHIL TIPPETT

Well, I'm glad to be finished with it, but for me, it was never finished. I had to be kicked off of it by I was the producer on it. But then when it came to marketing to get the film out there, the producers that were in charge of that just kicked me off it. I was really lucky to get two guys that were absolutely integral to the movie. Dan Wool, who did the score, and Richard Beggs, who goes back to Apocalypse Now, Academy Award winning guy. I can't believe he stuck with it for, like I think he came on in the last six or eight years when we started the first Kickstarter immediately afterwards. And I'm not a micromanager, and I would go in and spot things with them and might have a couple of maybe half a dozen notes. And then it was just I'll leave it to the master chefs to do it and just read them along. And sometimes they take my suggestions and sometimes they wouldn't, and sometimes they turn them into other things. I was introduced to Dan and Richard through Alex Cox as a mutual friend. And Alex and I had with the producer, John Davison, who did Robocop and Starship Troopers. We tried to develop some projects that were too weird for Hollywood. So my process with Dan was and we would help Alex out on some of his films that were quite low budget it, and he was admirer of Sergio Leone and scores that Dan wrote. And Dan can write for anything really amazing. Fine. I only knew that he did these kind of Morricone things and then I showed him a little eight millimeter, eight millimeter high video. And it was kind of all over the place. And the sound effects were like ambient sound effects I picked up with my kids and dialing a radio back and forth. And I had no idea that Dan had been involved with creating sound environments for various dance companies and was very much into his own ambient music. And it was like a marriage made in heaven. So I showed him the first three minutes that I had shot years earlier. And at that time, a friend, Klaus Fluoride, who's the bass player for the Dead Kennedys used to mock up something years earlier, maybe like, 1520 years ago. And it was just like two on the notes. And Dan is very good at the counterpoint and counterpoint to the image, so if you have something going on, he'll do something very beautiful. My intention was I didn't want to do like what you would do for a normal theatrical feature, where you would assemble your visual material to tempt tracks and then cut to those. I wanted music and the sound to grow at the same time. And because visual material was coming out so slowly, there's really no point in that. I was going to take twelve years to do the whole thing and then dump it on Dan and Richard. So we all built the thing together and we would take, say, Dan's first ten or twelve minutes. Well, or right in the beginning, his first three minutes. And editor Ken Rogerson. I could just chop it up and then fill in as the score developed more and more original music.

BETH ACCOMANDO

I want to thank you very much for taking some time to talk about this film, for making something that doesn't fit into any category.

PHIL TIPPETT

Yeah, apparently not. Thanks.

========================

That was Phil Tippett talking about Mad God. More bold visionary work is on display in Neptune Frost…

CLIP Once upon a time…

Directed by poet Saul Williams and Rwandan filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman, Neptune Frost is billed as an Afrofuturist musical. It is also a cinematic poem that provides a radically different and visually stunning window on the Black experience.

I saw the film during virtual Sundance and was dazzled by both its seductive style and rich thematic layers. But as with Mad Dog, it is a film that is difficult to describe so I asked Williams and Uzeyman to offer their descriptions.

SAUL WILLIAMS

Neptune Frost is a love story. It's a story of two people who meet in a dream before they meet in real life. One of these people is a miner and one of these people is a runaway. And the story tells the story of how each of them steps into their power when they encounter a mysterious force that brings out, I'd say, the best in them. That's very vague, but that is also the truth. But in terms of genre, it's a science fiction musical that has been shot in Rwanda with an entirely Rwandan and Burundian cast and crew.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

And we follow the journey of many people. It's a layered story where you follow the journey of those people towards a place, a magical place where they feel safe and because they feel safe, stepping to their own power.

SAUL WILLIAMS

The rest is born from there. It's a coming of age story.

BETH ACCOMANDO

Now, not everyone is familiar with Afro futurism, although they may think they are after Black Panther. But what role does that play in this film? And what can you say about Afrofuturism that might help people maybe understand that context?

SAUL WILLIAMS

Well, I would say that the term Afrofuturism, as it's commonly used right now, has been a helpful tool for people to kind of learn how to articulate what they're experiencing when they are experiencing a film that is projecting ideas of the black experience that is not necessarily related to the oppressive or colonial or imperialistic past. On the other hand, I would say that Anisia and I, in conceptualizing this project, never thought in terms of, oh, we want to make an Afrofuturist project, or what have you. We are fans of science fiction, rob.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

And Octavia Butler, comic books and all of those things. But, yeah, I think it's more so a terms that helps people situating the film. The film is really more science fiction and a musical which is already ready something to be loaded.

SAUL WILLIAMS

Yeah. And I think in our approach, we're also peeling back sort of the typical approach to science fiction. I say typical because many may not think of it in this way, but my entire experience, for example, would say the Star Wars series has been in acknowledging that. I find it strange that when, like, let's say, white people imagine this realm of higher intelligence and space, the main fear seems to be centered around the idea that some alien is going to come and colonize and or enslave them. It seems more like a projection of will the things that our ancestors have played a role in come back and haunt us one day, then an actual liberation of the imagination, you know, like, if it's higher intelligence, then why is it violent? Has always been my question. If it's higher intelligence, then why is it violent? And so we approach some of these questions in Neptune Frost. Neptune Frost takes place in a village that is called Digitaria, and it's a village that we actually built as part of our production sign to make this film. It's a village made of recycled computer parts. Anisia and I started conceptualizing this film around the time that we learned about the phenomenon of e-waste camps, which are places where our tech goes to die and you turn in that old iPhone or laptop or what have you. There are village sized camps, many of them on the continent of Africa, where you'll see piles of motherboards, piles of keyboards, piles of towers for scavenger culture that could come in and take out the gold or the copper or the titanium and recycle or what have you. And then there's movements surrounding that recycling and the upcycling of materials. And those camps are often times, in fact, always very closely tied to the minds where that our tech is dependent on in order to make the smartphones, the laptops, the drones, the gaming devices, where the Colton and tantalum and all these things come from, those e-waste camps are usually closely situated to those mines. And so our story tells the story of a miner. We follow a particular miner out of the mine and into this team like encounter with our other protagonist, Neptune. And but it is a question surrounding technology. It's a question surrounding the modern or the irony surrounding the fact that so much of our relationship to technology and the digital age is still so heavily based on a very analog form of exploitation. It's also connecting the ancient technology, like the drum, which was a wireless form of communication transmitted throughout coding, which is drum patterns, right to the modern forms of coding and wireless communication. We aim to make those connections in the film.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

Yeah. It is a way of saying we are present in every layer of time. Every layer of time or presence is failed, or presence is powerful.

SAUL WILLIAMS

And, in fact, we are the technology.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And how did you two work together co-directing or creating this piece of film?

ANISIA UZEYMAN

Organically, I would say organically. We don't have the same set of skills, but we inspire each other in our perspective. A lot of discussions and exchanges and influences that are pretty tiny.

SAUL WILLIAMS

The disciplines we share and the things we yearn to see. I might be writing the music for the film. The film is a musical, but that music inspires Anisia as she conceptualizes the visuals.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

Yeah. And so back and forth and back and forth and also very deep research and sharing those new tools and those new thoughts, et cetera. And so at the end, it merges towards one vision.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And the film combined so many different kinds of visual elements and styles. How did you approach kind of filming it and deciding exactly kind of like which cinematic language to use with each of the different sections?

ANISIA UZEYMAN

Well, for me, it is the invention of a language that is cohesive to me, which depicts a kind of surreality in an ordinary world. So it is ethereal, but it's at the same time epic. And I thought that we could oscillate between intimacy and more choreographed and large scope of framing. So it's really the story and the music that led. And it is a journey. So you also accompany you are walking with people that are going through a very important journey and it's a coming.

SAUL WILLIAMS

Of age journey for each of the characters in the film.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

And so that journey is made up of many things. Like any journey, I guess.

BETH ACCOMANDO

And the film is very poetic and Saul, you are a poet with mostly words, but how do you kind of get this sense of visual poetry so that it really does have this kind of there are moments that are absolutely like, transcendent in the film.

SAUL WILLIAMS

That's another question for Anisia.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

Yeah. I don't think that it's related to the fact that we work together. When we say it's organic, it's fluid, it's really about that that we are inspired and impacted by each other's understanding of each other and we are also merging like our history, our aesthetics. And so to me, poetry or music are very exciting to film because I do think that color is poetry too. I do think that a movement is a dance, a camera movement is a dance. And so to have the opportunity to have those elements, managing right, those encounters, it's really just adding on the possibilities.

SAUL WILLIAMS

Yeah, it's inevitable. I mean, I've always thought of poetry as a viable alternative fuel source that it is there to inspire and that the heightening of language or the assembling or disassembling of language is there to illuminate ideas and possibilities already hidden in the language. And of course, there's a great deal of playfulness and translation in the film in both a literal and an ethereal sense, in that the film was originally written in English, the dialogue has a poetry to it and what have you. But then when we began working with poets and writers and musicians in Rhonda to translate the text and the song lyrics into their language, into a way where they would be most at ease and most present, when those words came through their mouth, which meant that we were translating this text now into Kinoranda, Kirundi, Swahili, French, all the languages that the film is in. Because over there it's very common for a person to speak five languages easily and not traveling from one neighborhood to the next, but together, sitting at a table and saying whatever expression works best in whatever language. And everybody understands, except for me, the American dude who's like, this is awesome. Wow. We wanted the film to reflect that experience as well. So the poetry of the film, and I believe that the images is also the poetry of the film. It's a synergistic union, but also it.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

Was also very inspired at one point in one of the songs it says red and purple lights. I mean, it may be poetry, but it's also very concrete, very real. And what do you do with that? How do you push it in order to convey the story? Because at the end of the day, it's how you convey the arc of the story, right? And so a lot of elements can be entering the frame. For instance, the mind with the voice over at the very beginning, which is like, very poetic on a situation that is more violent than anything else. And we thought that to create a mineral palate to that sequence would translate the two things that are happening at the same time, which is that you are like, you present the characters and you want the people to feel them and to be attached to start a relationship with those characters in the same time you are telling a story that is not so easy. So if you push it, I don't know if it is poetry or if it is more like how do we use what we have to convey a story.

BETH ACCOMANDO

There are many things in the film that are universal, but are there some political or social realities about where you shot in Rwanda that American audiences might benefit from knowing?

ANISIA UZEYMAN

I don't think there is anything that people don't know. The reality of the mining situation in the region is real. I think there is a lot of things that are very real in the film but that are just exposed from our point of view, which is not sensationalized and it's not a documentary at all.

SAUL WILLIAMS

I think the main thing which is not particular to Rwanda or Burundi is more particular to the state of the world is that I don't think the Western world is fully aware of what their technology relies on and what it has always relied on. I don't think that the west and it's not just technology, right? It's all of the things that we take for granted that we never question or just at the beginning of questioning how they arrived here. And so, when we think of the history of rubber on our tires for our cars, and of our bikes. And if you look at the history of firestone and rubber sourcing, it's horrendous on indigenous communities and populations entire genocides enacted for the sake of rubber. And these same stories hold true for gold, for diamonds, for chocolate, for sugar, for uranium, for cobalt, the list goes on. Not to mention for free labor, for the enslavement of peoples. And it's all sourced from the same place. And so to see a story that is celebrating black skin and black joy while also dancing through our relationship to technology and showing this sense of power that our characters are stepping into I think can be a divine illumination for any Western viewer. But it's not about Rwanda and it's not about Burundi. It is about the viewer.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

And it is about those people. And it is also a portrait of magnetic youth that are all artists and beautiful presence and vibrant.

SAUL WILLIAMS

Community that puts it heart and soul into the film.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

And I think that is also a reality. I think that we wanted to portray conversations that are really happening. Those conversations are global, but they belong also to that place. And so it is a way of, I think, of entering very contemporary modern dialogue with young people from Rwanda, Burundi.

SAUL WILLIAMS

Recently, that discussion. Because even when we talk about, let's say, ecology, we're talking to you from California. You're in California as well. And we know that the indigenous populations here actually participated in a burning of the forest periodically through time because they knew how the land works and operated. And in respect of the land, they knew what to do. And the government of the state has refused to do so. And as a result, we see this non selective burning of the land. What I'm pointing to is the fact that indigenous cultures have always had a strong relationship to ecology. Right? We've always had a strong relationship to recycling, to zero waste. And so the ingenuity in the film, the way in which things that have been thrown away have been turned into things that are useful, there's a great part of the story. In the same way that people that have been made invisible are making themselves visible.

ANISIA UZEYMAN

In the same way that we don't see ourselves as miserable, we don't see ourselves as invisible. To invite everybody to acknowledge that and.

SAUL WILLIAMS

To see us perhaps more closely aligned with how we see ourselves and I think that is reason enough for anyone in the west to say, I want to see this film.

BETH ACCOMANDO

They should see it also, just because it's brilliant. Thank you very much for talking about Neptune Frost All right, thank you very much. Seriously, thank you so much for this film. It was wonderful.

SAUL WILLIAMS

Thank you. Bye.

BETH ACCOMANDO

All right, goodbye. Thanks, Beth.

That was Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman. Thanks for listening to this bonus episode of Cinema Junkie dedicated to bold visionaries.

Neptune Frost and Mad God are the kinds of films that just make me giddy with excitement about the potential of cinema.

While Cinema Junkie is on a season break, please check out the show archives for more interviews. And if you enjoy what you hear please leave a review.

Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando, your resident Cinema Junkie.

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Shudder
One of the creatures found in the dystopian world of Phil Tippett's "Mad God."

Cinema Junkie is officially still on season break and will be back soon with regular episodes. But I wanted to do this bonus podcast because current top-grossing Hollywood fare has just seemed so dull and formulaic. "Jurassic World: Dominion," "Top Gun: Maverick," and "The Lost City" are so predictably paint-by-numbers that you know exactly how they will play out before the opening credits have even finished. But there is absolutely nothing predictable about "Mad God" and "Neptune Frost," and I want to celebrate that.

RELATED: Digital Gym Cinema hosts bold visionary films

Phil Tippett has worked on such blockbusters as "Star Wars" and "Jurassic Park." But to him those films were just his day job while he spent his spare time developing personal projects that he says were just "too weird" for Hollywood. The result of his painstaking labors is "Mad God," a bleak and beautiful descent into hell.

For an Oscar-winning special effects artist who was working on "Jurassic Park" as stop motion animation was giving way to computer generated effects, he is a decidedly non tech savvy person who took about ten minutes to log into the Zoom session. I point this out with nothing but empathy. He looks like a Mad Santa and comes across like that curmudgeony relative who’s annoyed to be at Christmas dinner. I was worried that if I asked a bad question he might just walk get up and walk away. But he put up with me and my questions and offered candid insights into his creative process. Tippett is a genius at what he does and "Mad God" is an epic display of that talent.

More bold visionary work is on display in "Neptune Frost". Directed by poet Saul Williams and Rwandan filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman, "Neptune Frost" is billed as an Afrofuturist musical. It is also a cinematic poem that provides a radically different and visually stunning window on the Black experience. I saw the film during virtual Sundance and was dazzled by both its seductive style and rich thematic layers.

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