Thursday, June 9, 2011

Splatter from The North Pole

Play God (2010) - Nikki
[Play God plays as part of DocPoint NYC, a program of 47 films hosted by its New York partners: The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Scandinavia House, 92YTribeca, UnionDocs and the Tribeca Film Institute, on June 10th at 7pm]

A successful Helsinki based commercial director, Teemu Nikki looks back on his failed attempt at making the first Finnish splatter movie, Play God. This 38 minute, behind-the-scene, inside look at filmmaking gone awry doc is sort of 'making of' featurette on a movie that never happened.

There have been quite a few documentaries in the past that highlighted the trials and tribulations of filmmaking. Burden of Dreams: Making of Fitzcarraldo and more recently Best Worst Movie: Making of Troll 2, immediately come to mind. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's Lost in La Mancha chronicled the disintegration of Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote. However entertaining that documentary was, it depressed a lot of burgeoning filmmakers including myself. I mean, what chance did we have if no one was willing to finance a Gilliam movie? The process of the making Play God documented here seems like a therapy for the director- to be rid of the omen that's been gnawing at him for several years. And he seems to have a sense of humor about the whole experience.

Growing up with the steady diet of splatter films on VHS, Nikki's foray into filmmaking is akin to that of many American indie filmmakers. Seeing homemade footage of Nikki and his Finnish compatriots making their own brand of splatter movies with their dad's video camera in their backyard reminded me of how universal the film geekdom is.

Play God, a shoot'em-up chop'em-up superhero movie in epic proportions (Sci-Fi backdrop, large number of extras, battle scenes and a chainsaw wielding Evil Santa) with an incomprehensible storyline and the puzzling English dialog, was all enthusiasm and not much else. Nikki's plan was simple: shoot the first 20 minutes of the film, show it to the possible investors who would then naturally be blown away by its brilliance and would dole out the money to make the rest of the film, then off to a successful career in Hollywood.

With extremely bad weather conditions (minus 40 Celsius degrees) and everything else going wrong, the production of the movie hit the wall from day one and never really got off the ground. The cast and crew, all Nikki's friends and family members, just as enthusiastic but all novices in filmmaking, faced some very treacherous working conditions. Without the script and direction to guide them while working hard for free, they slowly lost faith in Nikki. Then people started turning on each other. Yes, it can be frustrating when you're not able to cut Evil Santa in half with a chainsaw. But stop crying forgodssakes!

Interviewing various cast and crew members, Nikki faces some biting criticisms from his friends and family face to face. The movie didn't happen. The project was way too ambitious to pull off. And he blamed everyone but himself. Thankfully, the doc is also filled with plenty of awesome footage from Play God. There are definitely times in the film that you wonder whether it is a mocumentary or real. It is a playful, funny as hell and endearing documentary. And by the slick look of the trailer Nikki finally made, Play God could've been really an awesome splatter movie. I am hoping that Hollywood will take notice of now 'mature and competent' Teemu Nikki, and actually help him make Play God for real, starring, Mickey Rourke perhaps.

For tickets and more information please visit MoMA Presents: DocPoint