29 Ago An interview with Willem Holzer, director of “American Refugees”
“Making film is like writing a poem. You get half way through and hate yourself. Then you finish and feel pretty good about yourself. Some people love it then you love yourself. Then some people hate it and you tell them to go fuck themselves.”
Willem Holzer is a French-American director living in New York City with a diverse background in commercial, music video, documentary and live-action comedy television
Behind this biting and hilarious satire lurks the shocking events of the previous year, which deeply shaken American and global society. Probably each of us had the impression that this nonsense was absolutely suitable for a tragicomic film. And here is “American Refugees”! Could you tell us a little more about the origin of this story and what exactly prompted you to tell it?
The kernel of the idea really came from Anthony Dimieri and Kareem Rahma. So many (honestly, affluent) Americans escaped abroad during the pandemic due to political turmoil or lack of “freedom” in the United states. They both had this sharp idea, flipping the idea of American Exceptionalism through the lens of two Americans escaping abroad like so many refugees that have attempted to make their way to the United States. I had a boss move to New Zealand and two friends just go to Mexico to live abroad, which in light of what was going on spoke more about the state of Americans’ lack of understanding of the world than anything. This joint frustration was a lot of what we put into the script. We chose Europe as the country they wanted to escape to because that seemed to speak more to that lack of worldview.
The staging of this film is unsettling and helps to create that strange atmosphere poised between reality and madness that also characterizes the dialogues of the two protagonists. Where did the idea for this bizarre and fascinating scenography come from?
Kareem and I had previously done another short film in a cardboard setting. We wanted to do another, but when they sent me the script it came down to a combination of logistics and tone that made us settle on making this our next cardboard short. Logistically, as you can imagine, it would have been more expensive. What is it that maxim producers always espouse? Never film with kids, animals or on water? Tonally, it fits with our characters’ dissociation from reality. Thematically it makes sense because they keep abandoning any perspective, but they also are becoming more and more bewildered from being stranded. A lot of that design and inspiration is very Michel Gondry, but a lot from another local Brooklyn filmmaker/musician, Adam Green who created a whole film in the same method. Finally, when we land on the beach it’s a nice shift where reality dawns on our characters.
We know that comedy is a characteristic feature of your artistic production. Writing comic texts is quite complex and requires great skills that you surely know how to handle. What is most important to you when writing and interpreting a comic text?
Like I said before, Kareem and Anthony wrote the bulk of it. When I come in, I consider myself more of an editor. Trying to identify the kernel of what our main Joke is and every scene finding a joke that builds upon that main joke in some way. In terms of what makes it funny or comedic? I think it has to make us laugh. If it’s offensive, so be it. It has to work within the context of our characters or story, but it has to make us laugh in the room first and foremost. If you don’t laugh at your own jokes then it won’t matter how witty you think your joke is going to be.
Beyond the engaging comedy, the original staging and the excellent interpretation of the actors, there is certainly a lucid and interesting analysis of our contemporaneity. And what do you think about the future? What are our hopes and what do you think we can learn from the turmoil of 2020?
Personally, I hope that we learn that we aren’t very different. I mean that in a bit of a negative connotation. Racism, Prejudice, Injustice, Classism, and Corruption exist in every country. I think the more people identify that and take the time to analyze those issues in context then maybe we can change these systems of oppression that hold us down.
Other than that, I just really hope I can go watch the next Julia Ducournau film in theaters without fear of getting the next COVID variant…or shot.