Mockumentary mop-up

"The mistake I made is that I thought all responsibility would fall on my shoulders, as it should, since I am solely responsible for the film." Filmmaker Slavko Martinov
"You can't accuse someone of treachery for acting in a film and exercising their democratic right to free speech. Especially when you've been given all evidence to the contrary." Still from Propaganda
"It's an anti-Western propaganda film about the influence of American visual and consumer culture on the rest of the world, told from a North Korean perspective." Still from Propaganda
"The purpose of the film is to highlight the construct of propaganda, so there was no better way to make the point than to use propaganda techniques to leak it onto YouTube as if it was an intercepted propaganda film." Still from Propaganda
"Even we were shocked the first time we were closed off in a dark theatre with other people to watch it. You experience the feel of indoctrination this way, so it's a unique and unsettling experience." Still from Propaganda
Slavko Martinov tells us about the very real fallout from a fake film on North Korean Propaganda.

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Slavko Martinov intended to create controversy with his North Korea Propaganda mockumentary, as a social experiment for his next documentary.

But once the film was revealed as fake he didn't expect the ongoing repercussions for the main actor, who has been ousted from his community in Christchurch.

"I'm completely responsible for making sure there is justice for Eugene and his family, and I will not stop until the matter is resolved.

"You can't accuse someone of treachery for acting in a film and exercising their democratic right to free speech."

Martinov tells us more about himself and the very real fallout from a fake film.

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During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

I feel most inspired in the moments just before waking.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

Determined, unfiltered, heart-felt anarchy (I asked)

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Collaboration.

How does your environment affect your work?

It’s always changing, so you just adapt. We created a game during editing last year whereby you had to keep working and talking through aftershocks as if nothing was happening, even though some of them were big enough to knock you over and cut power. My co-producer/editor, Mike Kelland, was so good at it that when a 6.3 hit he calmly screwed the lid on a bottle while the studio was shaking because he “didn’t want to spill any on the carpet.”

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

I can afford to look at the big picture because Mike is so obsessed with details.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

Propaganda.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

My friend Ruby Gower, who just published her first book. She’s eight.

Tell us a bit about your background.

It's scarred by innumerable failures and misadventures that inform everything I do, so I'm grateful for it.

Tell us a bit about your mockumentary

It's an anti-Western propaganda film about the influence of American visual and consumer culture on the rest of the world, told from a North Korean perspective.

I came up with the idea of making a documentary about propaganda in 2003. I’d never made a film before and I had no chance of getting funding, so I realized that if I wanted to find an audience I’d have to do something that hadn’t been done before. The result is the world’s first propumentary, which took nine years of working in secret, with zero funding, through two major earthquakes and a lot of paranoia (especially after being questioned in a small room by the Counter-Terrorism Unit).

Why did you release it on YouTube first?

The purpose of the film is to highlight the construct of propaganda, so there was no better way to make the point than to use propaganda techniques to leak it onto YouTube as if it was an intercepted propaganda film. We had no idea if this would work, which is why we filmed the entire process.

Why should people see it on the big screen at the Doc Edge Festival?

Even we were shocked the first time we were closed off in a dark theatre with other people to watch it. You experience the feel of indoctrination this way, so it's a unique and unsettling experience.

After the screening at Doc Edge, we'll be taking part in an extended Q&A where we'll answer any questions and respond to any criticism people have.

The mockumentary has caused fallout for the main actor and his family (Ed - ousted by his community for allegedly being a North Korean spy - 3rd Degree 10/04/13)  What were some of the ethical considerations before releasing it?

When I asked Eugene to consider the role, I told him to take his time considering the implications for him as a South Korean and a Catholic, and the possible repercussions. We then had a number of discussions about the possibilities before he made his decision.

The mistake I made is that I thought all responsibility would fall on my shoulders, as it should, since I am solely responsible for the film. I thought that if anything happened, I would explain everything - as I did very clearly to the Korean Society and the South Korean Embassy - and they would respect our right to free speech (a vital part of the democracy both countries share).

As a documentary maker what is your role in reconciling this?

I'm completely responsible for making sure there is justice for Eugene and his family, and I will not stop until the matter is resolved. You can't accuse someone of treachery for acting in a film and exercising their democratic right to free speech. Especially when you've been given all evidence to the contrary. And to keep perpetuating the rumour when you're aware of their reputation being smashed is grubby and vindictive.  I won't stand for it.

What is the next step?

We've been filming the last two years for a film called 'Making Propaganda'. It's an ongoing behind-the-scenes look at the social experiment of 'Propaganda' and the repercussions of giving a geo-political Pandora's Box like North Korea a voice. The question is, what do they think of the film? Are they pleased, or appalled? I have no idea, but I'll find out when I take the film there for the ultimate screening and review. I'm not sure if I'll be welcomed with open arms or sent to the gulag. I hope it's not the latter because I want to interview Kim Jong-un after the screening and discuss re-unification, nuclear proliferation and the past, present, and future role of New Zealand on the Korean peninsula. That small territory has enormous implications for all of us on so many levels.

Why is documentary important?

I think documentary is the best way of getting the truth on film. It’s an antidote to drip-fed reality TV and the endemic filtering of mainstream news, and I can’t think of another time when it’s been so important to show where we are in the world in such a direct manner.

What do you think of the new documentary funding?

I like it because it ensures that taxpayers have more opportunities to actually see what they’re funding. I also think that the decision-making process will be more democratic and should result in decisions that encourage New Zealand stories and ideas to succeed internationally.

What else is needed to support documentaries in NZ?

Crowdfunding has been heading in the right direction. The recent arrival of Boosted is welcome because it’s a step closer to something we lack here, which is philanthropy and patronage for documentary making. I noticed at IDF Amsterdam last year that most doco makers from around the world have cultures of patronage that support doco makers as much as they do sculpture and painting etc. Surely there are wealthy patrons in New Zealand who want to be Executive Producers!

Tell us about your other upcoming projects.

Non-disclosure is the best policy. You learn this the hard way…

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

I’d have studied Human Rights Law.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

I’ve thought a lot about this question. Like most people I feel connected to where I was born, and I get pleasure out of saying I’m from New Zealand when I’m overseas.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

It changes with the circumstances.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

A short documentary about people trying to makes something out of a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. Maybe an animation doco from the point of view of the piece of string, the stick and the fabric. How do they feel about it? Will they be used to shelter a family or for kidnapping and beating someone to extort information? The possibilities are endless. This question could also work well for an episode of Project Runway.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Breathe.

What’s great about the Documentary Edge Festival and Forum?

I recently read that “compared with Hollywood’s predictable epics and tiresome threequels, documentaries have rapidly evolved into the most vital force in film; the cinematic equivalent of punk rock.” Based on that analogy, the Doc Edge Festival and Forum is like New Zealand’s own Bromley Contingent and CBGB rolled into one, flying the flag for direct and subversive story-telling, and giving the fingers to a broadcasting system that favours baking and building pseudo bitch-fests over telling the truth and sharing ideas about things that really matter.

What’s your big idea for 2013?

Getting my hands on that documentary funding…!

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Written by

The Big Idea Editor

11 Apr 2013

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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