We caught up with Producer Director Reginald Harkema at the Bicycle Film Festival in New York City at the Anthology Film Archives. Reginald took a moment away from festival fun to talk to us about his film Monkey Warfare. This is what he had to share...
PPO: Correct me if I am wrong but initially when you made this film, it was not aimed at the bike culture specifically was it?
Reginald: No, actually since I made the film, I have been more exposed to that. I had done some basic research about it. Like my girlfriend's little sister was involved with some bike group called the "Dead Baby Bicycle Club" in Seattle. So, I kind of knew about them and I knew that this was sort of around so this is how I had the idea to create this mythical bike gang called The Spoke Club that's in the film. The inspiration for bikes in the film was really more from my own lifestyle. You know I've been riding bikes for the last 20 years. And for instance when my girlfriend and I moved from Vancouver to Toronto, in Vancouver you are not allowed to put garbage out on the streets but in Toronto you are. So that inspired us to ask, what would we do? What if we were revolutionaries, on bicycles riding around? How would we survive? We went on bike cruises around Toronto, and we saw all this great stuff. We put baskets on our bikes, tied stuff down and took it home.
PPO: So it's more autobiographical than might at first appear?
Reginald: Oh yeah! Oh man, my actors always talk about that. How on one hand the internal inspiration was certainly from themselves, but the external aspects of their character they totally stole from me and my girlfriend.
PPO: Alright now the counter culture, I guess that could be said to be the thread that runs through it. You mentioned 'The Dead Baby Bike Club.' I was looking at the audience as they came in tonight and they almost looked more main stream than last year. They had more of an edge or for lack of a better description, the 'Bicycle Messenger" mentality. But still that counter culture is there. Your film is about two revolutionaries and a budding revolutionary, that counter culture thread seems to be more of the identification with the audience than the bicycle aspect. Where do you go with that?
Reginald: Well, like I said the bike thing was kind of a base, a foundation for the characters, that I drew upon from my life but the characters are ex-revolutionaries, and I was exploring that sense of hidden histories and suppressed alternate political ideologies.
PPO: You set it up very neatly. You took these two people, who in the beginning were, as some of your reviewers put it, half dead. They were in their fugue state. Then you introduced this younger spirit, and they kind of woke up. And, for a while there, it really was three people who seemed to be having a lot of fun. Then as some put it, you had the denouement, the Oh My God part, where reality struck again. Did you intentionally set it up that way?
Reginald: Oh Yeah, I was quite clinical in creating the structure of the film. When I was writing it, I kept going, 'Ok half way through the movie, Linda is going to walk in on the two of them (Susan and Dan in a compromising - yet innocent pose) and the movie is going to become a love triangle...' And then the script would be like 90 pages. And, since this happened at page fifty, I would go like, 'oh man, I gotta go to the front of the script and delete 5 pages.'
But I do see my characters as metaphorical. I mean like Susan is the hope of a new generation and Dan and Linda are the folly of the older generation. I put the characters in as lab rats in a maze to see what would happen when I pushed them this way, and then that person pushes them that. What's the result? Fortunately the actors don't see it that way. They act very naturalistically. I don't tell them about this lab rat thing.
PPO: Now that's an interesting question, your characters, during your creative efforts, did they come alive, find their own direction, and surprise you with their reactions? Did they become somehow autonomous? Or. did you orchestrate them completely?
Reginald: Oooh, I come to directing from an editing background. So my experience in making films is basically sitting in a darkened room putting images together. So, I felt that when I stepped out of the room into a directing role, I wanted to give over as much of the creativity and the responsibility to those who have actually done it, like my actors. You know, I've never acted in anything, but my actors have. So, it is more directing in terms of guiding. In fact, Don McKeller the lead is a really well know director and screen writer, and he and his girlfriend actually rewrote a couple of scenes.
PPO: Excellent commentary, but my question was more about the writing process itself. Did you know how the plot and story would evolve, or were the characters creating their own story as the plot evolved?
Reginald: I really work on structure a lot, so I mapped it out, the whole thing, before I got into the writing. But, of course, once you actually get into the writing, putting words on paper, you sort of shift and flow wherever it goes. But, personally, I do have it mapped out before hand, to kind of guide me. You know, more successfully than the roadmap for peace in Palestine I think. (laughter)
PPO: Or the End Game in Iraq? (additional laughter)
PPO: The last question the is one that is going to go to the footage that is barred in some areas. Why is it important to your film?
Reginald: That very last scene? I guess it's not really important to the film, I mean it was originally kind of a lark. Because we didn't have the Leonard Cohen song, and with the song that we had, the running time of the film was 74:30 which is less than feature length. So, I said, 'let's just do this molotov cocktail safety video.' We ended up doing it and it brought the film up to feature length. But then we got the Leonard Cohen song. So it was again feature length. When the objections from the lawyers came, I didn't have a leg to stand on. But, that's just in Canada, we have a distribution deal in Canada, and without having certain assurances in place, they don't want to release it. But in the States in Festivals, we can show it as much as we want. And that sequence is on the internet on a My Space Page which is the ultimate irony for me. If millions of people find out about it they can have access to it. More so than watching it on a 35 mm movie frame.
PPO: Well, I knew about this scene and the fact that it was barred, and I was kind of like, 'Eh, a tempest in a tea pot!' But then, as I watched I had this sense that as Dan and Linda were standing at the bedside that they wished they had done a better job of telling her the realities. For example, the tragedies that can beset youthful enthusiasm. Linda and Dan may ultimately have wished that they had told her how to make the molotov cocktail.
Reginald: Yeah well they had become parents right? I mean the whole foundation of the unfettered free market capitalism is built upon this idea of the nuclear family. And... they'd become that nuclear family. And so, as the nuclear family, one that buys into the system, there's certain knowledge that you don't pass on to your kids. It's more about the glory of being ruled by Reagan or Kennedy or something. It's like we celebrate the victors and the kings and so on. And families go on for existence, and salute the flag and so on. You don't really hear about the alternate points of view. So as long as we are on this death trip for humanity with this unfettered free market capitalism, it's what you don't tell your kids that will blow up in their faces. Like if they don't know about the alternative. And so they were just being parents, so, we don't want to tell her how to make a molotov cocktail and so it ends up tragically for her.
PPO: So How'd you feel about your audience?
Reginald: This audience? It was awesome man! I mean like at first I was worried, 'was there enough bicycling stuff in there?' But, there was a surprisingly large amount of it, and they responded to the non-bicycling stuff because it seems to be so much a part of the lifestyle of the people anyway.
PPO: They totally enjoyed and they were totally into it, you took them away for an hour, and .... how many minutes? (laughter)
Reginald: (Laughter) It's 80 minutes, and hours and twenty minutes with the post credits sequence in it! I'm glad you enjoyed the movie.