"AFR" by Morten Hartz Kapler: Copy-pasting the World onto the Screen By Pamela Biénzobas Saffie
The reflections on the limits between reality and fiction, truth and lie, honesty and deception, craft and manipulation, have been at the heart and soul of cinema since the very first days. Over the century, some have taken this reflection to the most interesting grounds, exploring and provoking us to think and question what and how we believe.
Tiger Award winner AFR, by Danish filmmaker Morten Hartz Kaplers, takes this idea to the extreme, pushing the reflection through a depth of layers, by proposing a film that in its form is an impeccable “mockumentary”, but that does not intend to actually fool its viewers (it is built around an obviously fictional fact, the murder of Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen). Nevertheless, the presence of recognizable figures talking (supposedly) about him, his death and the tragic homosexual affair that apparently led to the killing (in interviews with the filmmaker, who simply put the quotes out of context to serve his intentions) takes it a step further.
Therefore, one of the most poignant questions is that if something so overtly false is so perfectly believable, then how much of what we believe in is pure deception? By playing with the clichés of how we receive information every day, AFR is also exposing and ridiculing the mechanisms that we have come to take for granted.
The film’s program, of questioning the dangers of today’s society, politics and of the media, as well as the filmmaker’s concern on the latter, inevitably recall the work of Peter Watkins, the British author of The War Game, Punishment Park and also the book Media Crisis. And like Watkins, Morten Hartz Kaplers is immediately facing expectable but nevertheless absurd reactions from the system. When the film premiered in Rotterdam, the turmoil began in Denmark. The filmmaker started receiving strong reactions” from Parliament members from right to left”, and even found himself writing “a letter to the Prime Minister to express my apologies on behalf of the very shallow and sensation-hungry newspapers”. He was shocked at the fact that “everybody started having an opinion, although no one saw it. How can someone have an opinion on something they haven’t seen?”
Who are you addressing in the first place with this film?
I just sought a wide audience. I didn’t target it for a specific group. Primarily I thought if was for Danish people, but that the structure of the film would also be interesting for its structure and dramaturgy. And I was also thinking it was interesting just as a piece of art. I tried to make it very open for everybody to see. I could easily have made a film that appealed very much to left-wing audience. I think it will, but I tried to open it up for everybody. Some people read it as a message to the Prime Minister.
It is also that, I think.
I think there are many messages, but I’m not sending any messages; I’m just answering questions. And I think some questions have a very obvious answer, but I’m not in control of that.
Whose questions are those?
Not my questions. It’s like I just copy-pasted the world into my movie, and some of the examples combined and created sub-questions that are interesting as well.
What aspect of the film was most important to you?
This may sound a bit arrogant, but I think that the great thing about making films, as opposed to theater for example, is that it is possible to be in control in 90%, so it’s possible to be concerned and focus on everything to get it the way you want it to be.
Why did you choose this particular structure for this film?
It was the challenge. When I start making a film I always have a goal. I know what I want to show. It’s always an investigation, for me. I try to investigate the story or the characters; I try to investigate what this is really about, this material, this form.
I didn’t know if it was really going to work. I hadn’t seen it before, in that structure. I thought “this might be the most boring film ever”, because it’s a feature-length film just with talking heads. I liked the idea that it had so many odds against it. And also the challenges like if I was ever going get the interviews, or be able to manipulate them to say things that I made them say, and even how I would ever get this film screened.
What kind of reactions do you expect?
All of them. When I have a film on the drawing board, I always work with four layers. There’s the obvious story, there’s the philosophical story, there’s my personal story, and then I work with what is not in the frame. And actually the first three are fifty percent, and what is out of the frame is the other fifty percent. This is all the stories that activate in people’s minds when they see the film.
I’ve got so many positive reactions, but I think some of the best ones might be those from my strongest critics and people who were very provoked by the film, and come to me four days later and say “I can’t get it out of my head. My mind keeps running it. It’s a fantastic film. I hate it, but it’s fantastic.” It’s not because I want to provoke people, but this means that I did something right, in a right way.
To what extent do you want the audience to believe this is real?
What I wanted to show is that even if you’re told from the beginning that you’re watching a lie, the mind is able to switch off and believe in that lie if you’re manipulated well. This is interesting because when we’re consuming journalistic media or documentaries, there’s a lot of people out there who want us to believe in what they call truth. So if the audience is able to find themselves in a situation believing in something they know is a lie, then in everyday consuming they are fed with that. The film should inspire to be a bit more critical about reading stuff or believing people.
What part do clichés play in that?
The whole film is a cliché. That’s also what makes it funny because it shows how foolish or how simple TV documentaries are; so full of clichés, so shallow. And I think that some people don’t have an eye for it, because they’re thinking about all the references. But I think people who don’t know Denmark at all have a better eye for the cliché, for the edited conflicts: people presented at the beginning of the film as the “good guys” later become the “bad guys”. This is typical journalism, vicious journalism.
I believe the film works even independently from its actual relationship to reality, just by exposing the structure. Did you consider using the same structure but with completely fictional facts?
Not at all. This would not be interesting. It would never be the same. Jacques Chirac and people like this making statements… when I put them in there something interesting happens, because I take their world and their reality and I take my fiction, my rules and my reality, and I intervene. I don’t see the film as some kind of activism, but one could choose to see it like that, because I think I’m not only describing.
What were your main issues in cinematographic terms?
I thought this would be something new, a new construction I hadn’t seen before. Mockumentaries always wait to announce it. In normal narrative stories you just know it; the rules are set from the beginning. It was difficult to make the film work because you know it’s a lie, but it’s also fiction. So would people walk out because they weren’t buying the story? Would they be able to get emotionally or intellectually involved? This was a new experiment for me, and I think I contributed a little or with something new to the mockumentary genre.
Will you continue to explore this area?
I will never do the same. I hate doing the same! I will move on to something totally different, but I will still try to make films that I feel are important, and that I feel would be important to other people as well.