Friend of the world (2020)

My mum always had a fine array of sayings and advice for me as a child growing up….. “Work hard at school”…… “Don’t bully “……”Stop doing that with the pillow, it’s disgusting” – the list is almost endless.

One of the more memorable things that she said to me one day was that it takes a big man to apologise for doing wrong. Now, to be honest I cannot for the life of me remember just what particular episode had taken place for me to warrant this specific piece of motherly wisdom. In truth, there were numerous occasions as I grew up that this would have been an appropriate place for the advice – I wasn’t a bad kid, but let’s just say that mischief seemed to follow me around like a faithful trusty pooch in my early days. It was a gift……or in my parents case, a curse.

Anyhoo, it’s safe to say in any case I must now be a really big man after all those apologies (no smutty jokes please…….leave those up to me) because this particular one is a big apology.

A couple of weeks ago we at 5D were lucky enough to receive a very interesting request from some Californian filmmakers to see if we would be interested in their latest production, a sci-if film, Friend of the world. In fact – let me show you the request…….

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“My brother Brian and I are a couple of Southern California filmmakers who recently completed a horror scifi thriller in San Diego called “Friend of the World.” Our world premiere is set at the 2020 Oceanside International Film Festival on August 15th. Because of the COVID19 restrictions, the festival will take place virtually and viewers will have a 48 hour window to attend.

The story was influenced by then-current global and political anxieties when it was written in 2016.

-It’s a post-apocalyptic film that takes place in a military bunker and features body horror and darkly absurd satirical humor.

-The picture stars two San Diego based theater actors: opposites in age, gender and race.

-With a growing relevance to current events, the film retains its universal qualities about how “good” and “evil” are viewed in different ideologies, delivering a wider message about personal growth and corruption.

In 2020, the politically anxious film we have worked on for four years is ready to be released in an even stranger era than when it was written. I think your audience will appreciate the exaggerated situation and comic tragedy of “Friend of the World” as an entertaining peer into a bleaker, yet introspective parallel reality to our current times.”

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So having looked at the accompanying press pack and the online screener I happily promised to not only do a review, but also a short interview with the director in order to save me some work provide a nicely textured article. However…….. As it turned out, an assortment of family issues and complications suddenly appeared out of nowhere to the extent that putting together any sort of article together was unfortunately out of the question. I pride myself on being able to keep to my blogging and podcasting commitments – but for once life just kind of got in the way. As a consequence the intention to have this published before the movie’s world premier was missed my me. So, sorry guys!

So in my tried and tested lifelong habit of blissfully ignoring my mistakes and shortcomings I’ll plow on as if nothing has happened. So let me send a short synopsis your way for Friend of the World.

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THE SYNOPSIS BIT

After a catastrophic global war, a young filmmaker awakens in the carnage and seeks refuge in the only other survivor: an eccentric, ideologically opposed figure of the United States military.

Together, they brave the toxic landscape in search of safety… and answers.

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So before I give you a few thoughts on this film (spoiler alert: I loved it!) let me send your way a short interview with the film’s writer & director, Brian Butler, who graciously gave up some of his valuable time to answer our range of deeply incisive and piercing questions.

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THE INTERVIEW WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR BRIAN BUTLER BIT

Q) Firstly, tell us a little about the plot & inspiration for Friend of the World

“Friend of the World” is about a young filmmaker who has become lost, figuratively and literally, in the build-up and aftermath of a terrible war. Her only companion for navigating the dangerous landscape is a military general who seems to be her complete opposite in many ways. 

The combination of this unlikely (and unstable) mentor figure with the elements of existentialism and body horror that overtake their journey is what inspired me both personally and creatively as the driving force to make this film.

Q) Leading on from the first question, what books/movies influenced the rational of your film?

The first idea was “Dr. Strangelove” meets “The Thing”. From there, I drew from plays like “No Exit”, “Waiting for Godot”, as well as works like “Faust” and “Inferno” to build on the mutually empowering and corruptive relationship between the two leads. There is also a scene that evokes “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”, but I’ll leave that to the viewer to discover.

Q) The film is beautifully lit and the cinematography is lovely – how did the process come about for this?

I got really lucky having Ray Gallardo on board to shoot this. Not only is he technically masterful (especially with the Sony a7S and his jaw-dropping collection of lenses), he was committed to my vision and collaborative in bringing it to life.

Ray was incredibly faithful to my storyboards as well as the visual influences – from the high contrast black-and-white lighting of film noir to the almost technicolor widescreen shots scattered throughout the movie. He was always pragmatic about coverage, creatively spontaneous, and fully supportive of the vision I was trying to get on screen.

Q) Was the film always intended as a short film or did it start out as something else?

I had worked with some of these filmmakers on my first two shorts, “Hatred” and “The Phantom Hour”. For this project, I wanted to make something bigger without biting off more than I could chew. 

The idea was to write the movie around a single location that could be shot in a short period, but feel big in scope and have a more intricate emotional arc than a 15-minute film could pull off. The result was an extended “Twilight Zone”-structured sequence of chapters. Not quite a full 90-minute feature, but much more meat than your average short without dragging or feeling forced or bloated.

Q) There have been a number of films over the years that have dealt with post-apocalyptic futures for humankind –  why do you think the movie watching public never seem to tire of them?

I think these scenarios are fascinating to people for several reasons. One, it’s something that’s as possible as it is devastating. It’s never that far out of reach, especially with advancements in technology in the last century. It’s something to fear, and therefore, to try and avert. There are technological concerns as well as ethical ones, and that combination of reflection and spectacle works really well together in films. In great works of this genre, it’s never exclusively a suggestion of the future; there’s always some perspective on where we are right now and where we could be heading.

Q) Tell us about the two central performances  – they’re very impressive!

I have to give it to them – they had a delicate balance of comedy, absurd dialogue, holding up their performances in long wide takes, and sustaining a dramatic relationship arc over the course of 50 minutes.

Nick Young was with us from the beginning. I told him the film and his character was inspired by Dr. Strangelove and he had Gore down the minute he auditioned.

The character Diane, played by Alexandra Slade, went through several iterations before she ended up joining the production. Originally the character was a young man, and several actors had rehearsed the role with us. The lengthy pre-production period gave me lots of time to mull over the script, and eventually I decided the dynamic would be more compelling if the character was female. Alex also had it down in her first read, so they both made my job very easy.

Q) Without mentioning spoilers it’s safe to say that there is scope for future stories from this project – any such plans?

I have been working on an idea that is a continuation of what happens at the end of the movie. In addition to that, there is plenty of room to explore what happens to the characters before the events of this film as well as an expansion of what happens during. There are several possibilities – whether it be a prequel, a remake / expanded series, or an anthology exploring other stories from this universe. Whatever it is, I’m definitely interested in this world enough to revisit it in the future.

Q) What ultimately do you want viewers to take from Friend of the World?

I hope they can find the humor in it. I hope they can piece together the ending and its implications about the characters. This is a movie about personal growth, and the loss of innocence that can happen through growth and survival, and where that leaves you. I want the audience to see the connection between this theme and the sci-fi elements for a full appreciation of the story.

Q) Where and when can Friend of the World be seen?

“Friend of the World” premieres at Oceanside International Film Festival on August 15th. You can get passes online and watch the film through their secure streaming service. There will be more screenings later this year and at-home viewing options in the near future.

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THE REVIEW BIT

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Friend of the world, with a running time of 50 minutes quite simply looks beautiful. As discussed earlier in the interview with Brian, the sumptuous lighting and cinematography from Ray Gallardo transforms what could ordinarily have been an any run-of-the-mill warehouse environment. Instead the scenes are bathed in stunning tones of black and white and together with some clever lighting techniques serve to add not just a visual treat but an added emotional intensity to the narrative. In addition there are some clever juxtapositions of brief technicolour sequences amidst the film noir visual effects – for example, the brief scene showing two individuals wandering outside in the post-apocalyptic debris is stunning.

Considering the lack of acting experience from the ensemble cast the quality is strong throughout. One thing that can often detract from the success of independent short film is the unevenness of performance throughout the cast, however this is not an issue here. The film is underpinned by the two central characters, Gore (Nick Young) and Diane (Alexandra Slade), both of whom are on screen for the vast majority of the running time. And both actors are quite excellent.

Nick Young in particular seems to having the time of his life as he channels a heady mixture of Dr. Strangelove, Colonel Kurtz & Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now (you could also throw in elements of the current POTUS for good measure if you feel inclined). Nick chews through his dialogue with energy and gusto displaying a nice combination of pathos, threat and satire. Alexandra is simply incredible as the young filmmaker lost and alone in a crazy situation – I foresee a bright future for her.

On the whole the special effects are excellent, with just a couple of scenes where the quality drops just a little. In addition it could also be argued that the running time could have been trimmed a little with a few of the verbal jousts between Gore and Diane lasting a little longer than they could have.

However these but minor quibbles. This sub-genre of post-apocalyptic narratives has been the staple of contemporary story telling for some years now, and it’s always difficult to add something new to the plethora of works that have come before. There are some who may ask that in this Covid-19, Trump, Brexit mad-as-a-box-of-frogs modern world whether the audience appetite for the genre will continue, after all can fiction really contest with the real world shenanigans at the moment? However, it’s good to see that the filmmakers have produced something still entertaining, but also underscored by asking some basic questions about the human condition and the challenges it faces both now and in the years to come.

Quite simply, Friend of the world is a hugely enjoyable slice of thoughtful science fiction.

For more information about the movie, the people behind the movie plus where & when it can be seen just go to the official website RIGHT HERE.

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