Starring Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaizidou
Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos
My name is Dogtooth and I’m running at an art house theater near you. You may not have heard of me, or think that I have a chance to secure your funding support at the ticket counter, but I believe I am just as worthy of your consideration as any other filmic candidate vying for your time and attention this fall.
I have been nominated by the “Film Festival Party.” You may not have heard of this group, so let me tell you a little about it. The Film Festival Party seeks to promote films — like myself — that are outside of the mainstream. Films like me are not affiliated with any major, national studio. Instead, we are small, independent productions that possess qualities that you are looking for in a filmic candidate — quirky, obscure, different, low-budget, and low on special effects, car crashes, machine gun fire, vampires, zombies and superheroes. We also tend to be filled with outlandish stories, language and depictions.
The Film Festival Party holds rallies for candidates like me at places like Telluride, Colorado, Toronto, Canada, Cannes, France, and Venice, Italy. We travel to each of these rallies so that we can build support for our candidacy and hope that we will garner enough attention that we can “win” at the box office. But, until then we candidates of the Film Festival Party are relegated to these obscure events and banished to the sidewalk marquees of out-of-the-way art houses, colleges, cable and satellite pay-TV channels, and outdoor screens roped between trees.
Some of us end up changing parties and get affiliated with the major distribution companies and all the money and machinery that comes with that — the television and newspaper ads, the screaming headlines, the debates about what we stand for and depict, and the corporate tie-ins. But that is a rarity. You may have heard of some of these party switchers, such as sex, lies and videotape, Little Miss Sunshine, and Precious.
However, the vast majority, like me, are unlikely to break out of the backrooms and backchannels. We end up “preaching to the choir” — films for people who relish a unique experience and thirst for something different and are not under the clutches of the mass-marketing, mass-produced filmic options that are anointed by the major studio parties.
Take me, for instance. I am beholden to no major studio party. My script was not written by the standard major studio “hacks” who feel a need to dumb down their candidates and fill them with the lowest-common denominator formulaic elements that are tired and repetitive. How many times do we need to see a superhero thrash a villain, or a wizard brandish his wand at a demon? We need fresh views, fresh ideas, filmic candidates that are unique, that speak to the average person, but also challenge the status quo and get people thinking and talking about how to fix the problems in the film world.
My platform does all of this and more. My story is about as far away from the mainstream as possible. It’s about a family who lives in isolation. The father and mother are raising three kids — a boy and two daughters — on their own. They live in a modest house with a spacious yard and swimming pool. The yard is surrounded by a high fence and thick vegetation so as to obscure the view of the troubling outside world. There is a driveway with a gate so that the father can leave, but also so that it can keep the kids inside.
The parents are well-meaning and good providers. The father heads to work every day and the mother stays at home. They home school the kids, protect them from harm, and control all of what they see, hear and learn. They teach them the meaning of words — at least the meaning that they believe these words should have (such as “sea” is a form of armchair). The father imposes strict discipline and both he and the mother forbid their kids access to television, videogames, newspapers, magazines, cell phones, BlackBerries, computers, the Internet — and all of the toxic, salacious, and corrupting influences of the culture that comes through these media. They are doing their best to promote wholesome values in a nurturing and controlled environment.
When I start this film campaign, these kids are young adults. We enter the story as if the way these people have been living and relating has been going on since the kids were born. There is no “back-story” or explicit explanation about this family unit and their lives — the kinds of tedious narrative platitudes that would come from the major studio candidates. Instead, my platform exposes you to a world where things are different, where creativity reigns and will keep you engaged and interested.
But, as every struggling parent knows, kids can get exposed to uncontrolled influences and also can succumb to their natural curiosities and urges. So, as you might predict, there are conflicts and struggles that arise. The parents do what they can to respond to the pressure of the outside world and the desires of the children. And my message is that, no matter how hard we try to instill our values in our kids and hope that they will adopt those values and live lives that are reflective of these values, we cannot protect them all the time from everything.
My competitor film candidates may say some very negative things about me and my message. They may allege that I am “bizarre” or “weird” or even possessed of disturbing imagery. They may say that I show how horrible it is for parents to keep their kids as veritable prisoners — walled off from the outside world with no friends and outside interests. My opponents may also say that it is cruel and inhuman to force kids to learn only what their parents may wish to teach them — lessons that are at odds with what the rest of society believes and teaches kids in traditional schools. These detractors may also exploit the tragic events that unfold to this family when outside influences trickle in, or the abuses that inadvertently materialize when kids are socialized in such twisted and constrained environments.
But, I urge you not to listen to this mud-slinging. These are all taken out of context. I am all about showing a different kind of film experience and message — one that I hope will get you movie-going voters thinking about what I am saying and about what is depicted on the screen. There are lots of ideas in my film — ideas about socialization, education, families, childrearing, primal urges, freedom, and so on. I may not have all of the answers to these ideas and the problems that the present — especially not the standard, pat, and glib answers that would no doubt be expressed by a typical studio party filmic candidate. But, I believe I and others of the Film Festival Party are headed in the right direction for the future of films.
I don’t have to tell you that movies are in trouble. Films are beset on all sides by other competitive entertainment options. Box office attendance is dropping, although the receipts are staying the same or even increasing. That’s because the major party studios are increasing ticket prices — not only for normal movies and foodstuffs at the concession counter — but also for expensive new things like 3D. And these increases are occurring at a troubling time in our economy — a time when people can ill-afford such extravagances. We need more movies like me — movies that are efficient, offbeat and do not possess excess fees and costs.
I hope you will take the time to learn about the Film Festival Party and what I have to offer. The future of the quality of your entertainment hinges on the choices you make this fall and beyond. I may not have the resources or connections to get in to your mainstream multiplexes, but I can help you enjoy a film and set us on the path for a bright filmic future.
So, see you at the “voting” theater! And bring along as many other “voters” as you can as we hope to build an alternative movie movement!
Doug Young gets our vote for best film critic.