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Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #44: Michael Madsen Returns with the Second Installment of his ‘Trilogy of Mankind’

Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #44: Michael Madsen Returns with the Second Installment of his 'Trilogy of Mankind'

“The Visit” sees humans’ first encounter with intelligent life from another world. Through tantalizing interviews with experts from NASA, United Nations, and the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, among many others, acclaimed Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen constructs a chillingly believable scenario of first contact on Earth, beginning with the simplest of questions: Why are you here? How do you think? What do you see in humans that we don’t see in ourselves? The implications unfold within a mind-bending landscape of everyday sights and sounds that Madsen succeeds in turning bizarre and extraordinary, as if seen through the eyes of a life form exploring our planet for the first time. [Synopsis courtesy of Sundance Institute.]

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

Encountering Alien intelligent life will be the biggest event in human history. “The Visit” is the emergency plan that the UN doesn’t have.

Now what’s it REALLY about?

When addressing first contact with Alien intelligent life, I believe the only certainty is that it is beyond our imagination. The challenge for “The Visit,” thus, has been to make something essentially incomprehensible comprehensible. As a consequence, the terrain in which “The Visit” unfolds, is the terra incognita of Western self-perception, as the presence of an alien life-form not only challenges our understanding but also constitutes the ultimate loss of control. Perhaps not being in control is the most alien position for Modern Man? This particular blind spot in our present day self-understanding I find a unique vantage point for any documentary. “The Visit,” in other words, represents my attempt of a close encounter of the question: What is a human being?

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I am a conceptual artist and director of the multiple award-winning film “Into Eternity.” Recent films include “Halden Prison in 3D” and part of “Cathedrals of Culture,” initiated by Wim Wenders (also with contribution from Robert Redford). I am also a frequent guest lecturer in idea-development and have taught at The Royal Danish Academy of Art, The Danish Film School, University of California, University of Western Sydney and School of Architecture, London. Workshops include ”Workshop For Individuals With Absolutely No Idea For A Film.”

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

One of my biggest challenges in completing the film was to try to, in a cinematic, scientific and existential sense, “To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

What do you want Sundance audience to take away from your film?

Oh, this is a difficult question, because any audience member brings so much in him or herself to a film. I’d like the viewers to take away even more of themselves, as so much depends on the eyes that sees and I hope “The Visit” will have shown something hitherto unseen.

Any films inspire you?

I am inspired by the works of filmmakers such as Antonioni, Tarkovsky and Kubrick. I think film for them was a way of thinking, grasping and exploring reality, which is what I hope to do myself.

What’s next?

My next film is “Odyssey.” This essentially is a personality test for manning a generation ship – the only real and existing concept to ever reach another habitable planet, a Neo-Earth, if you do not count on sci-fi things like wormholes. 

For the Moon missions, people volunteered. There is no reason to expect a lack of volunteers for future missions to Moon or Mars. All such missions have the assumption of a return to Earth embedded. But what if there was no return? What if there was no specific destination? What if the mission was the continuous exploration? What kind of 1st Generation persons would really be suited for a journey that not only leaves the known world behind, but also represents a voyage whose end may not be in sight – in fact, maybe without any known destination?

In other words: The real space for such an odyssey will be the human psyche. This is all crystallized by the central question of how to validate who is best fit to actually crew a Generation Ship? 
“Odyssey” is the last part of my “Trilogy on Mankind” of which “Into Eternity” was the first and “The Visit” the second part.

What cameras did you shoot on?

I shot on all kinds of cameras: Red Epic in 4K, Phantom (100 frames/sec), still camera, drones and cranes.

Did you crowdfund?
If not, why?

We did not crowdfund. The subject matter of “The Visit” and the unique access to world leading space experts and institutions, such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, meant that we could not risk being perceived as sensation-seeking or in other ways exploiting the trust we had been given: all the participating experts and institutions have been putting their professional reputation on the line by speculating on a subject matter which despite being the raison d’être for all space exploration – are we alone? – is still being considered unscientific because of the lack of empirical evidence. But my claim will be, that even asking the above question is already letting an alien life-form of questions seep into and metastasize within human self-understanding.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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