Gregg Araki, the American indie maverick, may be no fresh upstart—he's 50-years-old, after all—but it is the L.A.-based filmmaker's first inclusion in Cannes' official selection. And his 11th feature film "Kaboom" – playing in this year's midnight section – recalls his work as a tyro director, he says. "It's definitely an old school Gregg Araki cult movie. For those people who think all of Gregg Araki's movies suck except 'Mysterious Skin,' they're probably not going to be thrilled. But it was super-fun to make."
"Kaboom" follows the exploits of a young man named Smith (young heartthrob Thomas Dekker), who after eating some hallucinogenic cookies, finds himself embroiled in the gruesome murder of an enigmatic red-haired-girl from his dreams. According to the official synopsis, the mystery of her death will "forever change not only the course of his young life but the destiny of the entire world."
Made with the backing of French-based Why Not Productions, who also produced Araki's earlier low-budget efforts "The Doom Generation" and "Nowhere," the new film suggests a mix of his 2007 critically acclaimed dope comedy "Smiley Face" (which played here in the Directors Fortnight) and the underground youth-fueled energy of his earlier work. "It's a very Sundance-y movie," says Araki. "I think it still would have been a great Sundance movie, but the timing was such that there's no way we would have been finished for last Sundance, but there's some talk about playing at next year's Sundance. I think it would definitely fit in there and play well there."
While early press reports indicated "Kaboom" had a sci-fi element, Araki clarifies, "There is a supernatural element to it, but it's not really sci-fi. There is an element of otherworldliness going on. The closest corollary for me is this 'Twin Peaks'-y mystery, so there are those same levels of weird shit going on."
Creating such an atmosphere on a low budget took some "old-school indie ingenuity," says Araki. "It took all my years in the indie trenches to pull it off. It was very ambitious for its size," he continues, pointing to some "crazy action stuff" in addition to copious special effects. "A lot of it was made possible because of the new technologies and I cut the whole thing myself on Final Cut," he says. "It was definitely a labor of love for everyone involved."
While film industry insiders lament the economic downturn and cutbacks in the indie-film sector, Araki has been less affected. "I've never had the huge luxury of people throwing $20 million at me to make my movies," he says. "Because all my movies have been made on super-tight budgets and I've been working this way for years and years, I'm built to survive the economic freefall we're in."
"The mid-budget $10-$20 million indie movies are the ones that are struggling right now," he continues. "It's certainly not gotten any easier, but the industrious lower-dwellers like me are able to survive."
He points to other American filmmakers in Cannes who have also found ways to make their movies, despite the economic troubles and industry shifts. "There's a lot of cool stuff in Cannes," he says. "I've been friends with Lodge [Kerrigan] for years, but I didn't even know he was working on a movie, and then I saw his name in the selection. So somehow, people are figuring out ways to get movies made."
Both Araki and Kerrigan have had the benefit of European backers, of course. "Well, we're much more popular in Europe than we are in America," Araki admits, "so that helps. But Europe isn't immune. I'm certainly counting my blessings in able to make movies in this economy."
Araki is also proud to have nabbed a Cannes midnight birth—following in the footsteps of such late-night selections as "Trainspotting" and "City of God." "They're usually much bigger movies than our little indie train that could," he says. "I'm really looking forward to it. I'm prepared to stay up late."