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by Eric Kohn
November 15, 2011 11:52 AM
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Matthew Modine Talks Short Filmmaking and Why "The Dark Knight" Didn't Shoot at Occupy Wall Street

Matthew Modine in "Jesus Was a Commie." jesuswasacommiefilm.com
The recent police raid of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan brought a definitive end to rumors that "The Dark Knight Rises," Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated third Batman movie, would somehow incorporate the Occupy Wall Street protests into the production. But it nearly happened, according to actor Matthew Modine in an interview with Indiewire last week.

Modine was on the line promoting "Jesus Was A Commie," his deeply personal short film based on an essay he wrote for Fincher's Quarterly. The short, co-directed by Terence Ziegler, shows Modine wandering through New York (with a brief sidetrip to the cosmos) as he pontificates in voiceover about the dangers of partisanship while considering the possibility of communistic leanings in the New Testament. In general, Modine wants everyone to just get along. Having finished a festival run, the short will likely hit various VOD platforms next year.

Although Modine never directly touches on the Occupy Wall Street movement, his mentality synchs with the anti-capitalist bent of the flailing group. In addition to detailing the history of the project, Modine talked to Indiewire about his views on the protests and how they relate to his own goals. The actor, who plays a mysterious character named "Nixon" in "The Dark Knight Rises," explained why it's a good thing the movie never shot in the park and his reasoning for not paying a visit himself.

Why didn't "The Dark Knight Rises" shoot at Occupy Wall Street?

The wisdom of Christopher Nolan and his incredible team was that, while it seemed like a good idea to give [the protestors] an opportunity for work, to give them money, it would send a terrible message. At the end of the day, we're making a movie. What's happening down there is more important than that. To co-opt what's happening there and around the country… we didn't want to trivialize it. It was more important to respect what they're doing than to do anything that could potentially trivialize the political situation downtown.

Considering that your short film deals with the ills of capitalism, were you excited to play a character in "The Dark Knight" named "Nixon"?

I'm not allowed to talk about [the film], but there's a lot of misinformation. I don't know who created it, but it's kind of fun to have everybody speculating about it.

Did you visit the Occupy Wall Street protests on your own time?

I haven't been there. I've been supporting from afar because of that "celebrity" word. I don't want to go down there and be a celebrity who came down to visit. I think it's too important. It's OK for Michael Moore because that's the world he lives in and he can speak articulately about it. In another sense, he can be made fun of so much by people who don't understand him. Of course, that's their right.

Still, "Jesus Was a Commie" is definitely a movie with an activist angle. So you're saying you don't mind speaking out as long as you don't do it as a public figure.

Well, there's this horrible word that people in the media use today to identify actors as people with "bold-faced" names. That's kind of obscene to me. Celebrity is spelled "Snooki" to me today. It's something that's unpleasant. I have tried to stay away from that word. I'm actor, I'm an artist, and it's throughout the course of history… I mean, going to the Cannes Film Festival, where they had the winners the Palme d'Or coming to the stage, you realize looking at those people, they changed the consciousness of human beings around the world. They shined light where there was tremendous injustice, cruelty and prejudice. I was in Turkey, and I went to this place on a mountain where Alexander tried to capture a town… on the side of this mountain was an amphitheater carved into the side of the mountain. It was a profound experience. Even though they had slaves to install this amphitheater on the side of the mountain, they still had to feed them and clothe them, and have architects to design it so it would survive almost 2,200 years. That's how important it was to have people sing songs and tell stories.

How did you end up directing the short?

Previously, I worked on two related short films, "I Think I Thought" and "To Kill an American." With "Jesus Was a Commie," they're kind of a trifecta of storytelling. Terence Ziegler had been the editor on "I Think I Thought." He had read my essay in Fincher's Quarterly and thought it would be cool to make it into an animated film. He worked on it for some time, but it never really progressed because of how much work animation is. But he excited me about the idea of making it into a short film, so I asked a friend of mine who used to work for Apple if he would produce it. He brought this film to completion. I'm not trying to make any points in the film except to create awareness and discussion.

"Celebrity is spelled 'Snooki' to me today. It's something that's unpleasant." --Matthew Modine


What was the general inspiration behind the ideas in both the essay and the film?

Like so many Americans, I was really impacted and influenced by the events of 9/11. Going downtown, it made me conscious of the idea that democracy requires our participation. We're not supposed to live here passively. The people that are elected officials are just that. They're not a higher authority; they're just people who are elected. They're supposed represent us because we live in a representative government. When those people we elect are not representing us, not representing the country, it requires the participation of the citizens to speak up and say something. This goes back to the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party. I think it's unfair to call it civil disobedience because it's not that they're disobeying; they're speaking up. I don't call the people on Wall Street protestors. It's not protesting. They're speaking up.

Do you want to direct more shorts?

I have an idea for a feature-length film I'm really looking forward to getting off the ground. I've been making shorts for a long time. I made one called "Smoking" that played at Sundance and launched the writing career of David Sedaris. Short films are wonderful because they're not really time-consuming. They're difficult to make as feature films, but they can be very personal sort of sketches and keep you busy between jobs. One of the horrible things about being an actor is waiting for someone to make a decision about your life. Rather than wait, why not keep yourself busy? It's something I enjoy, so that's why I do it.

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25 Comments

  • Elliot Grove | November 23, 2011 12:07 PMReply

    We here in London England and the Raindance Film Festival are huge fans of MAtthew Modine and his incredible body of work.

  • Bradley | November 20, 2011 1:44 AMReply

    What an awesome individual. It also made me extremely happy to hear that Christopher Nolan is a supporter of Occupy Wall Street, even if it is in silence. So many simpletons think that it is mind boggling when the rich support OWS, but it's so incredibly patriotic. There's so many ridiculous sheep here in the comments section, but I feel bad for them. I'm excited to see him in The Dark Knight Rises. I'm not too familiar with his work, but I have seen him in films before and always thought he was a great actor. This movie is going to be amazing. Christopher Nolan gets twice as good with each film he makes.

  • Matt | November 19, 2011 11:53 PMReply

    Communism/Socialism = forcibly taking bread off one man's plate to give to another.
    Christianity = choosing to help out your neighbor.

    Really a no brainer, folks. That's why the Commies hate Jesus and all Christians.

  • lodent | November 17, 2011 11:15 AMReply

    "It's OK for Michael Moore because that's the world he lives in and he can speak articulately about it. In another sense, he can be made fun of so much by people who don't understand him."

    I love that last sentence about 'people who don't understand him.'

    News Flash: Michael Moore is not the Theory of Relativity. You don't have to be Albert Einstein to see what he's all about. He's a shock-jock that caters to a certain group. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Vic | November 16, 2011 7:50 PMReply

    Funny.

    Here's the thing, capitalism is what is allowing him to be paid for working on Dark Knight Rises. It's what's paying for production of the film.

    What the occupy folks SHOULD be protesting is CRONY capitalism, and therefore, the gov't, not businesses.

    Vic

  • Michael | November 17, 2011 5:53 PM

    Yeah, that's what the Consumer Protection Agency was supposed to be. That's what Elizabeth Warren as head of that agency was supposed to do. Are you agreeing with that?

  • semus | November 16, 2011 7:14 PMReply

    What a fraud Modine is.

  • McGirv | November 16, 2011 2:52 PMReply

    Modine a nice guy but wrong about a few things.

  • Aleric | November 16, 2011 10:37 AMReply

    Oh look, another leftist actor who praises squatters and violent criminals.

  • Michael | November 17, 2011 5:54 PM

    "Violent criminals??" Where's that coming from? Does that mean that everyone that is against abortion is by logic equated with the man who shot Dr. Tiller and we can just label them "homicidal maniacs?"

  • biancaneve | November 16, 2011 10:02 AMReply

    Communistic leanings in the New Testament? Either Modine doesn't understand Jesus's teachings or he doesn't understand communism. Jesus invited people to accept his teachings and change their lives. He invited them to care for each other. For Jesus it was important that people adopt his teachings of their own free will. Free will is antithetical to communism, in which all things are decided by the state and the responsibility for caring for others is left to the state. Christianity and communism may seem to have the same goals, but they arrive there by vastly different means, and that makes all the difference.

  • Michael | November 17, 2011 6:01 PM

    Uh...Jamman: Modine is quoted as saying he wanted to start a discussion; that the film is not meant to advocate a position. Your response is just to make fun of people. Is that usually how you "discuss" things?

    As for Jesus; thoughout his teachings, the people focused on tend to be the underdogs and the lower classes. Are you claiming, in your comment, to be a Christian? So you invite the homeless into your home on a regular basis to feed them? Or give them the coat "off your back?" Or visit those in prison? Do you wash the feet of prostitutes? I don't see the Christians on TV doing any of that sh!t, either, whether they be those in Congress or the televangelists with their giant churches. So for you to make fun of Modine and Moore when the OWS encampment has used their resources to feed *everyone* (regardless of who they are) and have a truly open and direct democracy just sounds like you want to brush off people you don't agree with. It's also nice that you can tap into exactly what Jesus was thinking; that's pretty amazing. I hope he thanks you when you get there.

  • jamman | November 16, 2011 11:55 PM

    I always laugh at sophistic no-nothing halfwits who love to claim that Jesus was advocating for Socialism, and who then take the only thing they remember from being told about what is in the Bible: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, then for a rich man to enter into heaven" Anyone who is actually familiar with the Bible would know the context of the statement. A fat rich lazy pompous well-dressed Jack-Ass (let's for the sake of discussion call him Michael Moore) goes up to Jesus, who is a little burned out after giving the Sermon on the Mount. This fat lazy pompou selfish *-hole starts gushing, "Oh Jesus, you guys are the best, I want to be down with you, what do i need to do to be one of you?". Jesus takes a look at this giant turd, and says "Honor your mother and father, keep Holy the Sabbath, yadda...yadda...yadda" and tries to blow the guy off. The guy is not going to be detterred, "No...Jesus...I do all that, I want to be down with your crew...what do I need to do." Jesus looks at the guy and say "Oh...go out and advocate for a giant Federal Beauracracy that will confiscate everyone's wealth and distribute it for the good of all!" WRONG!!! WRONG!!! WRONG!! Jesus says "YOU take ALL YOUR WEALTH, sell everything YOU own and GIVE IT to the poor and then come follow us" It was then, that FAT EVIL SELFISH SCUMBAG MICHAEL MOORE walked away shaking his head, knowing G*DD*MNED (Pun there) WELL that he weren't givin' up his own stuff to no poor people. THERE IS NO COLLECTIVE SALVATION IN THE BIBLE. The call of Jesus was FOR YOU to do it, not to advocate that the Government do it.

  • Snova | November 16, 2011 6:44 PM

    Some groups in the New Testament decided to give everything to the church and not own anything - more or less. It also didn't work out all that well. There got to be pressure to be seen to give everything, which led to someone being struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit and the specific scriptural statement that giving was entirely optional. Those who failed to take care of their families in order to claim their wealth belonged to God are criticized. This is obviously applicable to those who figure they paid their taxes so the government can take care of grandma. The communal resources of a community of believers was explicitly limited, in NT scripture, to those who were truly widows and truly orphans... who had no family whatsoever to care for them, before they were to receive any charity voluntarily given by group.

    The statements about "hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" are not economic policy statements. Unless someone wants to argue that enforced poverty for the good of your soul is the goal of socialism or communism?

    And all the compassion for the poor, to "store up treasures in heaven" types of statements, are most certainly not calls for rich people to be made poor for the good of their souls. They aren't even calls to stop the poverty, shockingly enough. If anything they're reminders not to let being poor get you down.

  • Jerry | November 16, 2011 12:01 PM

    Perhaps you are correct, but Jesus certainly wasn`t a capitalist, probably closer to socialist.

    "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:23-24

    "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6 19:21

    He chased the money lenders out of his temple. He advocated patience and understanding of the poor, of prostitutes, of the people who are generally marginalized by society, values that are not encompassed in many Christian religious beliefs. He certainly wasn`t a blue-eyed, blond haired white man, either, by any logical account.

  • Benny | November 16, 2011 11:21 AM

    Very well said. ;-)

  • Timmeh | November 16, 2011 9:30 AMReply

    Modine's a burnout douche bag.

  • matt | November 16, 2011 2:38 PM

    and you are a trolling internet moron.

  • Tweety58 | November 16, 2011 4:08 AMReply

    So that scene in Memphis Belle really was his brain exploding and NOT the thermos of tomato soup.I get it now.

  • Tweety58 | November 16, 2011 4:06 AMReply

    Probably did not want to inadvertently capture a bowel MOVEMENT.

  • Noncompus | November 16, 2011 3:49 AMReply

    Christopher Nolan didn't want his cameras being stolen.
    Later Modine made this wise decision into his pet political statement.

  • Sorrowful Soros | November 15, 2011 10:28 PMReply

    I'd rather be seated, Clockwork Orange-style, to sit through a French Stewart film festival than watch a Matthew Modine film.

    If he's not 'A-List' by now, shouldn't that tell you something?

  • Socrates | November 15, 2011 7:31 PMReply

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgFA8LNoEJQ

    An interesting short film combining both commune-ism and OWS.

  • Laurie Kirby | November 15, 2011 2:47 PMReply

    Matthew's film is thought-provoking and beautiful. We will be featuring him, the film and his views on film festivals at this year's IFFS in Austin December 4-6th.

  • James Merson | November 15, 2011 1:30 PMReply

    Matthew Modine should have joined the A-list years ago and should have only been doing movies that went to the cinema. Unfortunately, he has remained a straight to DVD king but he is an underrated actor. So, I hope that 'The Dark Knight Rises' relaunches his career, that he does more mainstream movies from now on, tries to reach his full potential as an actor and tries to win an Oscar.