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“I’m Dangerous With Love” Director: “I’ve given the film my own rating…Not for the Squeamish.”

"I'm Dangerous With Love" Director: "I've given the film my own rating...Not for the Squeamish."

Below is an interview with “I’m Dangerous With Love” documentary director Michel Negroponte. The film opened on Wednesday, January 12, at the IFC Center in New York.

“I’m Dangerous With Love” is about addiction and rehabilitation, activism and shamanism. Dimitri Mugianis who starts out as the heavily addicted front man for the band Leisure Class ends his long drug and alcohol addiction with an experimental treatment that uses the hallucinogen ibogaine.

African shamans have used ibogaine in their rituals for centuries, but in the U.S. it is a Schedule 1 controlled substance. No longer a drug user, Dimitri illegally takes addicts through the same detox that he says saved his life.

“I’m Dangerous With Love” is an underground adventure that traces Dimitri’s risky journey as he treats desperate drug users. He is a man of edgy energy going from one addict to the next without stopping to catch his breath. But then one session goes bad in a remote snowed-in Canadian home, and a quiet young man almost dies. Dimitri must decide whether or not to continue his mission. Is it serving the addicts or simply releasing his own demons? Dimitri travels to Gabon, West Africa, to consult with Bwiti shamans, and puts himself through a punishing iboga initiation in search of guidance. [Synopsis courtesy of IFC Center]

Responses courtesy of “I’m Dangerous With Love” director Michel Negroponte.

Tough stories about people living on the edge…

I’ve been making documentaries for more than 30 years. “Jupiter’s Wife” is probably my best known film, but I’ve also made “Space Coast,” “Silver Valley,” “W.I.S.O.R.,” “No Accident,” and produced films like “Children Undergound” and “Orthodox Stance.” Since the mid-90s, I’ve focused on people who represent the fringes of my hometown, New York City. “I’m Dangerous with Love” and my last film, “Methadonia,” are both about the drug sub-culture. You could safely say that I’m attracted to tough stories about people living on the edge. But the subjects in both films are remarkable survivors, so I’d say the films are also about redemption.

Embarking on an ‘underground adventure’…

After “Methadonia,” someone suggested that I consider making a film about this mysterious hallucinogen called ibogaine, which is being used by an underground network to detox drug users. I was curious enough to poke around, and pretty quickly, I met a number of people involved with ibogaine in New York City. Everyone I spoke to said, ‘You have to meet Dimitri.’ When I finally did, there was something about his persona, his presence, and his intensity that intrigued me. I decided then and there that he would be the subject of my next film! It was that spontaneous. When you make these kinds of ‘present tense’ documentaries, it’s a tremendous act of faith because I knew very little about ibogaine, very little about Dimitri, and absolutely nothing about what might happen in the next several years if I committed to making a film. My underground adventure lasted four years.

A hands on approach…

I start shooting, editing, writing, producing, researching – every aspect of the filmmaking – on day one. What makes that possible is that I work solo, though I do get a lot of assistance from very talented writers who help craft the voice over. But for me, the shooting and editing have to be organic, so I do them simultaneously. It’s process oriented, and not unlike the way many novelists work; the narrative of the film is being discovered along the way. It’s also nerve-racking, because most of the time I have no idea where I’m going. But it is precisely the suspense of not knowing that gives the film life. The making of the film is driven by my curiosity and probing, which gives the film its heartbeat. I like films that live and breathe.

Abiding by a mantra…

It sure is tough to get funding when you admit that you don’t know where your film is going! I only wish funders were more adventurous. But I understand their anxiety. Unfortunately, what does get funded these days are films that are more topical or issue oriented. I think many of these films would work better as written pieces. My teacher, Ricky Leacock, used to say, ” … but they’re not movies!” Ricky didn’t allow his students to shoot interviews! In those days, the cinema-verite dogma was very strict. Ricky liked films made by filmmakers. Films that use shooting and editing to create an emotional subtext. Now that I’m teaching, I try to pass on Ricky’s mantra. I tell my students that the aim of filmmaking is not to make films that talk, but to make films that sing.

Not for the squeamish…

I’ve given the film my own rating, NS, which means “Not for the Squeamish.” There are a few scenes in the film that are very hard to watch, but that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given the subject matter. But when you consider that the film begins with Dimitri detoxing drug users in motel rooms in and around New York City, and then travels to Mexico, Canada and finally to the rainforest in Gabon, Africa, it’s quite an underground adventure. And Dimitri is a dynamic character who experiences an amazing transformation when he encounters Bwiti shamans in Gabon. It’s a fantastic journey. I hope audiences are as amazed as I was.

A return to artistic roots…

I’m inspired by brave and audacious filmmakers. I have a long list, and it includes Ross McElwee, Robb Moss, Alan Berliner, Jay Rosenblatt, Nina Davenport, Doug Block and more. In general, I like films that are creative and personal. Films that explore the medium. Perhaps I’m also hoping that documentary filmmaking will return to its artistic roots. I worry that television has sidetracked the genre into something more journalistic. But documentaries have to employ cinematic storytelling. You can’t simply aim a camera at your story. The process has to be more rigorous.

The next project…

I’m working on a new project called “The Autobiography of Michelle Maren” which is about a woman I met who worked in the sex industry years ago. She’s an exceptionally bright and attractive woman who lives alone and is struggling to overcome crippling flashbacks from childhood trauma. Michelle is co-directing the film with me, and shooting a great deal of the film herself. It’s been a fascinating collaboration. Not surprisingly, I’m not exactly sure where it’s going yet, but it’s been another adventure filled with unexpected twists and turns. I’m comfortable with that!

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