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Sunday, June 22, 2014

BAMcinemaFest 2014: Q&A with Tony Gerber (The Notorious Mr. Bout)

To US law enforcers, Viktor Bout is an arms smuggler with intent to harm US military personnel. To his family and friends, he is a hard-working businessman trying to provide for his family in post-Communist Russia. To movie audiences worldwide, he is the rumored real-life inspiration for Nicholas Cage's character in Lord of War. To skeptics, he is the scapegoat of an overzealous, over-reaching fight against terrorism in the post-911 United States.

To present these complicated and contradictory viewpoints, directors Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin sorted through hundreds of hours of home videos that Viktor Bout enthusiastically shot throughout his peripatetic life, and intercut them with interviews conducted with journalists, attorneys, and investigators to make the documentary The Notorious Mr. Bout, which has its New York premiere at BAMcinemaFest this Wednesday. We spoke to Tony Gerber about the film and the festival.        

What films have served as inspiration in your work?

Carol Reed's The Third Man and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation.

What are some of the creative and logistical challenges you faced while working on your film?

Interviewing Viktor Bout through a monitored (i.e. surveilled) prison email system was difficult, at times frustrating, and very different from an eye-to-eye sit-down interview. The fact that we each had several in-person visits with him while he was in prison in New York meant that we could create a rapport that was possible to carry over into emails. One of the great challenges of the film was the research: separating fact from fiction, cross-referencing the work of arms investigators—with anecdotes, news reports, accounts from friends and family—triangulated against often unreliable open source content.

The film uses a lot of Bout’s home video and his own narration. How do you keep your own point of view while stay true to his?

The film is less concerned with judgment than understanding. Our point of view was carried in juxtaposition of opposing interview bites, and at times with comedic or parodic cuts between footage sources. The score by Will Bates also gave us a powerful tool for commentary.

What are some of your favorite films of the year?

I loved Virunga, Ne Me Quitte Pas, and I Origins.

What are you most excited to see in BAMcinemaFest?

The Notorious Mr. Bout screens in BAMcinemaFest on Wednesday, Jun 25 at 7pm.

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