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Neill Blomkamp interview

2009-08-26 15:25

Q: Hi Neill. Will you give me a job?
Neill: [laughs] Uh, sure. What can you do?

Q: I can, uh, write. And ask questions?
Neill: Okay... um. We'll see.

Q: Is Peter Jackson [producer of District 9] awesome?
Neill: Yeah. I can honestly say he's awesome, without any element of sucking up. He's a genuinely warm person.

Q: Your movie is a big hit overseas. Did you expect that?
Neill: I'm definitely surprised by how well we've done, both critically and commercially. I only just found out that District 9 made $37 million in its opening weekend in the States.

Q: In two sentences, could you tell us what your movie is about?
Neill: It's a science fiction movie set in Joburg. There's a lot of other things going on, but the genesis is wanting to see a sci-fi set in Joburg.

Q: Would Sharlto [Copley, who plays Wikus van der Merwe, hero of District 9] make a good John-117? [Also known as Master Chief, protagonist of the Halo videogame-series, which Neill spent half a year turning into a movie before funding for the project fell through]
Neill: [laughs] Fuck, that's hilarious. He could probably pull it off. Especially since you never see Master Chief's face.

Q: Did the design of the Covenent [evil race of aliens in the Halo series] influence the design of the aliens in District 9?
Neill: No. Definitely not. We spent five months working on Halo. We made more than 2500 illustrations. Each individual in that universe was designed hundreds of times. I knew exactly what they looked like. And I consciously threw it all out when the movie was cancelled.

Q: You've been away for more than a decade [living in Canada], and have a pretty bleak view of South Africa. Has your time away influenced your view of the country, considering the politcal elements in District 9?
Neill: I don't view it as political. I just wanted to throw some South African stuff in. But, of course, it's not truthful, since it's coming from a white guy. And I have a bleak view of the world in general. The setting was just interesting, but I wouldn't use the word 'political' since it sounds like it needs resolution.

Q: How was the co-operation from the police and armed services in making the movie, considering the content?
Neill: Crap. Dogshit. They strung us along for months and didn't do anything. Then they pulled out at the last minute.

Q: What did you want them for?
Neill: Well, then the movie would have been more authentic to have real police in it. So we ended up having these private military corporation vehicles go into the townships instead.

Q: Is it true that the movie contains real footage of the xenophobic riots in Johannesburg in 2008?
Neill: Yeah. In the beginning of the movie. Those guys with machetes.

Q: Wikus is a very Afrikaans character. What made you decide on him as the hero?
Neill: Making him so Afrikaans was deliberate, and having an Afrikaans bureaucrat go through such a transition. It was an interesting character arc for me.

Q: Would you say the apartheid metaphor in District 9 is politically accurate? For instance, the aliens are very docile.
Neill: No, probably not. At some point allegories start to break down and you enter the world of sci-fi. It's never explained in the movie, but the aliens are sort of like insect worker drones, and their queen is dead, which is why they seem so docile. It's something I might explain in a sequel.

Q: You mentioned in other interviews that you view Johannesburg as the dystopian future of the world.
Neill: That's completely accurate. Whenever I come to Joburg, I feel like I'm in the future.

Q: Why do you say that?
Neill: It's a place where the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. A place where you have all these rich gated communities keeping the poor at bay.

Q: A bit off-topic, but in other interviews you've said you believe humanity will achieve Singularity [a period in which we stop being humans and transcend]?
Neill: Wow, you really did your research...

Q: I know. This is why you should offer me a job.
Neill: [laughs. Cruelly. Sound of journalists heart breaking] I think Kurzweill [future theorist] was probably accurate. You'll get a crossover between man and machine merging into the post-human. Where he was inaccurate, I think, was that his predictions were based on a fairly stable world. You'll get something like Joburg first. And out of the ashes 200 years from now, we'll enter the trans-human phase.

Q: So I'm living and working in the bleak, dystopian future of the world?
Neill: Yes.

Q: You're being asked to comment on Apartheid and South Africa's political history in international interviews. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to the country?
Neill: People keep asking the wrong questions. The movie wasn't crafted to be a political movie. Sure, I have some experience with it. In the 80s, you would see yellow Casspirs drive by. It's just the shit you grow up with, y'know? But I do feel some sense of weight on me. That's becoming more apparent.

Q: The beginning of the movie reminded me of the TV series The Office, with its documentary style. Was that an influence?
Neill: No. The reason for the documentary style in the beginning is that I wanted to see sci-fi through a news lens, and it's necessary to introduce the character of Wikus.

Q: What do you think the reception in South Africa will be?
Neill: I don't know. I hope they like it. With the amount of political stuff in it, it could go either way. There's no question some will take it badly.

Q: You've mentioned you're working on a new movie. Could you tell me more about it?
Neill: Not really. Because right now it's basically a paragraph. The basic idea is that it's a sci-fi set in the far future.

Q: After Halo collapsed, will you ever make a movie based on a videogame? Something like Gears of War?
Neill: I don't think so. What I want to do is build my own stuff. Why do Gears of War? It's already been designed.

Q: Last question. Was the decision deliberate to use mostly South African actors, and for them to keep their accents?
Neill: Yeah, we wanted to make them authentic. Not caricatures.

District 9 director Neill Blomkamp talks apartheid, aliens and why he thinks Joburg is the city of the future.

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