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. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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