Slavko Martinov is a New Zealander film-maker who created an international case around his latest work, Propaganda: a documentary which presents Western society through the critical eyes of an anonymous North Korean professor. The professor is actually Mr Eugene Chang, a South Korean expat whose life has been completely changed by the attentions the movie has received by South Korean authorities, who accused Eugene to be a North Korean spy. The accusations lead to Eugene’s marginalisation and repudiation from the South Korean community in Christchurch, New Zeland, where he lives and where the documentary has been filmed and directed by Slavko Martinov and Mike Kelland. The idea of making a case has been a brilliant intuition, yet consequences went far beyond any expectation: the film mysteriously appeared on YouTube on 18th July 2012 as a documentary provided by North Korean defectors, and it circulated as anti-Western propaganda material originating from North Korea, before the truth around the film has been revealed.
During a round table at Biografilm Festival, Slavko admits that he would never imagined that his movie would have such an impact on members of his crew’s life, he expected consequences, but on himself. He worked with legal experts and was ready to face problems, but despite the public efforts Martinov and Kelland have been doing to clear Eugene name, the three of them are officially considered North Korean agent and Eugene’s life has been tuned upside down.
I meet Slavko in Bologna, Italy, at the Biografilm Festival,where Propaganda, his 9 years’ long work, is currently screened. He has accepted to have an interview with the LEGO based method. He comes to the room smiling and bringing a pint of beer. ’I am not scared… I have a beer!’ he says. I explain him that the method is not a psychoanalitic session, but just a search for truth ‘Which is tipically subjective’ he adds. He is in the right mood, open and curious and when asked, he starts playing with the bricks.
When he finishes building the first model, he has a story ’Coming from Christchurch, you don’t have much idea of what constitutes a tower… we had 2 big earthquackes and 80% of our city has gone, so you are not allowed to build more than 4 storeys… This is the new limit in our city. So from where I come from, this is a tower…’. Then he puts an antenna on the top of the tower ‘It should have a radio transmitter… as a film-maker or any artists, I think we like radio transmitters… always receiving ideas and thoughts… who knows where they come from? But we have to take them in….”
I start challenging him and ask him to tell me something about filmmaking.
‘It depends on where you start with… if you start with an idea… Let’s say, you have that radio transmitter and the idea comes in, and it’s a fresh and unique idea, whether it’s for fiction or documentary, either the idea comes in from different sources, different paths, or a number of influences… or perhaps a friend comes and says I have read something today, and you start thinking about things, and all these paths come together… or the idea comes just from somewhere and you start building…’
‘I think it eiher goes two ways. Either you start taking blocks and put them together… Well, you have a foundation idea or a concept perhaps… Here’s a film about the war on drugs’ – and by saying so he looks at the bricks and picks up the black base – ‘That’s where we start… What about the war on drugs?… you know, society claims that some drugs are ok, and some drugs are not ok. Well, says who? So, maybe this will put a whole new layer, a whole new perception’ – and by saying so, Slavko covers the black base with two yellow bricks.
‘And suddenly it goes from being the war on drugs to a whole new layer… The war on some drugs. So now we start thinking about the pharmaceutical industry versus who’ve been affected from a war on drugs… and that’s where you start building your idea, from that foundation… and these foundations are actually questions’. And by saying so he adds brick to his model, building ideas and the model together.
‘Where could this go? what I am trying to say? What can I change? What can I fit?… it’s all research, so you’ll have thousands of LEGO pieces absolutely everywhere… bags and bags of LEGO and it will just take a lot of time to start processing and finding out what is it that you have to say and what information is out there… and I would build and build and build into something… a sort of castle of ideas…’ he plays while he talks, he is passionate, and his passion and enthusiasm emerges in his words and actions.
‘Sometimes the other way is to look into a subject, and then you might have this big building and the tower of an idea and I’d start, bit by bit, taking apart and examining very closely’ and while saying so, he takes the bricks apart ‘…and I’d taking apart as much as I can, maybe even down to a cellular level in order to get to the truth. So, you start taking apart that tower asking questions of everything, looking at it… is it really red?’ He says by showing me a red brick ‘who says it’s red? What factory was it made in… you know… why are we even doing this interview? Is it sponsored by LEGO?… So you keep looking and examining very carefully so that you get down to the truth… And then you rebuild again and again…’ and Slavko keeps talking and playing, taking bricks apart and rebuilding ‘And that would be just the proposal to get funded.’
Then, the interview went on, getting into more challenging topics: we have talked about Information, Propaganda and Slavko’s current project. The complete interview and the videos will be published soon on the London Progressive Journal with an excerpt here on LegoViews.
A big thank you to Slavko, who accepted the challenge to tell stories in a different way.
[End note: this interview and all the works published on LegoViews are a personal and voluntary work not sponsored or supported by commercial organisation or other kind of third parties, see Acknowledgements.]