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BAMcinemaFest: Craig Zobel Talks Conversation-Starting True-Crime Tale 'Compliance'

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by Cory Everett
June 28, 2012 2:45 PM
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Craig Zobel Q&A
I know it got a very divided reaction at Sundance and seemed to get a warmer reception when I caught it at SXSW. Have you noticed audiences kind of responding differently as far as different screenings at different festivals?
I have, to a degree. It’s funny, the Sundance publicized reaction, I have never had except for that time. That’s the only time that experience happened. The majority was because no one knew what the movie was at all. It’s interesting to see different groups of people. The most amazing screening of the film was the Sarasota Film Festival. It was almost entirely an older-skewing crowd and I thought that would be a bad thing honestly, but it was the best. They were like, "That movie made me incredibly uncomfortable but I think it’s really interesting." I could talk with people for like an hour and a half about it afterwards. I do feel like it’s the coolest kind of movie to screen with a Q&A if you can. People want to talk about it. People want to talk. And they want to talk to each other.

The screening at SXSW was really cool in that it was smaller, with a theater with only forty people in it. Almost everyone stayed, only eight or ten people left and they were just talking to each other at some points like people were saying you should read about these [cases]. People were talking about the movie without me really doing anything. It was kinda amazing. And that is the best I could have ever hoped for with this movie, that [a screening like] that happened. It’s easy and it’s fun in the press to talk about the divided reaction, and I think it is obviously a challenging movie in certain ways, so I’m not disagreeing. People have strong opinions about it. Often though, they want to talk about it.

Do you have an expectation on how you think audiences will react? Another writer for the site saw a press screening last week and said that some people were laughing.
I think the laughing sometimes has to do with feeling uncomfortable. I mean when you are uncomfortable, you laugh. I do think that there is some sort of laughter to be higher than it. That happens too. It’s not something I thought was gonna happen. I guess I understand kind of why but it was something I didn’t think was going to happen. I had no idea of how it would be received to be honest so I had no expectation. In a way this was like a thesis. This is me asking a question of, "Is this something that you can recognize as not just this particular set of weird people but is part of a bigger [aspect of human behavior]?" That was my only question. I made the movie to have that conversation, to spark further discussion. The only thing that’s been outside of what I expected [were audiences] -- like at that Sundance screening -- who have a negative reaction to the film and didn't wanna have a conversation about it. They just wanted to tell me why it was bad and then leave. That was the only thing that was disappointing.

Why do you think that these sorts of incidents happened repeatedly over such a long span of time?
I’m completely conjecturing here but I am imagining whoever these people are, that they did not feel fully like they had full agency in their real life. And they could have this real power when calling people on the telephone, and in some sick way it helped their self-esteem. I think that is what was going on, on the side of the callers, is someone exploiting a chink in our humanity. I just read a Vanity Fair story on a guy who pretended to be a Rockefeller for years, and people just wanted to be around the Rockefeller. It’s a person finding and exploiting something that somehow we all kind of know, and exploiting it to a negative end.

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