“All your dreams of wealth and unlimited power, all your dreams of disproportionate ambition; the satisfaction of feeling analogous to the gods, all your sexual impulses which you deem infinite; all these pharaonic dreams will be reduced to a series of cheap plastic figurines floating in the stratosphere once everything has finally exploded.”
These stirring words from the first Ethiopian graduate of nuclear engineering, professor Seifu Yohannes – were the initial inspiration for Spanish born writer and director Miguel Llansó’s post-apocalyptic fairy-tale, Crumbs. Set in a dusty Ethiopian landscape, the film sees Llansó play with science-fiction tropes, pop culture references, and biblical allegories to tell a surreal, extra-terrestrial story about an unlikely hero named Candy. Drawing from Greek tragedies and blending them with religious fables, Crumbs certainly stands out from the crowd of low-fi independent science-fiction cinema. Candy’s exploration leads him through the Martian desert of Dallol, wet grasslands, and rusted theme parks on an odyssey across the dilapidated Ethiopian wonderland in search of Santa Clause. Gorilla recently spoke with Miguel Llansó about the death of the American Dream, our childish fascination with celebrities, and his affinity with Andrei Tarkovsky.
Gorilla: Your inspiration for the post-apocalyptic backdrop of Crumbs was a quote from professor Seifu Yohannes about what he feels is the inevitable death of the American Dream. How did the quote influence you when you were creating the melancholic wonderland that Candy and Birdy inhabit?
Miguel: I’ve been thinking for a long time about the end of the American dream and the death of superman. The birth of superman and the death of God, as a concept proposed by Nietzsche, dates back to the late nineteenth century. The concept of the superman holds the belief that people are omnipotent and will progressively overcome all limits ahead. And this is the main feeling of the capitalist system that exploits us through our own dreams – the story of Cinderella for example. The poor become rich, the unfortunate turn out graceful. Faith in eternal happiness beyond death (religious belief) has been replaced by the belief in personal progress and the promise of wealth and fulfillment of our dreams. “Don’t give up your dreams” is the maxim of capitalism.
This ideology uses the lucky few who succeed to maintain the hopes of the exploited. It uses crappy substitutes: all-inclusive trips to the Caribbean, cosmetic surgery and fake luxury. The lottery works the same way. It’s a very effective system to take control of our desires. Therefore the world is increasingly childish. With Disneyland, Beyoncé, TV pastel colors, Dubai, Paris Hilton, Cristiano Ronaldo – everything becomes fucking dysfunction between the desire and reality raised from childish and crawling archetypes. Thus, they use celebrities for television ads. Celebrities are childlike archetypes the system uses as opium and smoke bombs to cover miseries. In Crumbs, there is a clear disparity between the main character’s dreams and the limits of reality and we reach the absurd and grotesque staging of this dysfunction.
Crumbs is your first feature film, but you’ve produced and directed a number of short films based in and around Ethiopia, which have been shown in film festivals around the world. How did your work in Ethiopia and your experience with the film festivals aid you in the lead up to the production of Crumbs?
Years ago we created a small team in Addis Ababa on the basis of friendship and trust. This team was formed by producers Yohannes Feleke, Daniel Taye Workou and Meseret Argaw, cinematographer Israel Seoane and soundman Quino Piñero. As well as our favorite actor Daniel Tadesse, of course. Our projects have always been small and this allowed us to work with agility, spontaneity and discretion. Friendship keeps openness and inspiration. My friend and producer Sergio Uguet of Resayre immediately understood this way of working and production, so he jumped on board. Festivals are a good starting point in the distribution chain and also places where one can learn from other filmmakers. Having our short films at festivals gave us the confidence to think that the feature [film]would have a tour and would be part of both the artistic and industrial film community.
You’ve stated that filmmakers such as Werner Herzog have influenced you but with Crumbs I felt a strong likeness to the science-fiction work of Andrei Tarkovsky with Stalker and Solaris. Has European cinema in general been a major influence in your work?
Certainly. Stalker’s universe is very present in Crumbs – especially in the bleak landscapes that are sprinkled with ruins. I dream I would someday compose as Tarkovsky did. His visual power is infinite. But my spirit is much closer to the Mediterranean tragicomedy. Buñuel, Berlanga, Fellini, Leone, Pasolini, Ferreri are the artists that inspire me. A life full of energy and exaggeration, scathing parody and criticism.
I loved the blend of pop-culture and Biblical allegories incorporated into Candy’s journey to find Santa Claus. Candy’s plastic figurine is considered to be a magical amulet whilst Birdy prays to a shrine dedicated to Michael Jordan. How important was it to incorporate science fiction, pop culture references, and the Christian Bible into the narrative?
Crumbs’ narrative explores the absurd and grotesque of some objects and situations that are taken out of context. A shrine to Michael Jordan can be very absurd. Everybody calls this “freak”. Now my question is, couldn’t you say the same for the Academy Awards ceremony? Perhaps we have become accustomed to eating shit. One day, I was in Yemen when I saw two ladies wearing burkas in the lobby of a luxury hotel watching Paris Hilton foaming at the tits. Who eats more shit?
Candy is played by the popular theatre actor Daniel Tadesse Gagano who you worked with on your short films Where is My Dog? and Fanta Ananas’ Chigger Ale. He’s such a fantastic presence in the film and his relationship with Birdy feels incredibly pure. Would you say Daniel’s physical disability has a direct connection with the crumbling world round him and how to do perceive Candy as the hero in the movie?
Daniel Tadesse is an actor with an irregular body and a fascinating look. His performance drives us into the world of dream and fantasy and takes us away from the usual stereotypes of car brands, soccer celebrities and cologne ads. His complexity makes him a tragic hero instead of an epic one. The epic hero belongs to the field of competitiveness and battle. American society, with Hollywood at the forefront, builds archetypes and characters from overcoming adversity because it’s a dialectical, warrior society. However, a tragic hero is always much more human since he has to accept his own difference with the rest of the world. He is the hero of the Odyssey instead of the heroes of the Iliad. He doesn’t compete nor defeat but tries to come back “home” to find his own destiny and his happiness. In Crumbs, Candy is a hero about to fall apart much like the surrounding landscape. He is a survivor.
The locations Candy traverses in his journey are incredibly varied and look almost as if he is traveling across another world. What was it like shooting a feature film in Ethiopia?
We’ve taken some years traveling Ethiopia by car and discovering fascinating places. Often these places aren’t typical tourist attractions but far corners that one finds by chance. Some of these places I knew personally such as the Wenchi Volcano crater with the lake and the forest, the old abandoned bowling alley or train tracks over Lake Awash. Israel Seoane had recently visited the station in Dire-Dawa and the Dallol ghost town in Danakil. During the shooting we found just by chance the abandoned lodge where Santa Claus lives… A gift sent by the devil, I guess.
Crumbs is a very unique and concise experience with a running time of 68 minutes. What difficulties did you and your producers face when looking for the budget for such a unique project? Did you always plan to have a $225,000 budget?
My friend the producer Sergio Uguet of Resayre said he wanted to produce a film. It was Christmas, so it was a good gift. Actually we were searching for a project that suited our funding possibilities. One can think of a project and then seek funding for years or otherwise one could start from the question: what are our chances? We have a team in Ethiopia, we can shoot in amazing locations, we have some money available, etc. Crumbs was a project that was built this way, thanks to Sergio Uguet of Resayre’s drive.
What festivals will Crumbs be playing at next? How can the folks reading this find a way of seeing Crumbs or supporting the films release?
We’ll go this month to Bafici (Buenos Aires), Cinema d’Autor (Barcelona) and Fant (Bilbao). In summer we will be screened in several countries including the UK, Switzerland, South Africa, Serbia, Poland and the US premiere. I can not announce yet festivals because they ask confidentiality. But please, follow us on Facebook!