Mark Stafford talked to legendary Italian director Ruggero Deodato at the fifth edition of Cine-Excess in May 2011, where Deodato was a guest of honour.
Mark Stafford: When I first saw Cannibal Holocaust it depressed me, it’s such a nihilistic view of humanity. Where did it come from?
Ruggero Deodato: Cannibal Holocaust was made 30 years after the concentration camps, when I saw those photos it took me several months to recover. It’s 60 years ago now, but those are the things that should be of real concern to us, that’s where the real evil is. The thing that gets me is, say, there’s 1000 people and 100 people with guns, and the ones with guns say ‘Dig your own graves’. Even if they had no weapons, 1000 against 100, why didn’t they just attack? I’ll tell you why, it was terror. And that really got me thinking of what terror does to people. It’s the same in my film, these four individuals terrorise the Indios, and their terror keeps them from mobilising.
My film is fiction. Why do people react to CH, but don’t react to an American soldier being beheaded? Forget my film for a second, do people have no recollection of what happened in history? Public executions with people being torn apart by horses, and even the guillotine! There would be an audience, people clapping and cheering. I’m not that terrible! I’m annoyed that there is a reaction to violence in my films but no reaction to the terrifying violence happening out there every day. Why do people only wake up when they see a piece of fiction, and say ‘Oh, that’s horrible’? There are horrible things that are far more serious because they’re real. Everybody wearing rose-tinted spectacles. That makes me angry.
The worst film that I’ve seen is that French film about an execution and the worst thing in that is that they don’t tell you when. You’re there and they come to grab you and that’s it. You’re gone. That’s the film that creates the worst anxiety for me.
Cannibal Holocaust presents a pretty hateful view of documentary makers, as opposed to fiction filmmakers. Is that just the logic of the film, or did you genuinely feel angry with TV journalists at the time?
It’s the media. For example, the children of a family have been horribly killed, the journalist asks the mother, ‘What do you feel?’ I think, what do you think she feels? She’s lost her kids! What do you want from her? You want sensation, you want something to increase your audience, that’s what I’m against. To get back to your question, when I wrote it I was very angry about these filmmakers. With fiction, if I do something in one of my films, everybody says that I’m an evil criminal bastard. If the press show the same thing, they are praised to the skies. I’m guilty of that as well, I understand it because if you were to throw me out of a plane with a film camera I would carry on filming. Why do we have so many views of the planes and the buildings on 9/11? If people see someone being stabbed and they have a camera, they’re going to film it.
You pioneered the faux-documentary techniques, and the ‘found footage’ idea that ages later got used on The Blair Witch Project. How do you feel about its success?
Everyone went to see Blair Witch because of what happened on the internet, which was very clever, and there are parts of how it’s shot that are very interesting. But when people leaving the cinema were interviewed they said, ‘an Italian guy made this film 20 years ago’. So everybody wanted to interview me, from Japan and everywhere, and from this Cannibal Holocaust was reborn!
Do you regret the animal cruelty scenes, if only for the effect they’ve had on the success of the film?
The same rose-tinted guys. They don’t make the connection between the food on the table that mummy has cooked from the supermarket, and the fact the animal has actually been killed. When you go to a Third World country people kill animals. I saw pigs and rabbits being killed growing up on a country farm when I was young. My son has not seen this because times have changed, he hasn’t had the experiences I have, for him it all comes pre-packed.
I’ve always been curious about Michael Berryman, he’s turned up in a couple of your films…
He’s nice. He lives with 14 wolves. He was born at five months. I love him. He’s a quiet man, a sweet man. But he has no issue with doing terrible things on screen, because he lives in the countryside.
Thanks to Ruggero Deodato, Paul Smith for setting up the interview and Shameless Entertainment for their translation duties and bearing the brunt of
Deodato’s annoyance at being asked the same damn questions over and over.
During an interview with Xavier Mendik later during Cine-Excess, Deodato went into the stuff he wanted to talk about: his father-son relationship with Rossellini (both Taurus, both realists), his debt to Cartier-Bresson, his politics (‘I am an anarchist. I am a liberal. I am a democrat. I vote.’), the nature of Italian cinema. ‘Italian film has always been dominated by formula, neo-realism dominates, dies, comedy dominates, dies, Spaghetti Westerns, comedy westerns, police films, the same. At the moment group comedy is king. Now and then a great idea for a film comes along, we wait for them to come along so we can all follow them.’
Interview by Mark Stafford