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60 minutes with documentary director Curt Johnson

Yemi Lotan | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 1st, 2007



Yemi Laotan recently spoke with the director of Your Mummy Kills Animals, Curt Johnson, who had just finished resolving the lawsuit that arose as a result of the film. The highly controversial documentary is premiering at Hyland Cinema on September 28.

“I feel so free,” he said after resolving the lawsuit that has been going on since January. “All I can say is know where the money is coming from...because most times, as a film maker, you are so happy when someone chooses to invest in your film. It’s an age old story of investors putting money into a film and then deciding that they do not like the film after it has been produced, plus think that they can influence its content, sometimes even through a lawsuit.” Johnson feels that a contract stating the limitations of clients/investors might help resolve this issue in future.

[Y.L.]: I have to ask...are you looking forward to doing your next movie?
[C.J.]: [Laughs] during this whole thing, I was like, is it worth it? Because after Friday...when the jury took so long [almost nine hours of deliberation] and after I told my story, I wondered, it is worth it? I have to say yes, it is worth it, at the end of the day.

[Y.L.]: How long did it take to make this movie [Your Mommy Kills Animals]?
[C.J.]: It was only four months. We wound up going to 17 states in 90 days and shooting over 70 hours of interviews. I got to see my country! That was so cool.

Also at one point, right before we were heading out to Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah they asked us to transport two rescue dogs for them, so we went out of our way and drove from LA to Utah - with the dogs - that was fun for the crew and I!

[Y.L.]: Research is often considered a highly important phase of [documentary] filmmaking, however I gathered from your interview with CBC’s “The Hour” that ‘you just jumped into the project and hoped that it worked out’...my question therefore is was there any point during the film that you felt you should have spent more time on research?
[C.J.]: Personally, I have no idea why I don’t do research. I love to learn the stuff as I go, you’ll see this in the way Your Mummy Kills Animals is done...there were so many questions that I had and those are brought into the film...

...If I do all this research then I’ll ask really stale questions. However I had one lady on the team, Tammy, who compiled all the data on peoples phone numbers, sourced the Internet on who were the biggies in the movement...and all of that.

[Y.L.]: One of the most chilling aspects of the film was its depiction of how George W. Bush and the Department of Homeland Security deflect attention from their own failures of the ‘war on terror’ by redefining what ‘terrorism’ is - did you at any point assess the risk/consequences of including this footage in the film?
[C.J.] Well it wasn’t my opinion; it was something the people in the film were talking about. I knew nothing about the report until I was in Montana and someone was telling the story; I was like wow that is fascinating...he showed me the footage and I was like wow I have to use it! This is part of the story.

I think for a lot of people in film when you are in edit all you think about is what is going to serve the story. Throughout editing you are asking yourself what is going to move the story forward, what is going to make people understand it and what purpose does it serve?

It’s not about repercussions...it’s editing...and that’s where your film takes shape.

[Y.L.]: What in your opinion would you say is one of the biggest obstacles documentary filmmakers face as opposed to narrative filmmakers?
[C.J.]: Distribution. There are many great docs out there that just didn’t get the right marketing push behind or distributors just didn’t understand how to sell it and it never got picked up. The more unique the story is the tougher the sell it’ll be, and since it seems like everyone’s doing a doc, finding a place in the market for it is even tougher. As any of us in this industry know, you’ve got to be resilient to go through what we do. If it’s not getting the right distributor, it can be having an investor who suddenly tries to take control of the project. That happens a lot and I’ve been lucky to have an amazing team of lawyers who know how to protect my films, and I strongly suggest that to anyone in the indie field!

I also feel it is important to sell yourself and your film with or without a distributor’s help, some of the ways I have marketed the film range from utilizing film festivals such as Hot Docs to creating audio CDs, and other promotional merchandise! Check out www.myspace.com/yourmommykillsanimals

[Y.L.]: Lastly, what would be your advice to aspiring young filmmakers today?
[C.J.]: Learning what to look out for and never compromise your film. Once you compromise your film and principles...you’ve pretty much lost the battle, and given up the film. Producer Don Murphy, Natural Born Killers and Transformers, has been a good mentor in showing me not to give up, and if you believe in a project just keep going after it no matter how many people try to hold you back.