At Far Out Magazine we believe in cinema’s ability to heal.
At a time when millions of people continue to adapt their daily lives amid strict social distancing measures and cinemas around the world continue to keep their doors closed, we want to shine a light on filmmakers on a personal level. Turning our attention to the work created by independent artists, we have launched our new weekly series ‘The Far Out Film Club’. The project will focus on one filmmaker during each episode and will premiere on both Far Out Magazine’s Facebook page and YouTube channel every Wednesday.
As we close out series two, the Far Out Film club welcomes Jonathan Desbiens, the Canadian filmmaker who works under the name of Jodeb. Having initially started life in the world of music, Jodeb has worked with the likes of Skrillex, London Grammar, Halsey, ASAP Rocky, Cypress Hill and more, creating wonderfully imaginative music videos to match their audio. Here though, we are focusing on A Plentiful Feast, his tragic view of the planet bereft with marine pollution.
“Shelley Bones approached me directly and wanted to create four films for Earth Day,” Jodeb explained to Far Out when discussing the formation of his short film. “They approached four directors, and we each picked an element. I naturally went for water without blinking. I don’t know why, but this is what felt right. I was in LA shooting a very demoralising commercial, and I needed a way out. I needed purpose. It was just perfect.”
Adding: “Once I got the call from Nowness, I slept on it, shot my commercial in LA for a very popular phone brand and then had a day off. It just came out in about 15 minutes. A young spearfisher who needs to desperately feed his or her family, and since there are no fish in the ocean anymore due to climate changes, dies in the attempt, trying to go so deep, unable to find any.”
Here, as part of the Far Out Film Club, we are premiering a screening of Jodeb’s short film which is available through our Facebook and YouTube channels.
You can read a full interview with Jodeb below and, at 20:00 GMT, watch the premiere of his film.
Far Out: Given the current circumstances, and the struggles that the film industry is facing, how difficult is it to be an independent director right now?
Jodeb: “Well, I still consider myself like a kid who’s been naively trying to convince himself that I’ve been making films out of music videos for the past 15 years, with more or less success. But in the last few years, I’ve been tirelessly trying to compensate for all these years of not taking or understanding the filmmaking process properly and seriously.
“I’ve been focussing very much on writing and screenwriting, learning how to research, say a lot with minimal dialogues, etc., which at the moment doesn’t show in my work yet, but I’m about to start this new narrative journey. I think after hundreds of versions of two features and many shorts; I’m finally close to having a short film script ready to get into production that I’m finally proud enough and confident to share with collaborators. Still not there yet, but almost! So I think I’m not quite aware yet of the struggles of an independent director, but I’m probably about to!”
[Laughs] “I’d better not think about it…”
Similarly, on a personal level as both a film viewer and creator, how important is cinema as a form of release at the moment?
“Essential. Just like books. We don’t read or watch films enough nowadays, but they are essential. And sadly, we only realise it when we fully immerse ourselves in them. And with today’s redfish attention span, it’s getting harder and harder, but as artists, we need to fight relentlessly.
“Art has to find a way to set itself apart from the ambient Zeitgeist while always connecting to it… it’s the great paradox.”
We’re focusing on your project A Plentiful Feast. Could you explain where this idea came from?
“Nowness (Shelley Bones) approached me directly and wanted to create four films for Earth Day, (Oh my god, that was already more than two years ago, it feels like yesterday). They approached four directors, and we each picked an element. I naturally went for water without blinking. I don’t know why, but this is what felt right. I was in LA shooting a very demoralising commercial (with wonderful people, though), and I needed a way out. I needed purpose. It was just perfect. Then I thought of my friend Guillaume Beaudoin who is an amazing artist and world traveller. I thought of his many adventures for the Ocean Cleanup and his other projects and started to ask him questions. He even came to help out and shoot some magnificent underwater scenes (the ones in the Cenotes, Alex Ruiz shot the ones in Banco Chinchorro). So he connected me with Pablo at Takata experience, and we shot with very little resources the idea that I wrote.”
Detail, if you could, how the scenario of this project was formed, how did you develop your ideas and did the end product match your initial expectations?
“Once I got the call from Nowness, I slept on it, shot my commercial in LA for a very popular phone brand and then had a day off. It just came out in about 15 minutes. A young spearfisher who needs to desperately feed his or her family, and since there are no fish in the ocean anymore due to climate changes, dies in the attempt, trying to go so deep, unable to find any.”
Did your creative vision change when you began to understand more about your process?
“Yes. As always. I love these project which involves real people, who know much more than I do about the actual subject matter I’m working on. It just felt natural. It fell into place.
“Takata are a group of very smart people who are trying to save the Caribbean. And Pablo made the trip a real adventure for my wonderful team of badass filmmakers.”
Did you encounter any unexpected difficulties in its creation?
“Everything was a difficulty. We had no money, only courage and imagination. I will say again, COURAGE. We shot on Banco Chinchorro, in the middle of the Caribbeans, where there is no electricity or resources, sleeping outside at sea – just like the main character, we actually slept exactly where he does in the film.
“We dealt with seasickness, our actor dealt with hypothermia. Also, we weren’t in a touristy town, Mahahual is on its way to becoming one, but when we were there, it still felt very foreign to all of us. It was also difficult to work in a different language with non-actors. Working with local people made it very special and heartfelt, but also sensitive. You have to express a true respect. But all this led to some truth expressed in the film, I hope.”
What, in your opinion, is the most important quality of a film director?
We’ve reached a point in cinema, much like that of the music industry, when the phrase “we’ve seen it all before” becomes a topical debate.
How do you stay original? How do you find ways to produce something unique in a market that has so many creatives? Or is being unique even that important?
“Just like every human experience is different for every human, you have to be confident in trying to show a perspective; It doesn’t matter if it’s original; it matters that it tries to express something relevant. And the relevance often reveals itself in the exercise of it… meaning, courage is everything, you gotta try your best.
“I never aim for originality cause then it already ruins the authentic attempt at expressing truth. I’m just interested in characters and context, which mean something to me and which get me very curious about. I just like to learn and share my discoveries. I often am asked to submit original (I even hear sometimes ‘award winning’) ideas through commercials and such, and it always sucks when I try to do that. Every time. I fucking hate it. I just got an experience for a music video I pitched last week in person with a major artist in LA (who is smart and whom I respect a lot), and I tried to give him what he wanted or what I thought he wanted. And it sucked. Then I locked myself away for a day or two, wrote something very personal to me which I don’t consider original, but relevant and fun, and when I came back to his studio to pitch it, he said right away: ‘I’ve never seen this before’. Voilà.”
Given your viewpoint on creativity, what or who are some of your major cinematic influences?
“Everything is an influence, the bad and the good. I don’t have very special tastes, to be honest. I watch and read as much as I can; I’m like the next filmmaker who loves the classics. Frankly, my pleasure is putting characters against a context, and I try to work with artists and collaborators who connect with it.
“I started out filming my cool friends in high school, and I just cared about understanding why they were cool. I don’t love anything in particular, but there are trillions of little details in everything I see that I love. I try to put em all together. I’m a bit crazy with details. As you may or may not know, I edit, colour, VFX, etc.. all my work. I rework every single frame of my films…I will add a mountain in the background when I need one, cancel a blink of the eye that annoys me, change elements in the background with matte paintings to change the mood of the scene, etc… I’m crazy.”
You clearly have your own way of working, but do you think those influences are prevalent in your work?
“Well, I hear all sorts of comments about my work. I like to think of myself as a boring person with an eclectic mind. I receive comments which reflect that electiveness, I think. I feel like my work either connects viscerally with people or completely confuse them. But I can’t answer that question properly since I’m not quite sure of my own influences.”
Given your inspiration, could you run us through your process? What distinctive themes are you looking to create, if any?
“I’ve always been inspired by female characters. I feel like they have much more struggles than us men, on top of the struggles that we already have. It makes for more interesting and relevant dramatic tension. And I also, as a filmmaker, I’m interested in what I don’t know yet.”
How have you developed your own distinct aesthetic within your work? Is it a conscious decision?
“Oh… hard question. I’ve possibly accumulated 35,000 hours of after effects and premiere, on top of having shot all sorts of shitty and amazing project over the past 15 years. I think it’s the cumulation of all that. Some directors are more hands-off which, frankly, is probably the real way of directing. I’m cursed with being able to manipulate every single detail of an image, thus making me very hands-on and close to the tree. It has its good and bad. I’m trying to change that with my new writing journey. I’m trying to make it about the words, the ideas…I’m trying to make it a more enjoyable, light process.”
Generally speaking, what attracts you to a certain subject or field?
“I love the controversial, the uncomfortable subjects. I’ve not quite scratched the surface yet. It’ll become more apparent in my upcoming fiction work. I’m a very balanced, respectful citizen who believes in progress. But as an artist, there is no moral. I don’t care about good or bad; I love to observe and shine light on a situation and let the audience understand what they have to understand about it. I leave my judgement and my beliefs at the door. It’s not about me. Filmmaking is my outlet for becoming a demon: I’m not interested in good or evil like I said, but I can let reflect either of those if needed in the films. Like Gandalf the grey.”
Finally, do you have any ideas in terms of which sphere of cinema you may be exploring next?
“I’m currently trying very hard to write simple ideas, with two or three characters and very simple production requirements (two locations maximum). I started backwards: I’ve started with great budgets for ads and music videos in my early 20s, which corrupted me, and now I’m trying to make my way back and understand the basics.
“I have such a blast; I’m slowly become an okay and even maybe a good writer!”