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Happy Monday, Mr. Filippone

A failed film, reincarnated as a "documentary film object," returns to New England for a world premiere at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

By Hermine Muskat

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If you plan to see Andrew Filippone, Jr.’s Happy Monday this month, you will not be sitting in a darkened theatre.  Rather, you will enter a room, hear an impressionistic soundtrack of dialogue fragments and production sounds, and walk around a vague outline of a lifeless body, chest splayed, on a human-sized lightbox.  The body is made from a few hundred feet of 16mm film negatives from Filippone’s first film, Happy Monday, Mr. Krebs, which he never finished.

“I wanted to show the regret and humiliation that accompanied the failure of this film,” Filippone says, “and the best way to do it was to show it in static time... time that does not move.”  To do this, he notes, the traditional conventions of documentary filmmaking could not have captured the story he needed to tell.  NewEnglandFilm.com spoke with Andrew Filippone, Jr. about why his earlier film failed, why Happy Monday succeeds, and how the process has influenced his approach to making films.

Hermine Muskat: Since Happy Monday might seem more like a work of sculpture than a film, what is it that makes it a film?

Andrew Filippone, Jr.: It’s true that it is an object but it has the usual attributes of a film.  It’s made from 16mm Kodak motion picture stock, the images in the film are sequential, were captured with a standard movie camera, and then edited in a meaningful way.  The images within the frames are visible because light passes through them; it does include a time dimension, albeit static time, and invites the viewer to read as well as to watch.  More important is my intent.  I am a filmmaker first and this form was the most evocative and compelling way to tell the story of a failed film.

HM: Why this format for this particular piece?

Filippone: The traditional documentary conventions would simply not have worked.  For the story of the death of a film to realize its full tragic expression, it had to be still, not sequential.  It had to allow the viewer to linger over it, to see the actual dead footage and absorb its stillness.  Another story probably would not suit this format.  I chose to use the real thing, the film, as the center of [Happy Monday] rather than filming the image of the real thing and then walking away.

HM: How would you describe yourself as a a filmmaker?

Filippone: I’m essentially a documentarian, interested in questions of form and structure, and the things from which films are built.  That’s where my heart and interests lie.  I’m influenced a lot by art forms other than film, particularly sculpture and architecture, where things are more tangible, where you can walk through an idea, or walk into and actually touch a design.  I love the weight and the impact of real things and seek to convey that substance in my work.

HM: The representation of your early film failure through the completion of Happy Monday feels like an enormous personal statement and accomplishment.  How has this affected you?

Filippone: When I look back, I had a tremendous sense of humiliation and embarrassment about not knowing what I was doing then.  The all-volunteer crew and actors who worked with me were incredibly polite and never called me on it, never said, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?’  I worked with many of these people so having to face them or answer 'Hey, where’s the film we worked on?' made me feel like such a failure... that I had no right to be doing this work.  So the completion of Happy Monday has certainly helped put some of those feelings to rest.

HM: Filmmakers rarely talk about their failures so openly.  If you had your first film to shoot again, what would you do differently?

Filippone: I would have chosen a less ambitious story and used a real-world, more-local location.  I would not have dragged in a 30-person crew.  I would have gone as small and as quietly as possible and put limits around myself... two or three scenes with one location and two actors.  I would have set firmer limits and forced myself to create a film within those confines.  Now, of course, I would have been shooting on Mini-DV, not film.  So, if I could revisit myself 10 years ago, I would say, 'Don’t try to make the film Terry Gilliam would make.  You can’t do that.  Make your own film, the film you want to make, not the film you feel you should make.'  So just setting limits in every sense.  Rather than going wide, go deep.  That would’ve been very helpful.

HM: What are some of the things you learned while making Happy Monday?


Look closely for Mr. Krebs.  Photo by Shaun Roberts.
[Click to enlarge]

Filippone: One of the most important things for me is that the formally accepted conventions of documentary filmmaking are of little use if they don’t serve and facilitate the story.  I’ve carried the idea that This Can’t Be All There Is for sometime and am sure I had that in mind as I crafted Happy Monday.  So, when I knew that the convention of sequential film time would undercut the story I had to tell, I knew I had to do a still film.  It could not move because movement would suggest life and the characters in this story did not live.  Then I realized that the screen was also in my way.  I could not work within those boundaries and I didn’t have to.  Once these restraints were off, I was able to find the right form and this is what I came up with.  So, when I decided to let go of certain conventions, it was very freeing.

HM: What are your hopes for this piece?

Filippone:  I would like to see it in as many public exhibitions as possible.  I would like to see people approach and relate to it as a film and to disregard the lightbox and the vague human shape and to think of the story that’s being told... the story of a failed film.  I would love to hear them talk to others about the experience.  Mostly, I would like it to find a good, permanent, public home somewhere where it would be seen.  Because it doesn’t demand a screening time or even a screen, it can just be left by itself somewhere.  That would be wonderful. 

Happy Monday premieres on August 7th at 7 pm at the Providence Performing Arts Center. It will also be shown at this year’s Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, October 19-28, as a special off-site program. Andrew Filippone, Jr. lives and works in New York City. He was raised in Boston and attended Emerson College. He designed, directed and edited Happy Monday. Please note: soundtrack by Stefan Girardet.