This year’s selection “Compliance,” is based off a true story where a manager at a middle American fast food restaurant received a call from a cop accusing an employee of stealing. The cop said that he was on his way and in the meantime asked the manager to start to search the employee. As time went on the cops instructions became questionable, and the containment of the employee lasted almost 4 hours. “Compliance” raises questions about human nature and compliance. Here is my interview with director Craig Zobel who will be present for a Q&A which follows the film.
1) The story/stories that “Compliance” is based off of are pretty controversial. What made you decide to make a film about those cases?
When I heard of the multiple real stories from which the film is inspired, I initially found them to be hard to believe. My first instinct was, “Those people must’ve been duped. That’d never happen to me!” Yet days later I realized was still considering the stories, and really reflecting on the fact that this wasn’t an isolated incident—it happened more than 70 times in 30 states over a 10 year period—which means, to me at least, that the incident actually reveals a larger aspect of human nature. And if it was an aspect of human nature I had to really consider whether I was being honest with myself about how “that’d never happen to me.” Some reading of Stanley Milgram’s experiments on behavior and obedience led me to think there was a potentially valuable film that could be made in reflecting on these issues.
2) Your film “Compliance” played Sundance. Can you describe your experience there, how do you think it was received?
The experience was wild. All of us knew that the film raised questions we were curious about, but we were all encouraged that our curiosity translated to a wider audience. Much has been made about it being “dramatically polarizing” at Sundance, which is fascinating as the drama was confined mostly to one screening; I overwhelmingly found people received it in the way I had hoped, and all were passionate to further discuss the film’s themes. And that discussion was the the reason to make it, so it was great. It was one of those things where you’d walk by people on the street and hear them arguing different points of view which I’d previously considered both sides, and it was very humbling and cool in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
3) Were there scenes that were particularly hard to shoot? Knowing the case and how far things went, were there scenes that required a lot of thought on how to not be exploitative?
Yeah, the entire middle section of the film was difficult to shoot. I felt myself and the wonderful actors were always modulating between what would effectively tell the story and not go farther than we were okay with. I actually weighed every decision even down to the gender of each character. We wanted to push the level of audience tension and comfort in the film, but I wasn’t comfortable with ever showing too much visually. The end film is challenging but not gratuitous.
4) How important was it for you to find the right voice for the actor playing the cop?
Great question. Honestly, I watched a lot of hours of the reality show COPS, trying to decide what qualities I was looking for. I came to the conclusion that the only thing I didn’t want to do was cast someone with a voice that “sounds like a cop” because I realized that my expectations of how police officers sound comes mostly from portrayals of police in movies and tv… Cops sound like people. How they assume authority in situations simply with the words they say is what I became more interested in correctly portraying.
5) How do you think the experience of the viewer is different if they are familiar with the case or if they’ve never heard of it?
Both ways of approaching this particular film are equally interesting. I think that people familiar with the case are probably a bit more receptive in the sense that they have likely (hopefully) already had questions and concerns similar to those raised in movie. But I didn’t build the film in a way that you necessarily need to have any prior knowledge.
“Compliance” will screen:
May 4, 2012 @ 4:30 PM in Charles Theater 1
May 6, 2012 @ 2:30 PM in Charles Theater 4