Tim Leyendekker • Director of Feast
"The film is not a fictionalised documentary, not so much an account of what really happened. It's a set of proposals"
by Marta Bałaga
- The Dutch filmmaker takes on the Groningen HIV case, which saw three men deliberately injecting others with HIV-infected blood during sex parties
Recently shown in IFFR's Tiger Competition, Tim Leyendekker’s Feast [+see also:
interview: Tim Leyendekker
film profile] tells a story in seven vignettes, each lensed by different directors of photography and depicting a troubling event from a different perspective.
Cineuropa: If you had opted to tackle this story with a classical narrative, I don't think there would have been any place for different takes on it. Was that why you divided it?
Tim Leyendekker: It was related to the way I work, think and operate. When the story first hit the news, it was such a huge case in the Netherlands but it was also, yes, very clear: you could tell who the bad guys were. I understand that, and I was thinking along the same lines too, but aren't we missing something this way? The first headlines screamed: “HIV Monsters!” Then we find out that these people had jobs and families, so the story wasn't just about the case — it was also about the way it was perceived and dealt with. This whole “monster” concept is so dehumanising, and I was aware that if I don’t defend the victims, to some it may seem like I am defending the perpetrators, which is not the case. I just wanted to look around and see what I could find. I worked with seven directors of photography, and that was like having seven points of view already. I would also interact with the cast and the crew, asking them how they saw it.
Some vignettes are rather surprising, like the girl in the lab talking about viruses. So polite, and yet what she says is so troubling: that infecting someone could be seen as a sign of bonding.
Cronenberg said that sometimes, we should look at things from the virus' perspective. This is what she does, because of her profession. It's not the virus that's evil, it's our interpretation. This whole wording, that it can be a “gift”, is also used during “bareback parties” [referring to sexual acts without a condom, primarily anal sex between men]. There are people who infect each other, so that they don't have to worry about it anymore, but it's all voluntary. But in this case, people were drugged and then injected. So it wasn't even through sexual act, although maybe it was sexual for them – which, for me, is hard to relate to. During the making of the film I was appalled sometimes, so I tried to connect it to Plato's Symposium: seven monologues about what beauty, truth and love is about. I wanted to contrast it with all these horrible things that have happened, but still it would be very problematic to say that what they did was to “liberate themselves”.
Were the scenes that feel like actual reportage based on real material? Did you get hold of these transcriptions?
In the opening sequence, when a woman puts all these objects on the table, some are indeed from the case and there was a similar press presentation. But others weren't, like the George Michael CD or a bag of crisps [laughter]. This is nonsense, but I really wanted to go in and out: what is actual evidence and what is just our perception? It's one of the reasons why I wanted to present it all as fiction. Feast is not a fictionalised documentary, not so much an account of what really happened. It's a set of proposals.
People refer to stereotypes a lot and this is how we are looking for truth, I guess. I am queer myself, so maybe it's easier for me to talk this way. I can say that homosexuals listen to George Michael because I know they do, myself included! And I am happy to play with that, to juxtapose these stereotypes and see what else derives from that.
Seeing these motionless bodies, just lying there, makes you realise how vulnerable they all are. And how lonely it can be, dealing with something like that.
Through interviews and so on, it became clear that the people who drugged them had to go to work the next day. Sometimes they would bring them back home, if they found keys in their pockets, but others would wake up on a beach, on a towel. We decided it would be more interesting to interweave these scenes through the whole film, to constantly remember that there were people affected by this.
I don't think there was that much support granted to the victims. They went there, to these parties, and sometimes they would go back. It's your typical story: the girl in a short skirt goes out at night, so some will say she was “asking for it”. Have you seen I May Destroy You? It's such a powerful series about all the aspects of sexual assault, and it's very now, very 2020. But a few years ago it would have felt like social science fiction! I hope that we have evolved, but there is a lot of subtlety that's lacking now in these conversations, and I wanted to address it: some things you just can't put into soundbites. I was talking to a friend, about this idea of dehumanising people, and he said: “You are going to get cancelled!” So I'm happy I haven't been cancelled yet.
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