Okay, four years. So since before the motorcycle accident, back
when he was still in good times.
You know, actually, it was right about... maybe it was five years
before because... because, because Happy Horseman talked about it
happening, about meeting him when he was already in bad condition. So
there was this whole other part of his life that involved a medical
history and could have been connected quite easily with the death in
the barn. We couldn't say he was into more than just horse sex, he
was into a lot of crazy stuff. We couldn't verify this, so we didn't
bring it in. We just decided to leave it as, "What could we be
confident about in his life?" And another thing we could not be
confident about was that he abused himself really badly.
I'm assuming that is more than just the metaphor for masturbation.
All sorts of crazy stuff. It was really off the charts. It really
was. The guy had nerve damage and all this stuff.
And abused himself with drugs also?
Yes, according to the interviews. That's what they said. But again,
that's something we couldn't verify, so we didn't want to deal with
that. What we could say was we knew where he worked, and we could
verify that. We knew who he worked for, and we could verify that. We
knew he had horses that he kept, and we could verify that. We knew he
had family, we could go into the birth and death certificates and
If you look at the film, it takes a very fictional mode and so we had
to never, ever speculate because we're already doing this crazy thing
to begin with. Everything that happens, everything that we shot had
to be exactly what they said, and then we had the freedom to do
whatever we wanted on top of that.
Were you able to see any of the medical reports?
There's a great sense if you go through a lot of the material, and we
had a great research team for this film, I think that what you find
is that the official bodies like the King County Medical Examiner,
the Enumclaw hospital, and others, all they wanted [was] for this
person to get out of their system. The minute he was in it they had
to deal with it. The only thing they wanted to do was move him to the
next department. Get him out of there.
Take the most basic notes possible.
Absolutely, because once they figured out how he died, the last thing
they wanted to do was to sit around in their office and think about
the media attention that was bound to follow this case. When you go to the reports you get the sense of brevity and not much detail taken
as to what happened to him. It was like, "It's conclusive. It's a
ruptured colon. He was fucking a horse. What more do you want to know
about this? Get it out of my office!" That was sort of the attitude
from place to place, so when you see the reports, you'd be shocked
because it's just a couple of lines, or just two words.
What time was he dropped off at the hospital?
Early in the morning.
Early in the morning like 5 a.m.? Or was it more like 2 a.m.?
According to the interview, it was somewhere around 5 a.m. when he
said he had to go to the hospital.
How many people dropped him off?
One. Happy Horseman dropped him off.
Were you able to see that footage from the security camera?
No, they confiscated all their tapes. All that stuff is gone.
It seems like what I remember from the newspaper article differs a
little bit from what is shown in the movie.
Ours is accurate. We know exactly what happened that night.
Is that from Happy Horseman?
Three perspectives. The issue was, the paper said he was dumped off
at the hospital by a guy who split. He was dumped, but Happy Horseman
argues that he brought in his wallet and he left it there with them
to figure out who he is. The newspaper said he didn't do that. He
says he did do that and that's how they found out. The newspaper said
that they found out through the camera, and that's also true.
Who all was involved? Was it just the fatally injured man and the
trucker, or was there a third man?
No, the other guy was asleep in the barn. [Laughing] He has that
wonderful line: "That was my downfall. I had some beer, I had some food, and I went to the barn and fell asleep. That was my downfall."
So there were those two guys, and Mr. Hands eventually announces that
he has to go to the hospital. So Happy Horseman drives him.
But he was walking around, he had put his clothes back on, etc. So
they were sitting there for a while?
The way we shot it is that they were watching a movie. I think the
way it might have happened was, there were two things. He was just
doing shit and nobody was paying very much attention to what he was
doing because he was doing his own thing. Mr. Hands called out to
Happy Horseman. When audiences watch it they'll realize that there
was a panic. There were several possibilities as to what happened.
Everything might have been done wrong, but nobody was in the wrong.
Another major character in the film is the horse rescuer. What
exactly is a "horse rescuer"?
Yes, it's weird, but Andy, this is absolutely amazing. She and her
husband, whose name is John Edwards [laughs], they're both a
wonderful couple. They run a non-profit that has sponsorship from
guys like [football player] Warren Moon. What they do is they go out
and find neglected horses and they adopt them. No, they take control
of them and they put them up for adoption, for people to adopt. Some
of these horses are badly damaged. We tell the story of one who was
blinded by blackberry thorns.
They could just as well be Hollywood stunt horses or horses that
were led to have sex with men.
The problem was that there was no infrastructure to deal with this.
The cops were like, "Where do we turn to deal with these bloody
horses that were part of this sex ring?" And somebody suggested that
this horse rescuer would be the best fit. They called her up and
asked her if she dealt with abused horses. "Yes." So they said,
"Well, we have a sexually abused horse. Can you come and take care of
him?" That's how she got dragged in.
They were desperate to have someone take over the mess. Society had
no equipment, no mechanism, no institution, no laws, no instruments
to deal with a problem of that kind, so they had to make it up.
That's interesting. If there were no laws then ranch hand didn't
own the horse, it was owned by somebody else. Why were they able to
take it away?
Everybody there was so devastated by the death that when an authority
appeared they just, in a way, maybe in their own situation, were
happy to have somebody show up and say, "I'm bringing sense to here."
And she had to play that role.
And part of that could have been, "I'm going to take away the bad
memories by taking the horse away."
Yes, and besides, she was working with the family and it was their
property. It was their estate. Rather, it was their son's estate. She
was authorized by the family to do this. It wasn't completely out of
her realm. Only in working with the family was it legitimate.
Tell me more about the choice to use actors and reenactments, and
are you worried that that might lead to some confusion?
No, that was a very early choice. That was a very early decision
about how we didn't want to make a documentary in the traditional
sense. We approached the participants with this very idea, like we
said to Jenny Edwards, "You're going to play yourself in this film.
You're going to reenact rescuing the horse yourself, and recounting
it to the audience as you're acting with actors about how you got
there." Would she accept this? Or would she say, "This is mocking me!
This is mocking my efforts as a horse rescuer!" But not only did she
do it, but her husband played a role.
What did he play?
He played himself, John Edwards. We had another person, an actual
member of the group, Coyote, reenacting leaving his mother. He says,
"This is how I left my mother," so we got an actor to play the scene
out. That was sort of fun. That was the element that was coming
closest to Iranian cinema
. That's what I told THINKFilms when
they were looking at it. I was like, "This is going to be a lot like
Iranian filmmaking back in the 90s."
Before Kiarostami discovered video.
Yes, before that, when there was fluidity between fiction and fact.
Everybody loved them, but nobody ever took the way they were moving
between fictional mode and documentary mode so easily. What was the
one where the director finds the guy who was arrested for pretending
to be him and makes him play the role of his own impostor in a film
version of the crime?
I think that was Makhmalbaf.
Yes, it was Makhmalbaf, but Kiarostami directed the film.
Right. It was Close-Up.
[A similar strategy was used in Makhmalbaf's
A Moment of Innocence - Marlow
Yes. Those strategies and those kinds of games... I mean, in a sense,
it's kind of shameless that we're doing this. And when Jenny Edwards
goes on and plays herself, that's Iranian right there. All I have got
to say is that we're late. It's a decade later that we're actually
employing Iranian film strategies for documentary purposes. Is it a
mockumentary? No, it's not. It's not mocking.
It brings up the question of the spirit of the truth.
It is about the spirit of the truth. It is. Because the spirit of the
truth is that there was a moment that the Internet allowed them to
have a kind of paradise of freedom. The eye of God was not there,
they could run around and do whatever they want. Every weekend there
was a sense of happiness. Then this hit and it was all gone. So the
spirit was Paradise Lost
That to me was the spirit of it that we tried to capture. Instead of
the documentary truth, we tried to capture the spirit of the truth,
With that theme, it becomes a necessity to be non-judgmental, or
even to be on the side of the group.
It's too easy to be judgmental. And they were, according to the law,
doing nothing wrong, so the cops went in there looking for other
animals. The law in the state of Washington said that you couldn't
abuse an animal that was smaller than you, so you couldn't abuse a
cat or a chicken. Then they could throw you in jail. A horse? That's
fine. And so they went on the farm to try to find other animals that
might have been abused. They almost had this idea that they might
have had to kill chickens if they found out they were abused. But
they didn't abuse chickens. They were only interested in large
animals, in bulls and horses, and so they weren't breaking the law.
One of the funniest reports I've read recently was the press
release THINKFilm put out saying that they picked up Zoo after
watching only five minutes of footage. It's really interesting
because it almost gives them an out in terms of the subject matter.
But that didn't stop people from criticizing them for picking up the
movie that nobody really had seen.
I thought it was funny that they said that, too. But it's true, they
only saw five minutes of it! [Laughing] They're not lying. It's quite
true. They saw a teaser trailer, five minutes, and they bought it. We
had about 30 minutes of the film in rough form at the time.
How long ago was it that THINKFilm came in?
THINKFilm came in... in October. Which is insane, because basically
they came in and then we shot the film in October, just three months
After having worked on it already and shot some stuff.
Yes, we did preliminary stuff in September. They saw that preliminary
work in September and they bought it. And then we shot in October.
And then we got it to Sundance by November 5th. [Laughing] Sorry,
it's insane. I just realized that this stuff is not old. This stuff
is still fresh. All these people were just recently being shot. The
advantage was that the script had been, all the stuff, the recording,
all that had been developed and done. That was the real advantage. We
knew exactly what we were going to do, so when we went into October
we were not full of questions and uncertainty.
So you had the spine already.
Oh yeah. All of that was done.
Do you think THINKFilm will give Zoo a theatrical run?
I don't know what they're exactly planning and I don't want to speak
for them. They've been so good. To be honest, they took this film
from a very rough stage and they were interested in the ideas. They
really were, from the start.
What are your expectations for Sundance with this movie?
I think when people see it, they're going to be surprised. When I
think of the work that Joe [Shapiro] put in, and that Sean [Kirby]
put in, I think people will be very impressed with the quality. I'm
confident about that.
Do you have a sense about what people are expecting? Or what they
think it might be?
No, I don't know, but as a film critic, I think about the critics,
oddly enough. I want to see what they're going to say. This is so
bizarre. I know I write to an audience, but like I was with Police
, I'm going to be thinking about the critics!
The printed record of the movie.
It's like what the sound engineer at Bad Animals
was saying, is that you start
taking interest in the characters and the incident itself takes a
backseat. If that happens then that would be a victory, and I think
that is going to happen. If it doesn't, then we failed.