Charles Mudede: Zoo Story

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By Andy Spletzer

It's hard to believe, but one of the most beautiful films at Sundance this year will be about a guy who was fucked to death by a horse. Back in 2005, when the Seattle Times reported on the "Enumclaw Horse Sex Incident," the story spread like wildfire across the Internet and became their most-read story of the year. It also caught the eyes of Seattle-based director Robinson Devor and writer Charles Mudede, whose dreamily poetic feature film Police Beat debuted at Sundance just six months prior. The resulting documentary essay is Zoo, which is premiering at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

Based on interviews with members of the now-defunct Enumclaw horse sex community, who call themselves "zoos," the movie charts how the Internet brought this group together, and how the death of one of its members from a ruptured colon after having sex with a stallion broke this group apart. Far from a traditional documentary, the narration is taken from extensive audio interviews with members of the group and was edited together to form the spine of the story. On top of that, they hired actors to portray the incidents that were being spoken about, and they brought in their Police Beat cinematographer Sean Kirby to create beautifully evocative images to punctuate the story. The resulting film, Zoo, is surprising in how thoughtful it is and, like every good documentary, makes you think about ideas and situations in different ways.

One week before the movie was to premiere at Sundance, I sat down with writer Charles Mudede at Bad Animals, the audio post-production house where they were finishing up the soundtrack. Robinson Devor was supposed to join us, but nobody could find him. As Mudede explained to me, "I have to tell you that because Sean Kirby had to go home to New York for an emergency, Rob had to assume color correction responsibilities. He's also just been worked. I mean, you can imagine Sundance got this film after we had only about a week and a half to edit. And we had some green screen stuff. So he basically had to turn a film around in two months." Considering his work schedule, his absence was understandable.

Zimbabwe-born Charles Mudede is a film critic and columnist for the Seattle-based alternative weekly, The Stranger. He and Robinson Devor teamed up to transform his police blotter column "Police Beat" to the big screen, and Zoo is their second collaboration to premiere at Sundance. Mudede has a big laugh and a love of Proust and 19th and 20th century philosophy.

The spread of the news report about "the incident" was mostly a viral Web thing, wasn't it?

Yes, it was very Web-based.

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