SXSW 2015 Interview: Eugene Kotlyarenko Is The Cool Kid At The Heart of A WONDERFUL CLOUD
From the first shot of Eugene Kotlyarenko's wonderful SXSW feature, A Wonderful Cloud, you see that he's a man with few boundaries. Utilizing IRL footage from his 2010 relationship with co-star Kate Lyn Sheil, he starts his narrative from a place of documentary and extrapolates from there. Few relationship dramas from contemporaries have struck me as deeply as this one and few conversations have been as immediate and enjoyable as the one we had Tuesday afternoon.
Over our 30 minutes together we spoke about how a delightfully accented financier was so moved by the climax of the pitch that he wrote a check right then and there, why more "cool kids" don't make movies, and how a visit to an aura reader inspired my favorite sequence in the film. Although most of our chat couldn't make the final cut, I hope you all enjoy what is seemingly a bourgeoning one-sided bromance.
ScreenAnarchy: So what's your fest been like so far?
Eugene Kotlyarenko: The premiere was great. It was a full house, everyone was cracking up, you know? There were certain scenes where people were cracking up across the audience uniformally. Then there were some scenes where half the people are laughing and the other half are going "ugh no...ugh". And then what's cool is that, you will go like a few scenes later and the people who were going "ugh...no" are laughing. And the ones who were laughing are going "no...why?" So it was kinda like that. My one regret so far is that I haven't been able to see that many movies and I love watching movies and I've just kinda been focused on making sure as many people catch A Wonderful Cloud.
Well, what is the movie you're most excited about seeing at the fest?
I really want to see Results, the [Andrew] Bajulski film, just because I think that Computer Chess was basically a masterpiece. I would say in the last like, 10 years, [it's] one of the few movies I saw that felt so formally coherent and entertaining.
Something that I thought about formally with your film was that it felt classic. I see a lot of independent films now that try to deal with the same subjects as you but don't have that same sort of interpersonal emotional honesty that you saw in those great love stories from the 80s. Yet your film really has that. What were some of the touchstones that you pulled from when you were conceiving the film?
Yeah. Thanks a lot. You know, that's true, I don't really relate to --I guess besides Bujalski -- I don't like that many contemporary American independent. Or "independent" quote unquote filmmakers right now, but the 80s were really a seminal golden age. One reference that was important for me and that I showed the cast and crew was Stranger Than Paradise. Right? I think that's like obviously just this sort of very charming and engaging portrait of a sort of accessible fringe world that makes people feel cool just watching it.
In terms of, like, the romance in it? I do like a lot of 80s teen romance movies, but for me the more "touchstones" are the more flawed and comedic films of the 70s. So like Minnie and Moskowitz, and Robert Altman's A Perfect Couple is a very flawed, very beautifully, emotionally complicated movie. Maurice Pialat's We Won't Grow Old Together, which I think is one of the closest movies to resemble a structural film, you know with like psychological effects in its repetition. The way it dissects a relationship between people is so powerful. Have you seen that movie?
NO. I need to. I'm putting it on my list. About the romance in your film...you and Kate Lyn were real life lovers and you used real footage from your lives.
It was real footage...but I don't know..."real life lovers" that makes it seem like...Look, there is definitely a realistic grounding to the fact that we had a relationship. It was a relatively brief and it was mostly long distance...Have you ever been in a long distance relationship?
It's very intense. I think especially the beginning. The feelings you have when you are in a long distance relationship can be extremely, like exponentially more intense in a way...When you're not talking to the person you know there is someone 3000 miles away who loves you and cares about you. And then you wait for them to text you, you wait for them to call you, you want to know what's up with them, you think of them and you think that they are thinking about you. And it's like, you know, a missive romance from like Rouseau or someone for the 1700s.
Right. For me, the film was about asking what we do with unmatched desire. Where does desire go when one person has it still and the other person "doesn't"? Is it like energy? Does it not disappear? Does it just transform itself into something else?
(Laughs.) It's really interesting that you're saying that actually because you're blowing my mind a little bit here, Jeremy, because, um...ok. The reason I made the movie right, or one of the reasons is because, I really don't like the cliche of exes in movies that I've seen. Like most time when you see exes in a movie they like hate each other, they are always you know attacking each other. They run into each other at a party and they are so sickened by seeing each other. But actually I'm friends with most of my exes so I find that unrelatable.
So I wanted to make a movie where the exes remain friends because they have a special recognition of the bond between them, you know? And I think the reason that I remained friends with a lot of my exes is that before things were able to get toxic I just broke up with them. And then what happens is, you don't have any sort of bad memories. You don't really have like "oh that ended badly" or "I hated that person." You're basically always in love with them and you still retain that desire and you just sort of transmute that into friendship. It's not a sexual desire, just sort of an intellectual or emotional or social desire, and I think that was interesting for me to explore.
The other great thing about the film is the environment that you brought in. I literally yelled out when you guys went to "Mustache Mondays" or "Mustache Madness" as you put it.
Yeah, yeah, it couldn't be on a Monday so I had to change it. You live in LA?
Yeah, I live in LA! So what inspired you to bring out that young East LA* world? Because I feel like that's a world that we've seen but usually through the lens of 30-somethings...
One, it's rarer for someone in their 20s to make a movie. Two, I think it's rare for someone...(Pauses) ok...this is going to be kind of a humblebrag but I think it's rare for someone cool to actually make a movie because movie making is extremely difficult and involves so many logistical challenges, and it involves a certain modicum of super hard work...
(Laughs.) I want to ask you about my favorite sequence in the film which was when you go to your friend's apartment to use her printer and you end up hanging out with her and her psychic for a bit. What was the impetus for that scene?
I wanted everything in the movie no matter how tangential to be directly related to relationships whether its a lonely radio station manager who's like very sort of explicitly asking to hang out because he has no friends or whether it's Lauren who is going through her own caricatured version of a breakup that sort of put our relationship that ended four years ago in a sort of refracted mirror that creates a funny outline for our relationship, her sort of intense healing process with juices and stabbing the melon. And you know that character was just Lauren hitting a home run.
And then with the psychic I just love that actor, Elijah. I think all the people I work with are some of the most talented and undiscovered people who should be on 90 foot screens everywhere in America...Elijah literally you can have him say any line and he would just do it like brilliantly. He knows how to make things memorable, funny and sinister. I don't know if you've seen a show I made, Feast of Burden, but he's in that and he's just brilliant.
Eugene, thank you so much! The last thing I'll ask you is what's next?
I made a feature before this one and a webseries with Lauren and Elijah and a couple other actors about three years ago for MOCA and I made that Skydivers webseries a couple years ago...and the next thing is going to be next level. The next thing is basically a movie about internet trolls. Basically Goodfellas but about internet trolls.
I always want to explore things that I don't think people are exploring. Like, yeah you've seen East LA in movies basically by losers who live really bougie, comfortable lifestyles that have very little to do with the reality of living and obviously that's reflected in their movies (laughs). And so, that's why A Wonderful Cloud is vaguely valuable, in that sense.
So a movie about internet trolls is valuable because that's a subculture that's very difficult for peope to wrap their heads around psychologically and it seems very disturbing and unappealing on a certain level, but on another level it's one of the only really authentically evil things still out there. It's truly nihilistic and it needs to be accessed.
* Author's note: For non-Angelenos, East LA is sort of the "Brooklyn" of Los Angeles.