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'I'm okay with being attacked'

Killer Pickton director says his horror flick should make its audiences uncomfortable

Sept 19, 2006

VANCOUVER -- The horror film Killer Pickton sent chills down the spine of many who were involved in the multimillion-dollar serial-murder trial of British Columbia resident Robert Pickton.

Families of the victims were horrified by what they consider the exploitation of their relatives' brutal deaths for prurient entertainment. Others were concerned about the effect the film would have on Mr. Pickton's trial.

The court imposed stiff restrictions on publication of evidence in an effort to ensure that Mr. Pickton's right to a fair trial would not be compromised. The filmmaker had planned for the film to be released next month -- direct to DVD in Australia, where Canadian court orders are unenforceable. Some feared the film could lead to a mistrial.

But in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, director Ulli Lommel said he decided to hold back distribution of the film until after the trial, out of respect for the court and the victims' families. He also revealed that he knew very little about the evidence against Mr. Pickton. Although the film is promoted as being based on a true story, Mr. Lommel said the Pickton character in his film is not the same Robert Pickton who is on trial in B.C.

"All characters -- his family, the victims, the police -- are all pure fiction," he said.

Mr. Lommel, who is considered a master of horror in the world of low-budget thrillers, was in Los Angeles, being interviewed by e-mail, on the advice of his legal affairs department. Here are the questions and his answers:

G & M: Tell us about your film. The promotional material says it is based on a true story. Is it a documentary, or is the true story a jumping-off point for a fanciful horror film?

Lommel: My so-called reality horror films are usually inspired by true events, but then I use it as a platform to take off and deal with issues I'm concerned with, such as our celebrity-obsessed society and the hunger of the vast majority of us to get their 15 minutes of fame. Most serial killers brag about their crimes and aim to be the top -- the one with the most killings. Their desire for fame can be traced back to our own obsessions. So in my mind, we are all guilty.

G & M: Do you recreate the crimes allegedly committed by Pickton?

Lommel: I am not certain which crimes the real Pickton allegedly committed. In my movie, the villain cuts up his victims in a wood chipper.

G & M: When did you first hear about the murders of the Vancouver women and what went through your mind at that time?

Lommel: I was amazed that it seemed to take such a long time to deal with this. But I guess, prostitutes don't count as valuable members of our society. And the fact that he may have allegedly mixed the victims' flesh with pig meat and then sell it was so freaky.

G & M: Was there any hesitation in your mind in bringing those scenes to the screen?

Lommel: No, I am committed to showing violence as a most gruesome act and not as pleasant and entertaining.

G & M: From whose perspective is the story told? Have you spoken to Robert Pickton or Pickton family members?

Lommel: It's from the villain's POV [point-of-view], but like I said, it is not really the Pickton they caught. Mine is called Billie Pickton, and all characters -- his family, the victims, the police -- are all pure fiction, I also have a disclaimer at the end of the movie that reminds the audience of that. And no, I have not spoken with anybody, since I did not want to make a documentary.

G & M: What was the budget? Were the actors involved in making the film from B.C.? Was anyone hesitant about doing what was required to make the film?

Lommel: No actors from B.C., the film was shot in New Hampshire, and everyone treated it professionally. My budgets are all under a million dollars.

G & M: Why did you want to make this film? How does this fit into your career in film?

Lommel: I started my directing career in 1973 with the cult classic Tenderness of the Wolves, about a serial killer who cuts up young boys and sells their remains to butchers. It's based on a true story. The film opened the Berlin Film Festival and played over a year in Paris and London theatres to enormous acclaim. It was shown at the New York Film Festival, and [The New York Times'] Vincent Canby gave it a very good review. But it was controversial, and I like stirring up things, I like to provoke thoughts, and my movies show violence as disturbing acts, as horrible transgressions. I detest Hollywood movies that show violence as exciting entertainment. That's evil, because violence and murder are horrible and disgusting, and not entertaining. But in return, I receive a lot of complaints, I guess, because people want to always have the easy way out and be entertained. We, as a society, have been entertaining ourselves to death.

G & M: Does it make any difference to you or to the film if Robert Pickton is found not guilty?

Lommel: The film was supposed to be released in Australia next month, but I pulled the film and it will be on hold until Pickton is judged, and then we'll see. Same thing for Canada. I also was able to stop the release. It cost me a lot of money, but I decided that it was the right thing, out of respect for the Canadian court and the victims. I like Canada very much, I like Canadians, they are not as brainwashed as most of us, and I've always been treated really nice when I've visited Canada, like for the Montreal Film Festival where one of my films played. I also want to make clear that I am not obsessed with violence against women. I made many different films, and several where women are strong and fight back, and I love and respect women. But I also want to be a mirror of society and show it as it is, as disturbing and uncomfortable as it may be.

G & M: Is the court order irrelevant to your work?

Lommel: I was unaware of the court order, and I've done everything not to interfere in any way, shape or form with the trial.

G & M: How do you respond to your critics who say you are catering to prurient interest and exploiting the grief of the victims' families?

Lommel: Mainstream Hollywood makes money off the misery by portraying violence as exciting entertainment, and thereby assisting in the climate that creates Columbine and other violent crimes. I only report the truth, but I understand that Hollywood lies are easier to swallow than the truth. So I'm okay with being attacked. People are manipulated and don't know better. Our society is a society of media slaves, of consumer zombies totally unaware of the truth. We are surrounded by double standards, hypocrisy and lies. But rather than waking up to the terrifying truth, people prefer to be victims.

G & M: It sounds like you expect or at least hope to make money off the misery of the victims' families, doing what you are condemning.

Lommel: I hope to continue to make movies that open people's eyes. I have a clear conscience.

G & M: What else do you have to say about the film and violence in film?

Lommel: Prior to the Pickton film, I made BTK KILLER, about the guy who bragged that he would bind, torture and kill. He was a respected man, a member of the church, etc., and nobody wanted to believe that he was the killer. How could such an upright citizen commit such heinous crimes? Well, how could he? Because evil is in all of us, and unless we stop separating "us" from "them," we'll never be able to get a hold of evil. We must stop finger-pointing and look into our own souls. We are all one. And we must stop celebrating violence as entertainment and begin to look at it as reprehensible, hurtful, disgusting, painful acts. And we must look at our own fascination with violence and our celebrity obsessions, which all contribute to the creation of monsters like BTK and others. I am committed to make my contribution by continuing to show violence in its true form. People should faint and cry when they see violence, not laugh and applaud and call it brilliant filmmaking.

G & M: Some families have called for a boycott of your film. Would a boycott of violent films be a more effective response to the celebration of violence?

Lommel: People should wake up and face the truth. I am an agent of the truth. I worked for 10 years with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, we together created the anti-theatre in postwar Germany. We have always been committed to the painful truth.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fictional Pickton film pulled 9-15-2006

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016