Six years ago I wrote an epistolary novel, in which two characters, Victor and Xavier, corresponded with each other via letters, exchanging news in an old-fashioned, nostalgic way. One of the letters started off something like this:
Dear Victor. Here’s a little play I wrote. Its title is The Politics of Conflict: A Group Discussion. It’s dedicated to everyone out there, fellow human beings and dear co-factors. For this is what we are, not audience but factors, indirect contributors to a brutally bad play staged across the globe by insidious characters of all creeds and colors.
The story that followed was a parody of world leaders in the geopolitical arena. Unable to come to any meaningful consensus, this group of politicians decides to meet at a secret location prior to a world conference to agree on certain key issues beforehand, saving themselves the trouble of another embarrassing stalemate. But they run into trouble from the get go, as each of them has a different view on how to be civil and reasonable.
Four years later, in the summer of 2010, I emailed the story to a good friend, Minos Papas, who was working as a director in Brooklyn, New York. He liked the story and began adapting it to a screenplay.
Not before long we had a sizable short film in our hands.
We started shooting in early February 2011, in Queens. It was a grueling four days, most of them spent in a dilapidated, freezing basement with mangled door frames and holes in the ceiling. The temperature was minus zero degrees (Celsius) throughout the shoot. The room was damp and dripping all over, with rusty pieces of metal poking out at odd and dangerous angles – debris from old mechanical equipment, which was now part of our setting. It wasn’t easy work, but the cast and crew were troopers and pulled it off. The rest of the film was shot later, in Manhattan.
The story centers around three main characters: Joe, a firebrand Republican; Jack, a preppy Democrat; and Yusuf, a theocratic Iranian. Joe and Jack confront each other early on, arguing over who has the right to say what, and how, prompting the intervention of Yusuf, who vouches to see them both annihilated. Joe responds with threats of his own, and soon the meeting spirals out of control as the rest of the players get involved, driven by their own chips on their shoulders.
Meanwhile, across the pond, in the real world (not as part of the film, but in the real real world) things began stirring in North Africa. The Tunisian uprising had been successful, seeing the country’s prime minister, Ben Ali, flee the country, making way for change and reform.
Yet things were far from settled in the troubled North-African country. There was still unrest in the rebelling nation, as pressure from mass protests and street violence led to a continual reshuffling of government.
Back on the set in NY, we were feeling it. There was strange confluence between our story’s main themes and the developing Arab Spring, a sensation which urged our production on.
The story line and direction pulled out all the stops. We were scathing as could be, caricaturing the characters, bringing out the worst in them to expose and criticize the cultural, national and idiosyncratic stereotypes that drive world leaders. We wanted to show how prone they were to getting drawn in endless arguments with each other. Our exaggeration bordered on the offensive, but that was the point. We were exposing a blatantly obscene situation, so on the offensive we went and did what we had to, showing things for what they were: absurd; ridiculous; an affront to the world. A shameless farce, which scores of inept and self-involved politicians are happy to perform, day in, day out.
Little did we know that our farce would later have little to envy from the debacles in the US Congress over the country’s debt ceiling, the political circus in Rome during the fall of Berlusconi, and the ongoing tragicomedies in Greece.
The film was ready by the end of the summer, and we entered it in short film festivals around the world by the end of the year. It was selected by the New York Shorts Fest, where it screened on May 29, 2012, at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
It’s still in the festival circuit, doing the rounds.
Here are some stills from the film: