With the worldwide release of Pig, we hunted down Henry Barrial (writer/director) to find out where he got the inspiration for the film as well as future projects we can look forward to viewing and some inside details of his latest film The House That Jack Built.
Pig is an interesting film with a great sci-fi twist, brilliantly acted and directed. As the idea for Pig came from an article about a German citizen who had been abducted and imprisoned by the CIA for six months, what was behind the idea for the sci-fi twist and the memory loss?
The idea for the sic-fi twist came from my interest in the exponential growth of technology and the belief that we are at a precipice as a planet where technological advancement is already taking us into new territory we are unprepared to enter. For example, this whole NSA information gathering/espionage situation is an aftereffect of this rapid technological advancement. I am part of the last wave of people who will have lived a portion of their lives without cell phones or internet. I guess I’m really attracted by the whole “Brave New World” idea.
Rudolf Martin was great as “The Man,” which is a largely solitary role as he explores the mystery behind his situation. How did you choose him for the role? What did you like about him for the role?
Rudolf walked into the audition and blew me away. He has a wonderful presence. I knew immediately he could play the role of a man with no memory of who he was because the role called for someone who lives very much in the present moment. Rudolf is a very moment-to-moment actor yet he has this complex simplicity that is just wonderful. It’s about truth. Truthfulness is the most interesting thing to watch and Rudolf’s a fantastically truthful actor.
Will you be exploring the technology from Pig in future works? Does it connect to anything you’ve worked on in the past?
The technological explosion, of which we we may be in the early stages of, and how it manifests itself in concrete terms is more the subject of my interest. I just think how new technologies will impact our humanity and civilization is probably the most important issue we face. I feel a calling to try and actually depict that event dramatically. As far as how it connects with my past, I’d say I’ve always had a curiosity for the unknowable.
Pig opened in film festivals in 2011 and was screened at film festivals throughout the year. With its release for domestic distribution, how will people be able to purchase and/or view the film?
Pig should be on all the familiar digital platforms, and hopefully on cable TV and on DVD in some retail outfits later this summer or in the fall. It’s taken some time to negotiate the fine print of the domestic deal but I’m really looking forward to making it available in the States. We’ll make an announcement once that happens. It has been selling overseas for the last several months.
Are there any plans for future sci-fi films?
I am writing an untitled Sci-Fi project at the moment where a family, living off the grid for six weeks in the Amazon rainforest, walks out of the jungle to find the world has changed dramatically. The story involves another ramification of exponential technological advancement. Another mystery of sorts, like Pig but much bigger in scope.
I’ve been coming to the understanding that I’m very interested in stories that involve metaphysical epiphanies that parallel the kind I have and seek in my life. For example, I just read Jim Holt’s “Why Does the World Exist?” and I was really turned on by trying to imagine how tiny we all are. We live on a rock, in a solar system, in a galaxy, in a universe that’s perhaps part of an infinite number of multiverses. The sheer size of “space” is mind boggling and our diminutive stature within that space is… well almost impossible to fathom. Ultimately no one (and I mean no one) “knows” why the world exists. Life is stranger than fiction.
With the last film, Pig, which is a sci-fi film exploring the mysteries of the mind, The House That Jack Built is a step away from that as a drama following a young Latino man as he struggles with his family and side-business of drug dealing. What caused you to make the switch from sci-fi to drama?
I’m a first generation Cuban-American (both of my parents came to the States after the Cuban revolution) and the Caribbean-Latino culture is a big part of my life. So, much like my interest in science and near future technology, I felt like I could bring something interesting to this screenplay by Joe Vasquez, which I just really admired. The story for Jack is very classically oriented. By that I mean that it’s an old story that could have been told in the Middle Ages. Essentially the story explores what it means to be a man and that’s pretty elemental. But there’s more to it than that, much more. It’s like a great Shakespearean comic-tragedy. It was just a great opportunity for me as a director.
The House That Jack Built was written by Joseph B. Vasquez who passed away in 1995, what inspired the idea for this film?
It’s hard to say what inspired Joe to write this story. Ironically, both his parents were drug addicts and he was separated from them as a youth, so the part of the film where Jack yearns for his childhood days is a fantasy.
I couldn’t access Joe’s vision, so I just made it my own. You have to, I think, stay true to your instincts first. That being said, the screenplay was suggestive in certain parts of trying to employ longer shots with hand-offs between characters. I did watch Hangin’ With the Homeboys which was Joe’s wonderful film also set in the Bronx and that gave me some sense of his style but I wasn’t about to copy him.
What were you looking for in the cast to make it work for Joe’s vision?
Joe’s vision was not an issue for me. His screenplay was about a family of Puerto Rican Americans so, being an insider to the culture, I concentrated on casting only Caribbean Latinos from New York. I made sure we did it right with the casting. Capturing the culture in the casting is key to any film. That was always my problem with Scarface; every time Pacino tried to speak Spanish it was a disaster. Casting is such a crucial process.
Why did it take nearly twenty years before the film could be completed?
It took 20 years to make the film because Michael Lieber (one of the producers) was originally trying to make it for a semi-normal budget. There really hasn’t been an American-Latino film in that period that did well in the box office. I am not including foreign films (Mexico, Spain, Cuba, etc. ). I’m talking about films about American Latinos. We finally made it at a much reduced budget.
Where will people be able to screen The House That Jack Built?
While we just premiered at the LA Film Festival, we are in talks with two distribution companies on Jack. Now is a great time for Latino-American films because there is more of a need for content with some of these new cable channels targeting Latinos in the States. Keep you posted.
Was there anything that hit close to home about either film that really made you think, what if this really happened? And perhaps made you thankful that it hasn’t?
On the “What if this really happened?” question, I would say that Pig is exploring the ethics and ramifications of memory augmentation and adjustment, which is already becoming a reality. This question intrigues me and I like exploring how one simple idea can change things dramatically. I’m also concerned about how the world will change for my children. I would like, in my own small way, to contribute to a safer and more loving world.
What is your favorite part about either film? What are you most proud of accomplishing with them?
In Jack there’s a long sequence in which one character follows another and this big story event happens. I enjoyed filming this long, purely behavioral/action sequence out on the streets of the Bronx, NY. It’s some of my best directing. With Pig I loved exploring as rigorously as I could the truth of having your memory erased and how to capture that feeling in a movie. It was like a fun thought experiment for me.
What drew you to independent filmmaking?
I have to make films. Independent filmmaking to me is just something I have to do. I’d love to make a studio film but either way I must do this. No choice.
What are some of the challenges and/or rewards you’ve found with independent filmmaking in comparison to big budget movies, aside from the funding?
The wonderful aspect about making indies is that you get to make them how you want. That could also be a detraction depending on one’s skill level. But to me, making movies is making movies. I don’t care if they cost $5 or $5 million, it has to grab an audience and take them on a ride.