Cate Montana interviews Mark Vicente
HERALD – It’s been 12 years since What The Bleep!? came out. What’s the most significant change you’ve experienced since that time?
MARK – When I look back now I think that I had so much arrogance then. Even though we named the film a humble title, I think I came from a place where I had a lot of the answers. It took me a few months after the film was released to begin to realize, “Dude you can’t be selling yourself as some kind of guru, because you’re not. You’re a filmmaker who has an interest in these things. And you actually don’t know shit.” It took me awhile to understand that.
HERALD – It only took you a few months? Hat’s off Mark!
MARK – Well, let me rephrase—it took a few months until the first recognition. But then integrating it into my life in a deep way, that’s an ongoing process.
HERALD – Was there a particular incident that triggered this?
MARK – Yes. I think I was in San Jose showing BLEEP to an audience and I remember there was a woman at the end during the Q&A who stood up and asked, “How I should raise my children?” And I was so shocked that I asked her if we could talk afterwards. When we were done I spoke to her and asked her why she thought I could have any authority to speak on raising children. And she said, “Well, because you made the movie and you’re so wise and blah blah blah…”
And I said, “Oh my God, don’t ever listen to anybody like me!”
HERALD – It’s a pretty seductive position to be in though.
MARK – It is. Not all people, but many develop an attachment to external praise and esteem from others and that becomes more important than their own code of ethics, which get weaker and weaker. And I get it. You get excited. You get praised. You make a lot of money and you begin to bend yourself more and more.
I think one of the most important things we need to do is look at that and make sure we don’t run ourselves from that place, but rather start to act from the fuller sense of self that’s not a rampant egotistical maniac, but somebody who has self-awareness and is not driven by fear, anger, pride, etc. etc.
HERALD – Do any of your films reflect this sentiment?
MARK – There’s a movie I’ve recently done in Mexico called Encender el Corazon—Igniting the Heart. It’s a lot about the violence and kidnapping occurring in Mexico and it became a very personal journey along these lines, because I ended up being in the film. And I remember being really upset and angry at what the criminals were doing and how the people in Mexico were so unmotivated to change things.
And then, during the film, a character in the film—a scientist—asked me couldn’t I imagine reasons for doing the terrible stuff people were doing there myself? And I got upset with him and asked him why the hell he would ask me that? And he said, “If you can’t figure out why you would do it, how can you ever understand all humanity?”
So I tried for days to figure out why I would do those things until I finally found inside myself an aspect of myself where it made sense that I could, under certain circumstances, do some pretty bad things.
HERALD – Sounds like a valuable exercise for those of us who’ve been ragging on Donald Trump.
MARK – I will say I do not like the way Trump behaves at all. But I’m beginning to start looking at it and going, “Wait a minute. Have I ever been like this? Have I ever been like what I’m seeing?” And it’s like, “Yes.” When I was eighteen I was an arrogant, self-centered, narcissistic prick. Have I ever been a bully? Yes. Have I lied? Yes, I’ve lied. I’m not saying it’s okay to do those things. But I’m finding as I do this, that I’m beginning to embrace more and more about myself and recognize all the things I’ve done that I don’t think are cool at all. It’s been a very interesting thing.
HERALD – It’s a complex time. For sure it’s a time where people have to stand for something. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and ignore what’s happening.
MARK – It’s making us embrace more of ourselves—that beautiful shadow side that we don’t want to acknowledge. Trump is right up front going, “Here it is.”
But, you know, bullies bully for a reason. There’s some problem that causes them to be that way. And when you ridicule them, in some ways you just make it worse and worse. I don’t know the best way to go. But I do think we have to find there’s a human being in there somewhere—all the people who think differently than us there’s a human being in there somewhere. And we have to respect that.
HERALD – What other project have you been working on?
MARK – We’re putting out a film called My Tourette’s. There really is no cure for Tourette’s syndrome at this point. You have to manage it with medication or brain surgery. But what the film does is track five patients going through a kind of effective therapeutic-discussion approach where people are having these major “aha” realizations and sudden dramatic physiological shifts and changes in their condition. Another film I’m currently working on is a science fiction film about artificial intelligence (AI) called Terra Antiquus.
HERALD – Interesting. What’s your approach to that?
MARK – Generally AI films are all about how the AI goes bat shit and kills everybody. This is kind of the opposite and the humans lose it. Basically it asks the age-old questions, “What is consciousness?” and “What is it to be human?”
HERALD – The research for that must have been fascinating.
MARK – It’s pretty scary what’s going on with AI. I went to a very large organization that’s in intelligence and went to their lab where they produce AI codes to give their employers who are in the business of protecting borders and doing wars and that sort of thing. When I asked them what was the ethical moral code that they’re writing into the code, they replied, “There isn’t any.”
And I was like “WHAT? Do you not think that might be a problem?”
And they said, “We’re just delivering what we’re asked for.”
HERALD – Seriously?
MARK – Some of the AI codes that are being developed at certain corporations may not have any ethic codes in there. Which means that they could, in essence, be creating something that is very effective at doing some very bad things and not feel bad about it at all.
HERALD – Sounds like you’re doing a lot of politically-oriented films.
MARK – I do have a political drama in pre-production called Carbon Crimes. But basically in all the films I make I try to bring about a deeper understanding of the human condition. I’m just not that interested in having a person watch a film and afterwards go, “Well, that was good. Let’s go have a drink.” Everything I do I want to have people walk out and go, “What the fuck did I just see?” And have it so they can’t stop thinking about it. I feel like BLEEP achieved that. And I feel like in Carbon Crimes, at least on paper we’ve achieved that. And people walking out of Encender el Corazon literally can’t even talk for a while.
I want my films to be like some kind of virus that gets uploaded and shakes things up a bit and has people reevaluating life. That’s my hope.