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The End of the World As We Know It

Nobody's feeling fine in director Chris Smith's riveting doc, Collapse, which warns of the imminent end of industrialized civilization, predicted by a fascinating (real-life) outsider. Available now on DVD!

Collapse: Michael Ruppert
Michael Ruppert

Though not technically a horror film, Collapse, the latest film from director Chris Smith (The Yes Men, American Movie) may just scare you to pieces with its doomsday scenario. In this straight interview documentary—Errol Morris-style—Smith's subject is Michael Ruppert, a former LAPD cop who believes that the current economic climate is a sign that industrial civilization is on the precipice of a complete meltdown.

Ruppert has been on the fringe for decades, working as an independent reporter who predicted the financial collapse in his self-published newsletter. (You can read his current blog here.) While it's easy to initially dismiss him as a conspiracy theorist, his no-notes-needed explanations and predictions are riveting. As we become entranced by Ruppert's chain-smoking, articulate predictions of doom, we might begin to question longheld beliefs about the taken-for-granted infrastructure we trust to keep the world running smoothly.

Comparisons to other "disaster porn" films are inevitable—someone has already mashed up Smith's film with Roland Emmerich's upcoming 2012—but this doc has a bit more heft. Ruppert is a real person, and Smith has a knack for finding outsiders with great stories to tell. His hilarious 1999 film American Movie introduced us to Mark Borchardt, a passionate filmmaker who did not let traditional ideas of moviemaking stand in his way. Since then, Smith also made a splash with the original Yes Men film.

Tribeca Film asked Smith to talk about his career, Collapse, and his preferred preparations for the End Times.
 



Collapse: Chris Smith

Director Chris Smith

Tribeca Film: I am not going to sugarcoat it: your new film is kind of terrifying. At first, I was just thinking, "This guy is a whack-job." But then I started listening. Is that kind of what happened to you when you found Michael Ruppert?

Chris Smith: We originally contacted Michael about his alleged recruitment by the CIA in the 70's. When we met with him he had just finished his new book about the Collapse of Industrialized Civilization. He talked for three hours straight, and it was a fascinating train of thought monologue. The way Michael takes in and processes information and philosophizes about the future he sees was so interesting that we asked if he would be open to filming an interview for a few days. He showed up a few weeks later in the basement of an abandoned meat packing plant in downtown Los Angeles. He had no notes and none of the questions beforehand.

I've always been fascinated by people like Michael. Outsiders who look at the world in an entirely different way than the rest of us. Michael is truly living outside the mainstream. He's been criticized and ostracized for trying to get across a message that he fully believes in. The film is more a character study on Michael than it is a full examination of the issues he presents. It's about a theory he's developed over thirty years, how he ended up here, and the effects it's had on his life.

Tribeca: How did you decide that this one (extended) interview was the film you wanted to make (instead of your initial idea)? Do you view Ruppert as a modern-day Nostradamus?

CS: It wasn't so much a conscious decision as much as an evolution. We had met Michael to discuss one thing and stumbled upon something entirely different. We were primarily following an instinct to see where it would lead. I had personally planned to stop making documentaries for a while—but once we did the first shoot and started getting into the material, it felt like it was something worth pursuing.

Tribeca: I really liked Ruppert's list of things to do in anticipation of the collapse-especially the part about stockpiling gold and buying seeds, which is so obvious, but so smart. (I am not as convinced about the peeing on the lawn part. Yet.)

CS: I haven't bought seeds or started peeing on my lawn either.

Tribeca: Do you have a landline?

CS: Yes—but I had it before we started started working on this project.
 




 



Tribeca: Do you believe the sharp rise in population—in conjunction with the current state of the global economy—is an indicator of an imminent collapse of civilization? What do you want audiences to take away from the film?

CS: I don't think anyone really knows anything for sure. There are plenty of people out there who believe we are on the precipice of a very big change, while there are many who don't, and there are probably many more that don't think about these things at all. I think ultimately the film is very thought-provoking, regardless of where you fall in terms of the ideas Michael presents. What was most encouraging about the Toronto Film Festival screenings was that we found people really liked the film regardless if they believed in all, some or none of what Michael had to say—which is what we were after. We wanted the film to stand on its own as an intriguing character study instead of a film that was entirely based on the validity of Michael's theory.

Tribeca: Collapse is making its way to theatres in record time for a film not having a distributor before its festival premiere. How did things happen so quickly?

CS: The reaction at Toronto was so strong that when we started looking into distribution with John Sloss, our rep for the film, we tried to look into options to get the film out as quickly as possible. We had a few offers to release the film early next year—but John was able to put together a theatrical deal with David Shultz from Vitagraph Films supported by VOD from his company FILM BUFF. So by early December the film will be in a number of theaters in major cities and in 45 million homes through VOD.

Tribeca: Collapse represents a departure for you regarding your filmmaking style. What style do you prefer, or do you like changing things up?

CS: I've always been excited to try new things and work on diverse projects. My first film was a narrative film, and I never set out to make documentaries, but after meeting Mark Borchardt from American Movie in 1995 it seemed exciting to do one as it was something different. From there I've really just followed my instincts on what seems most interesting to me at the time, and I hope that curiosity and interest comes through in the films. So generally I'm happy to try anything as long as it has that energy.

Tribeca: In 2007, you made The Pool, a narrative feature. Do you have any plans to do another one?

CS: I was planning to stop working on documentaries after The Yes Men. I had worked on three in a row so was excited to start working in narrative again. When we met up with Michael earlier this year, it was part of the research we were doing for the next narrative film. Obviously that didn't go according to plan. We're just now getting back to the many projects we were working on when we met up with Michael.

Tribeca: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

CS: You really have to be aware of how things have changed in terms of distribution. When I started out, there was a lot of energy behind funding and making films independently and taking them to festivals to get distribution. The amount of buyers and appetite for acquisition has really evaporated in the past few years—so in my opinion you're much better off looking for ways to partner with an entity that has distribution in place, if you can.

There still are films that break through and get discovered, but that seems less and less frequent. Ultimately, if you have an idea that you wholeheartedly believe in—that you feel you have to make—then you should do it, as ultimately no one knows what's in your head. However, when you're considering projects, try to take a step back and think if the film you are wanting to make would be something that would actually get you out to a theater and that you would choose to see over other films. There are so many films being released that you really have to make something that is distinctive. It doesn't work to just make a 'good' movie—you have to make a good movie that people will be compelled to put on the list of films they have to see.

Tribeca: Aside from Collapse, what's the best movie you've seen this year?

CS: Gran Torino and The Cove.

Tribeca: It's just after Halloween. Do you celebrate each year by revisiting Mark Borchardt's Coven?

CS: This year we watched a new film Mark starred in called Modus Operandi.
 



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