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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Filmmaker explores relationship of science, religion in ‘Man Made Men'”

    Tom Latchford as Shem in “”Man Made Men,”” which is making its U.S. debut April 2 at 8 p.m. at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St., as part of the 2011 Arizona International Film Festival.

    Alex Fegan decided to tackle the big questions in religion and science in his first feature film, “”Man Made Men.””

    “”One day, I just said, ‘You know what, I’m going to make this film. If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it,'”” said Fegan, who worked as a corporate lawyer in Dublin, Ireland, for four years.

    In “”Man Made Men,”” Irish scientist Benjamin Ezekiel is attempting to create life from inorganic material in an effort to prove that God does not exist.

    I talked with Fegan over the phone after he returned from a tour of the UA’s Center for Creative Photography on Friday. He had just flown in from Ireland to appear at the screening of “”Man Made Men,”” which makes its U.S. debut at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St., tonight at 8 as part of the 2011 Arizona International Film Festival.

    Can you briefly describe the film?

    It’s about an Irish scientist, Benjamin Ezekiel, who tries to make life forms from lifeless materials, and then watch them grow and evolve inside a sealed chamber in his lab. Meanwhile, an old reclusive man hears about the experiment and he believes it will cause the end of the world. So he sends three rabbis to Ireland to try and stop the experiment. Then the rabbis realize that Benjamin is being protected by powerful forces who want to see the experiment completed.

    Where did the idea for this film come from?

    It was inspired by two American scientists, one was called Stanley Miller, who in 1953 tried to make life from lifeless materials. He failed. But in May 2010, a scientist called Craig Venter (founder, chairman and president of the J. Craig Venter Institute), he actually claimed that he was the first scientist to make life from lifeless materials. So I was looking at these guys and for some reason, I had this idea that the day that man makes life, shortly afterwards it would lead to the end of life for man. So there would be something cyclical about the idea that when man makes life, it would result in the end of life. It’s kind of like the final step in our evolution. It would be almost when we become God, that’s it. It would lead to the end.

    Is the film comical or serious?

    It’s serious. The film looks at the philosophical consequences of man playing God. The idea was that we’re moving forward technologically, but sometimes we don’t think about what it actually means when achieve certain things, such as the creation of a synthetic genome or the creation of a synthetic organism. What does that actually mean for us? What does that say about us as humans? Who made us? Could they be a god or are they just a more advanced human doing something similar to what we’re doing? So it’s a serious film, I suppose. There are some funny bits, though. (Laughs).

    How did you decide on this concept to be your first feature film?

    It all started a good few years ago. I was in a biology class in secondary school, which would be the Irish equivalent of high school, and I was reading one of those blue boxes in a science book. This one in particular was talking about the scientist Stanley Miller. So I just starting about it over and over again. Then years later, I went off and did all sorts of other things: I qualified as a lawyer and worked as a corporate lawyer in Dublin. Then one day, I just said, “”You know what, I’m going to make this film. If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.”” So I gathered a very, very small crew — we only had two people. Most of the actors were friends, and we just started filming.

    We didn’t know where it was going. We were all filming during the weekends because most of us were working full-time in other jobs when we started. It was made over a month of Sundays.

    How long did it take to complete this?

    It took about three years, from when I started writing the script to when we finished editing, mainly because we were working full-time and there’s also stop-motion animation in it as well, which takes a lot of time.

    How does the stop-motion animation fit into the film?

    The scientist makes these creatures in his own image inside this chamber so we had to figure out a way to show these creatures. So we came up with the idea of making wire-frame models and a platelet. These creatures would be at four inches tall. They’re all stop-motion animation models that I made myself in my garage over a period of six months.

    I saw that you had an incredibly low budget for “”Man Made Men.””

    Yeah. The entire budget that we spent on it was about 4,000 Euro (about US$5,700).

    What were some of the biggest hurdles in making this film?

    I think the biggest challenge that we had was just deciding to start. Then once that happened, I think things started to fall into place. People started getting on board and wanting to help out. We managed to get a big choir to do the soundtrack with us, and they worked for nothing. All the cast helped us out and gave their time up for the cause. Probably the biggest hurdle other than just getting started was filming inside certain locations. We filmed inside Ireland’s main court building, the Four Courts in Dublin, and not even big films can film in there. But with my legal background, I was able to persuade them to let us film in there for a day. So we shot a court scene inside that building. (Laughs). It’s a bit of a challenge.

    Also, having never worked with actors before, it’s always a challenge to figure out the best way to approach different scenes, because a lot of these actors hadn’t acted. So I think we were all protected by the cloak of ignorance in some respects. Had we known what we were getting ourselves into, we probably never would have started. The luckiest thing to happen was that, really, none of us had an idea how we were doing. (Laughs). So we got on with what we were doing.

    Earlier you said that you would make this film now or it would never be made.

    As you get older, you start to get more and more responsibilities. When we started, none of us were married yet, none of us had kids yet. So I was thinking that, if we wait a couple of years, then we’ll have mortgages and responsibilities and all those things that go with that that will stop you from taking the risk of putting in a lot of time into a project which nothing may come out of this. So that’s why we just said, “”Either do it now or forever perhaps live in regret of not doing something you thought would be quite good.””

    How people have reacted to the scientific and the religious elements in “”Man Made Men””?

    The idea was to look at that conflict between conflict between science and religion, but then to see that actually the two of them are more intertwined and interrelated than most people realize. In Ireland, the general reaction, I would say, has been one of real interest. When we started I was thinking that it would be quite controversial, because the scientist, in his aim to make life from lifeless materials, he’s trying also to prove that God doesn’t exist. But people just seem to go, “”Oh, that’s interesting.”” They look at us not necessarily as an argument that’s being put forward, but just as a narrative that is taken place in the story. So it’s more of interest than controversy or outrage.

    From the films I’ve seen that deal with science fiction and religion, it seems they emphasize the science fiction in order to not court as much controversy.

    I don’t mind courting controversy at all as long as I do my research beforehand and have an idea of what I’m talking about. I don’t like to make stuff up. Obviously, we have religious themes running through “”Man Made Men,”” but we don’t make any judgments either way. I think it’s left up to the viewer at the end to decide whether or not there really is a God, and that’s quite subjective. But we try to be as objective as possible. You can have a scientist who will say there is no God, but how can you ever prove it? You push and push and push us, and then in the end you realize that there are no answers. But in order to get to that conclusion, you really have to push us and I think that’s quite interesting.

    What’s next for you?

    I have another thriller which we’re going to shoot in Cambridge (in the United Kingdom) in September. It’s a bit more fast-paced than “”Man Made Men.”” We’re going to film it in Cambridge because with “”Man Made Men”” being shot in Ireland, I think a lot of people look at Irish actors and don’t take them seriously. They kind of think, “”God, I think those guys should be off having a pint somewhere.”” Whereas when you think of English actors, you can put them in a more serious context and people take them actually more seriously.

    Do you have any advice for other aspiring filmmakers?

    Yeah. Just do it, don’t think about it. Don’t listen to naysayers because all of the technology is available now. If you have a story that you want to tell, it’s very, very straightforward to get it done. The editing equipment is readily available. Everything’s so affordable, so there are no excuses anymore. It’s just about persevering and then getting it out and not to worry too much.


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