"Dark Was The Night" and the Power of Disinformation
I'd like to mention that Dark Was The Night will be screening at the Arivaca Film Exhibition this year. I think this may be my favorite year to join up with Bart Santello as we dive into the indie scene in southern Arizona. This year the exhibition is introducing a musical element to the schedule which will finish the festival at La Gitana, the bar at the edge of the universe.
This post is going to be the reason why I made the film and what I did in order to get to DWTN. First, the film isn't about a monster but the monster is definitely the talking point behind it. The film is about disinformation.
I started writing about this false legend named the Baboquivari Monster right after the 2016 presidential election. You can trace my writings, named the "Baboquivari Monster Interviews" in the Connection publication. I was fascinated on how disinformation, falsehoods and blatant conspiracy theories took the center stage during the election. I'm not going to beat around the bush, I know that stage is sponsored and fueled by the current administration. It personally makes me sick to think we have people with zero political experience running the largest political platform on lies and dodgy motives. That show luckily is sinking fast, as is the dignity and honor in the office once held by the greatest minds this world had to offer. So as an artist I wanted to play on this idea of disinformation. I wanted to actually create this thing we all infamously call "fake news". My fake news was the Baboquivari Monster interviews.
I first wrote and directed a film about a monster in 2014, but the producer for the film took my footage and stonewalled me out of the project. I later found out he wanted to make it his own since I used his camera. It was all petty local filmmaker bullshit and if someone is that desperate to steal my ideas and footage, so be it. Let them have it. Whatever happen to that producer and film? The real answer is who cares. Come 2016, summertime, I got my creative juices flowing and I wanted to spark up another monster film. This would be my second take on a horror film. But I wanted more than just a monster movie. I wanted it to have meaning. My haunt happens to be Arivaca, Arizona. So during the summer months when I'm not teaching I drove out to the high grasslands to do writing retreats. While I whistle down the Arivaca Road, the twenty-five mile snake that curved into high hills and mesquite trees, I wondered how many people crossed in that desert and how many immigrants made it to the promised land. Arivaca was in the center of an immigration conflict. It still is. The town sits about ten miles north of Mexico. You have to go through border checkpoints on the way out. Eva Lewis, an indie filmmaker and Arivaca resident, was creating her film on the harassment at the checkpoints and she needed my assistance in editing and making some graphics. With that project and my summer retreats I came up with the idea of a monster that roamed the countryside, eating whatever it can, maybe kidnapping a few people, maybe something alien or demonic. I started jotting these ideas down and before long I was in contact with the people at the Connection, Arivaca's local publication. From 2016 through 2018 I published about seven articles of stories of this large, seven foot monster. I always changed the name of the "interviewee" and had specific details that described the monster. My intention was to make a buzz about a monster that didn't exist.
Where did I get "Baboquivari Monster" from? I got it from Baboquivari Peak, the sacred mountain to the O'odham people who live nearby. They believe that the mountain is the naval of the Earth. I thought it was kind of cool. I thought that maybe since we're living in strange political and social times, maybe a monster was born from the ashes of our daily stresses? Maybe this monster was there to take on the physical form of lies and hatred? I dunno. But one thing was certain, the monster legend was catching on...
Actually not really. I went back in early 2018 to see if any of the locals had read the articles and only one person said they vaguely remembered them and I'm sure they were telling me that just to be nice. It was fine. But I still didn't have any film written yet. Come fall, a month before Halloween and my creative juiced started flowing again.
In a day and a night I wrote DWTN. It's a short, about ten pages or so. Immediately I contacted AJ Bailey, a local actor, and asked him to read for one of the main parts. Within an hour he was on board. The following day I had Ezra Milla (an indie filmmaker) and Bart Santello (yes, the host of the Arivaca Film Exhibition) to do assistance and sound. Within a week we had Sara Jackson playing opposite to AJ.
But keep in mind, there are a few things going on in the film. First I didn't want any jump scares. I think it's too cheap to scare people that way and nobody likes it when it's done to them. I wanted to put a psychological roller-coaster ride in front of them, waiting for the eminent danger that never came. This is the first artifact of disinformation, fear. Just constant fear. Everything is the ordinary, or is it? It's just fear playing in the background. No jump scares, no bloody massacre, no shootout, just old fashion fear.
The second artifact of disinformation is evidence. I happen to get the talented Guy Atchley to do a radio broadcast at the beginning and end of the film. It happens to be media. The question is the broadcast itself "fake news"? It happens to start off the film with AJ's character trekking through the desert with his trusty partner and a handful of camera gear after listening to the radio while reading my own Baboquivari Monster interview articles. We fade into the open Arivaca desert. The only thing the team finds is a chicken foot in a bed of bloody feathers. They return to the car to find out inconveniently their battery is dead. What spooks AJ's character are the reoccurring sounds that come from the desert. We're introduced to the trucker who may or may not be friendly, but like any normal person would do, is to offer the stranded characters assistance. These are all ordinary situations that are heightened by doubt, which is boiled in spooky music, great sound design and the air of the unknown.
The last artifact is the monster. Is there actually a monster? What do you see at the final frames of the film? Did you really see a monster and is it even real? The monster symbolically represents disinformation itself. The countless political statements streaming across our nation, our world, even into the emptiness of space are all a jumble of lies, distractions and propaganda. Notice how we never really solve the question if the monster is real. I left it open to doubt all the viewers who see DTWN. I'm sure there will be a sequel down the line. For now I'm excited for what I've made so far.
So we live in a world of disinformation. This concept impacts our entire social order to it's core. When we shout "fake news" to facts that don't align with our beliefs, it allows us to doubt that truth, the truth being media. So the big question is do we believe in what we want to believe and disregard what we don't want? Are we now living in a dog-eat-dog world where we no longer need to listen to the experts because we've fabricated our own? With all our progress do we now blindly follow the things that work to only our favor? You can see it when you turn on the news and see a divided nation and a divided world. To prove my point for this whole film: the hardest pill to swallow is the truth. To me that's the real monster we'll never see. Even if I told you this was an entire fabrication, writing the articles, showing the monster, filming the filmmakers in fear, chances are you still would create a reasonable doubt that some of it or all of it is real. This is the power of disinformation.
It's been awhile since I've written or done anything with the camera outside of street photography and some gigs, so I consider DTWN my latest film I've completed. I'm still making film but I'm putting it aside to work on my writing. I tribute DWTN to the people of Arivaca, Arizona because the whole town is now kind of part of my artistic experiment. I hope you can make it to the exhibition, which is happening March 1st and 2nd. Check out this link for more info. Thank you for reading and have a good evening.
Oh and PS, why "Dark Was The Night"? It's named after the song by Blind Willie Johnson, a song that's floating out of our solar system into interstellar space. It's actually riding on the golden record on both of the Voyager probes. Voyager was probably the most important mission we were successful at regarding our gas giants and solar system. But do you know what got the big headlines? A dumb golden LP. Talk about disinformation. If you hear closely, you might here the song in the film.