Last night Gogol Bordello Non-Stop, a documentary about the legendary New York band under the leadership of Eugene Hutz, premiered at New York City’s Cinema Village.
Directed by Colombian born Margarita Jimeno, the film tells the story of a Ukrainian immigrant whose family comes to the States with $400, some samovars and Russian watches.
Fast forward a decade later and Eugene is putting together a band of musicians and dancers, and calling it Gogol Bordello. In the film Hutz tells the story of one music critic saying of Gogol Bordello performance: “The atmosphere at the concerts was almost perverse and obscene, but there was some kind of aesthetic to it.”
The film consists of footage from the Bulgarian Bar when it was still on Canal Street, early performances in New York bars and cultural clubs, interviews with major band members Oren Kaplan, Sergey Ryabtsev, Jurij Lemeshev and most importantly Eugene Hutz.
To the surprise of many, Jimeno avoided episodes of Huts’ career that led to international stardom and acceptance such as his performance with Madonna during her Earth Day concert and the role in her film Filth and Wisdom. Eugene’s portrayal of Alex in Everything Illuminated is touched upon only briefly.
During Q&A following the premier, Darya Zhuk, the film’s producer, explained that the filmmaker wanted to tap into the source of Hutz’ creativity and channel the raw energy of Gogol Bordello without focusing on their commercial success and acceptance.
At the end of the film Hutz says: “I already made it when I was 13 years old, because I started doing what I loved.”
The director met with me before the premiere to talk about working on the film.
Alexandra Lerman: Do you choose your projects or do they choose you? How was the idea to make “Gogol Bordello non stop” born?
Margarita Jimeno: In this case the project chose me. I had no plans on making a documentary film. It was very spontaneous how I started filming Gogol Bordello, until one day when I opened a drawer full of Gogol Bordello/Eugene Hütz footage tapes I realized I could make a film with all that footage, so I became serious about it.
I originally wanted to only film Eugene and his chaotic fun parties… That was summer 2001.
AL: Do you remember how you first heard the music of Gogol Bordello? Did you first see Hutz at the Bolgarian bar or did you hear a recording of the band?
MJ: This one is a tricky question.
I remember the first time I saw the name Gogol Bordello, I found it on a postcard at Uncle Vanya’s Restaurant on 54th street. I was in my Eastern European phase, and this restaurant called my name one day walking by.
I went in and immediately made a mental note to put it in my list of places to visit in that area. I still have the postcard, with the address of Uncle Vanya written on the back.
I already knew Eugene as a DJ, but I was not connecting the two yet.
I became a regular at the Dj Hütz’s gigs, and was asking Eugene the names of the tracks he was playing, and he would say, “This is all my band’s music.” Then one day after asking again and again about what he was playing, he gave me his Gogol Bordello CD, Voi – la intruder, and proudly said, “Check this out!”
So I heard Gogol Bordello first either at Hütz’s DJ nights, or in my living room on South 11 street in Williamsburg very very late at night.
AL: Do you think it’s possible to simply listen to Gogol Bordello or is it important to see the show, because the experience is so theatrical?
MJ: Yes, the show is a must. The theatrical aspect is one of my fascinations with Gogol Bordello. I wish they would do more of that now, I think this aspect has toned down quite a lot since they started doing 200+ shows a year.
AL: How was it to work with Eugene? Did you learn anything from him? What was the hardest moment in this film’s creation?
MJ: I had a great time!
Once I realized I was in Eugene’s time zone and space, and I respected it, everything was fine. Eugene is very open to ideas that resonate with him, so I would throw an idea of what I wanted to shoot if he was into it, it would happen, if not he would just say no, or I would have to make a point why, and then it was done.
My approach with the band was very persistent on shooting on a regular basis, but not too demanding, because they were busy becoming a professional band, and there are times when you just want to be left alone while you are working.
People tend to demand too much of musicians, actors, and such personas, and forget that they are working, and might not be in the mind frame of being filmed or interviewed.
The hardest thing was closing the deals with all the music labels!
AL: Do you think Eugene changed during the years he was the subject of the film? If so how? Im wondering if his sucess changed his relationship to music and his work or was it because he always had strong drive and work ethics that he had commercial success.
MJ: Everyone changes, this is the nature of human kind.
I’m not sure if it is because of the music industry necessarily, that just happens to be part of what he does, but not what defines him. I have to say I haven’t been filming them since 2006, and they travel a lot, but when I do see Eugene, I see the same spark, and joy of making people go ape shit.
He is a very good host, and knows what amounts of different sounds his recipe must have for people to unleash their inner beasts.
AL: What do you think Eugene’s contributions to the New York music scene are? To music in general?
MJ: In New York he definitely injected a vision and pure wild anarchy by mixing music and theater together. People, and I mean lots of people, would travel 1 hour and to far away venues in Brighton beach to pogo dance with Gogol Bordello, it was an experience beyond music.
The influence on music in general is hard to tell right now. Perhaps it would be easy in a few more years to see the evolution and impact… but definitely for sure it shook up the rock scene with Gypsy Punk gymnastics.
AL: As a first time filmmaker what can you say about filmmaking in the digital age? What was your filming, editing, festival process?
MJ: I love the speed of my digital process but I sometimes get disappointed with the marketing speedy strategy to get new upgraded digital gadgets out. It is great to see science and technology advance, but when it comes to how to integrate this advances in a more respectful consumer fashion I feel like I’m dealing with a big messy child.
So my advice is not to buy any first generation gadgets, because a couple months afterwards there will be an improved gadget that even waters your plants while you are away in a film festival.
AL: Was Eugene part of the editing process? If so what was his contribution?
Yes, his input was a Gogol Bordello historical fact check, and like any good writer he gave his good tips and ideas, and contributed for example giving a call to his father to mail me the Ukranian footage shot in 1988.
AL: How do you think you will chose your projects in the future? Do you think they will revolve around music, strong characters or particular ideas? Can you share anything about your next film?
MJ: Yes, right now all the projects I have involve music. I’m in the slow process of writing a fiction script, Feminine Technical Difficulties, which incorporates the best of tragic comedy with a strong music element a la Tony Gatlif.
GOGOL BORDELLO NON-STOP
Directed and edited by Margarita Jimeno; director of photography, Ms. Jimeno; produced by Ms. Jimeno and Darya Zhuk; released by Lorber Films. At Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes.