Magazine article Filmmaker

Paranoid State of Mind

Magazine article Filmmaker

Paranoid State of Mind

Article excerpt

"What is Zenith?" was the question posed on About Top Secret and other conspiracy-related websites last spring. Paranoid-minded posters jumped in and followed a breadcrumb trail of online clues relating to everything from the Bavarian Illuminati and fluoridated drinking water to biochemistry and the New World Order. They clicked through a maze of 50 other websites (priestoftruth.com, endoftheworldcountdown.us, stopzenith.com), trolled search engines, and finally came across a stash of "illegal" tapes posted on YouTube by one Ed Crowley, whose own site dated back to 2008 and seemed to be filled with standard-issue anti-Obama birther invective.

So far so normal in the Glenn Beck Nation. But those who followed the conspiracy just a bit further landed not on the site of a Unabomber progency but to a movie. And not a Zeitgeist-y anti-Fed screed either; Zenith, directed by "Anonymous," is a fiction feature and transmedia project that uses the paranoid impulse in American politics as subject matter, marketing strategy and, finally, audience engagement tool.

If this all sounds quite bleeding-edge, then you might be surprised to know that Zenith has been in the works for almost a decade, according to its director - oops, I mean "project supervisor" - Vladan Nikolic, a media professor at New York's New School. "I actually wrote the script for Zenith eight years ago," he says in his Greenwich Village office. "I thought of this concept of tapes within a film and releasing the tapes first to engage the audience. But at that time, there was no Facebook and all these other things that make me feel really old sometimes [laughs]."

Set in the decaying New York City of 2044, Zenith stars Peter Scanavino as Jack, a pill-pushing ex-neurosurgeon who deals downers to those wishing to feel something real in a world where happiness is assured by genetic engineering. He has also inherited the obsession of his father (portrayed in the tapes and in flashback by Jason Robards III) to expose the conspiracy causing this state of affairs. As the film unspools, through dreamy voiceover and blasted-out industrial landscapes that are futuristic by inflection, Jack's mission becomes our own. The online conspiracy-buzz may have gotten us into the theater, but we leave eager to remix the taped material at home and create our own interpretations of the film's open-ended conclusion.

Stresses Nikolic, though, "The film can stand on its own. I don't want people to see the ending and think, 'Now I have to go online.' But for viewers who discover the film and then the transmedia, [the remixing] can be really interesting because it opens up different avenues [relating to] what they have seen. …

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