Libera Folio and Tranparent Esperanto interview the filmmakers of CONLANG
This interview first appeared in Esperanto on the LIBERA FOLIO website and in English on the TRANPARENT ESPERANTO website.
What's the film about?
CONLANG tells the story of Carl Tedesco, a 26 year-old unemployed conlang enthusiast who holds constructed language club meetings in the basement of his grandmother’s house. Even though Carl has no trouble creating a new language, he has a hard time finding the right words to express his feelings to Libby, his secret crush.
One day, Carl has a chance of becoming president of the Constructed Language Society, a club of people joined by their passion for invented languages. Just as they are about to give him the Presidential pin, Carl is challenged to the Presidency by his arch nemesis – Kip, who intends on making Esperanto the official language of the club. Through a series of grueling linguistical challenges Carl must win to be able to have a place to share his own invented language, USCANIV, and ultimately win Libby’s affection.
Who had the idea to make a film about constructed languages and why?
Baldvin Kari, the screenwriter, learned about the world of constructed languages through Kari Emil Helgason, the creator of USCANIV. Fascinated by the subculture of conlangers and the idea of trying to express your feelings to the one you love in an invented language, Baldvin wrote the screenplay while pursuing his masters in Film at Columbia University. It was there that we met. I fell in love with the unique world Baldvin created in CONLANG, and pitched my vision for the film to him. With Baldvin on board as Producer, the film was shot on location in New Jersey and premiered in February of 2010 at the Boston Sci Fi Film Festival garnering Honorable Mention. Since then, it has shown at numerous film festival and conferences across the nation and recently won Best Narrative Short Film at the Sidewalk Moving Image Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.
What kind of role does Esperanto play in the film?
Every story needs an antagonist to oppose the protagonist and their struggle provides the drama. In researching for the movie and talking to dedicated conlangers, Baldvin learned that in some conlanging circles of the past, there had been a certain conflict between two divisions of conlangers, those who created “artlangs” and those who preferred “auxlangs”. Since Carl’s conlang Uscaniv is clearly an artlang it seemed appropriate for his rival to be the proponent of an auxiliary language. And furthermore, since Carl’s Uscaniv is in a certain sense a quite extreme example of an artlang, with an entire conworld created around it with a rich history and a family of related languages, we wanted to push the notion of auxiliary languages to its extreme as well. So in the case of CONLANG, the antagonist takes the form of an Esperantist, Kip Lazar. But while Kip claims to be an Esperantist, in reality he has very extreme and misguided notions about the language and it becomes clear that he doesn’t want it to be auxiliary at all, but to actually replace all other languages, even natural languages! So he is an “auxlang extremist”, with Esperanto as his language of choice, who has taken the philosophy of Esperanto as a universal second language and turned it on its head.
Why should Esperanto speakers support it?
Even though in CONLANG the villain is a self-proclaimed Esperantist and a poor representation of the true Esperanto philosophy of peace and understanding, it is nevertheless a fun and interesting comedy about conlangs, and those are few and far between. It was always our aim to make a movie from the perspective of and with the support of the real conlanging community, and not to come off as outsiders poking fun at other people’s interests. The humor had to come from a genuine understanding of conlanging and then pushing the boundaries of that reality to a certain heightened reality for comedic effect. And so far we have enjoyed an incredible amount of support from conlangers all around the world, and we hope that means we did something right. And now that we have a version of the movie with Esperanto subtitles, we hope to be able share our unique and quirky story with a universal audience.
Is the film already ready? If yes, why does it now need support and not when it was being made?
Yes, the film was funded by the director and through donations from friends and family. However, because the budget was very small, we were not able to get the all the distribution rights to the music and are unable to show the film outside of film festival screenings. In addition, the union actors worked under a special agreement that allows us to show the film only at film festivals. I would need to pay their deferred rates before officially distributing the film. In addition, we need to hire a Graphic Designer to do the poster and DVD cover and then pay all the fees to actually make the DVD. It really adds up!
What is Kickstarter.com?
Kickstarter is a unique way to fund creative projects. “Kickstarter is powered by a unique all-or-nothing funding method where projects must be fully-funded or no money changes hands.” The benefits of this is three-fold.
1. It is less risk for everyone. Meaning because we need $2800, if we only raise $2000 then we won’t go through with getting the distribution rights and paying for all the DVD duplication expenses because we won’t have enough money to do it all so it really is all-or-nothing!
2. It allows me to see if there is indeed enough interest in the film to make sure it is distributed.
3. It motivates people to help spread the word if they really do want the project to come to life!