I had a career in broadcasting many years ago actually working in television news. I've been working in the industry for about 20 years I guess. From there I veered into post-production of special effects and then became a film maker. That was in Canada in Vancouver. When I made the jump to film making and I was at the time doing a lot of experimental stuff, I actually met up with Skinny Puppy at that point and started working with them I think it was in 1990. That relationship goes back a long ways.
What all went into making this DVD?
The main body of it obviously is the live show and there's a lot of pre-production involved in that. We decided to shoot in Canada because the production company and a lot of the resources that I had that were available were based in Canada. And also traditionally the band's had really good shows there and Toronto especially has always been a great place for Skinny Puppy to play. We figured that with all those things going for us, it would be the place to shoot. I assembled a team out of Toronto and we shot the Montreal show which was before Toronto. We didn't have as many camera people as that was more of a sort of getting the feel for it. We had several roving cameras and then in Toronto we brought the high definition cameras, the crane, and got a full on production with seven cameras. There's a whole other element to the DVD as well which is the special features bit. The two main elements of that are there's a documentary called Information Warfare which I produced and directed and then we assembled a bunch of the older elements of previous Skinny Puppy tours. Also Dwayne, the member of Skinny Puppy who passed away, he had shot and actually all the guys had tossed this camera around and shot the very first European tour. Ogre actually, I gave the footage to him and he edited that into Eurotrauma, which is the half an hour documentary I guess if you want to call it that, retrospective of their European tour which is a great piece. The political documentary that I made, Information Warfare, was just basically I designed that to support the theme of the record and of the DVD which is obviously what the title is about. I do a lot of documentaries so I work outside of the band. I just went ahead and shot that like a normal documentary although it was a bit skeleton. I was basically going out with the camera and interviewing people by myself.
That was one of the main things I wanted to talk to you about. When I found out you had done that, I thought with this war being as fucked up as it is, it's nice to see a musician taking interest in that. What led you to do a documentary about Iraq?
Outside of Skinny Puppy, I do lot of documentary film work and I've shot all over the world. I've shot in the ghettos of Africa. I've been in many different situations in that line of work. Really the thing that prompted me for that, originally the concept of the DVD was a bit different. We were going to be doing a history of anatomy and the evolution of violence in culture and then I was going to tie that in to what's currently going on in the U.S. That just didn't pan out because I was looking at hooking up with different anatomical museums around the world and I had this cool concept. I just got a lot of resistance actually. The first people that I approached were the College of Physicians in Philadelphia who run the MŁtter Museum which is probably one of the best anatomy museums in the world. They not only said no but they said they found the whole concept disturbing which is funny because they come from a long history of criminals and grave robbers basically. What happened was we were on tour during the election and of course we're somewhat politically motivated so we had our ears to the ground and I was talking to a lot of young Skinny Puppy fans and I was kind of shocked to find that there was quite a few of them that were Bush supporters. I can remember several occasions after shows talking to fans and I'd always ask people who they were voting for which on some level was none of my business and I can remember on several occasions taking a good chunk of time before the bus left and trying to give somebody a quick education on what their government's been up to. It was kind of shocking and there are a lot of other Americans that are well informed and forward thinking and there's also a lot that just don't have any idea of what's going on. Watching CNN and taking everything at face value and of course Bush won the election which was not a surprise for me. I can't remember, I think we were in somewhere in upstate New York or something when that happened. That was just it. I thought what I need to do is make an informational piece that your average Skinny Puppy fan or a person can sit down and look at and just give them a different point of view.
Right. The other side that you don't get to hear very often because CNN won't broadcast that.
Right. Like I said, I have a fair amount of experience in that field but actually going out and obtaining interviews for this purpose was not easy. A lot of people did decline. We didn't get doors slammed in our faces. I basically tried to not tell people what it was for and just told them that I was doing a documentary and approached it from that level. For some instances, Steve Robinson from the Gulf War Veterans Association, I didn't really tell him what was going on until I met him and then I said "well, I actually am from this band Skinny Puppy and we're doing this thing." He's like "oh, that's great! I love that." He was really excited about the idea of an alternative way to get information out because in his words, he said that people just are not finding out what's going on with veterans. They are not finding out what Gulf War Syndrome is really about and the whole history of it and depleted uranium. He had actually done something with the band Anthrax.
Yeah, about the anthrax vaccines that are so dangerous.
Right. They're not illegal but if you're a troop now you don't have to take that vaccine whereas in the Gulf War you had to. It was mandatory.
Driving around I always see these support the troops magnets on people's cars and sometimes I wonder just how far they go to actually do that or if to them that's just some kind of slogan. For example, are they supporting these troops when they come back maimed and fucked up in the head? Are they spreading the word about depleted uranium or are they visiting the websites to see what they can do about these guys in the hospitals? How far are they going to support the troops?
Yeah, actually Steve Robinson made that point in the documentary. He said that if you want to support the troops then help them when they come home but you're right. The depleted uranium thing I think was one of the biggest surprises for me because it's very important to understand what that topic is all about. There is a lot of misinformation about it as well.
Oh boy, is there ever. Like "oh that stuff doesn't have any long term health effects." Now, I went to college and I studied chemistry and I studied biology. How can something that is radioactive not have long term health effects?
Right, but it's a risky topic because the thing is, there is also a lot of misinformation on the left as well. Because you're right. Obviously you'd have to be blind not to question that. The Department of Defense, their official stance on that is that you can eat it. Now here the thing is, you probably can. The thing about DU that is tricky is that first of all, there's tons of natural uranium in the atmosphere and we're breathing it all the time. The thing with DU that is important to understand is that in its state when it's just painted on a shell or whatever, it's not really dangerous because it's very low level radiation but once it explodes and it becomes pyrophoric, it turns into an oxide. Then the particles are so minute that they can get lodged in the deep cells of your lungs and the dust from those particles is something that hangs around and get blown up and can get respirated by people in the future and so on and so forth. Thatís the real dangerous aspect of it and thatís where all the damage is done. The actual DU itself when itís sitting in a piece of armor or in a tank is really not so dangerous.
Thatís not the only problem with it. Apparently if it were just depleted uranium by itself, it wouldnít be that bad but apparently there are some trace elements of other radioactive elements such as Americium and Plutonium and some other stuff. With that stuff mixed in, that is actually what makes it dangerous or far more dangerous than if it just was the depleted uranium by itself.
Right, but in terms of DU itself, when it is exploded, that dust in terms of the battlefield use of it is the really dangerous element. The studies that Iíve been reading that are still ongoing and are really just starting to be unraveled right now, that that particle stuff that gets lodged in the lungs can do really deep tissue damage and then there are kids running around playing on tanks and whatnot. People that are inadvertently in the battle zones shake that dust loose and itís something like asbestos. When itís sitting still itís not dangerous but as soon as you shake it up, itís obviously really dangerous.
Something else that I found interesting about it is that it goes straight to your DNA and starts restructuring it a little and it also seems to go right to your reproductive organs as well.
That was interesting to me because I studied about that stuff in college.
The thing that is interesting most about that topic is who doesnít know about it. In one of the interviews that I did with a guy who was a Special Forces combat surgeon, his job was basically to get dropped in places. The door would open in the plane, heíd jump out, and heíd go to some conflict somewhere and was a field surgeon. Heís now a surgeon at a major hospital in Washington and he didnít even know about it. He really didnít know anything about it and was not told anything about it. Thatís something that was a recurring story when I interviewed people that were in battlefield situations.
Yeah, that they just werenít told about things. I am ex-military myself. My parents are ex-military as well and thatís pretty damn creepy.
What did you do in the military?
I was in the Air Force and I was in Maintenance Administration. Fortunately I got out before the first Gulf War but my squadron did get sent over there. I considered myself very fortunate that I missed out on that.
Yeah, I come from a long line of Air Force too, Canadian Air Force but thatís my family background. Myself, I never joined the military.
I did it for four years and it was cool. I remember getting a lot of vaccinations and I would ask what is that stuff and what does it do. They would actually get pissed at you for asking questions. I was like itís my body and Iíll be in it for a long time after Iím out of the military.
Yeah, thatís all very strange to me. Are you signing me up to be a guinea pig or something like that?
Thatís basically how the U.S. military has been for a long, long time. I remember reading blurbs in the paper where they were looking for the crew on this one naval ship. They and their families were owed money because the military sprayed them with chemicals to see how it would affect them and weird shit like that. Why in the hell would you do that? You got to interview Ramsey Clarke for this DVD. How did you manage to get a hold of him?
Well, we called his wife actually because thatís his point of contact. He was actually not hard to get a hold of at all. Itís just hard to pin him down. He in theory agreed to an interview and that was something that was touch and go literally to the last minute. I knew he was in New York and he was on his way to Jordan and I think I had just finished up with Steve Robinson. I just drove up to New York and stayed in a hotel room for about three days and waited for him to call me. Finally we got on the phone and he was literally moving his office out and he gave me 45 minutes or so. It was great. Heís an amazingly serene, thoughtful man. His track record is amazing. His life is amazing. He had to put in a hearing aid to talk to me. Heís old. The guy is in his seventies. Heís 73 or 74. Iím sure heís done a million interviews and I told him what we were doing and essentially it was one of those things where I knew exactly what he was going to say from already having seen him appearing in so many documentaries. It was a matter of just letting him know what I wanted to talk about and then letting him talk.
You also had an Iraqi film maker that was actually able to take the photos in Iraq.
Yes, his name is Duraid Mujanim. He is an Iraqi-Canadian but heís Iraqi and he went just when the occupation started and he was able to travel around and Iíve talked to him since. He said he wouldnít go back now because itís obviously too dangerous but his whole family is there. He gave me all the footage he shot there and he shot a lot of Iraqi police and soldiers who are theoretically resistance fighters I guess and a lot of stuff of his family. Then of course he went into the morgue in Baghdad which is where I got that footage. Heís kind of a crazy guy.
Iíd say because that sounds pretty dangerous.
Well, it helps that heís from there. At the time I think it was probably for someone from Baghdad, even if being a foreigner, reasonably safe to be there. There wasnít a huge resistance going on at that point. Not like there is now. He was just really gracious. I told him what I was doing and he thought I was nuts and that it was a good idea and essentially just mailed me all his tapes.
Did he get to actually do interviews with Iraqi people over there and get their side of things?
He talked a little bit to his family. I think he was going home. It was also a family visit. It wasnít like he was actively trying to make a film. What he did is he did a little documentary series that was like a day in the life of eight or nine average Iraqi people. He was more just trying to humanize the people and be like ďhere. These people are my family and they have normal lives and they have houses and cars and children and swing sets in the back yard.Ē It looks basically like any American family except for theyíre speaking Arabic.
Thatís the thing that gets me. People have this really strange view of people in the Middle East. My God, they wear clothes and eat food and they have a computer. Where do they get these weird ideas from?
Itís the blinder thing. We just donít see whatís going on over there. I think that the media is complicit in that. Ogre and I were talking about this the other day. I think one of the biggest issues we have is that and personally for myself, I was a news director when I was 24 years old and Iím almost 40. I was in the industry and being a Canadian at the time, I think CNN was probably considered to be one of the last bastions of real news reporting in North America. When we were watching the news in America, it very abruptly turned into an entertainment business. The title sequence for a show like A Current Affair or something like that looks just like the title sequence for whatís going on in the Gulf. CNN presents news in this fashion and all the major news outlets do so and I think the fact that the violence and the excitement factor, the sort of militant stance, everything about it has been glamorized by the news in order to make it entertainment. In order to make it as something thatís going to give them rating points and capture the imagination of the American public and whatnot is doing a disservice to those people that have normal lives that live in places like Fallujah that got flattened. Theyíre not taking the responsibility upon themselves to show what would be more of a mundane reality.
I remember when they did the shock and awe thing and they had it on TV with all these bright lights in the sky. My whole family and I were sitting there going oh my God, those poor people.
Yeah, it was presented like a fireworks show.
There were people getting injured and killed. Theyíre not all bad people. The majority of them are normal, average people.
Yeah and I think the interview with Ramsey, the thing that I took away from that and I think thatís the strongest point, thatís almost something that doesnít exist in the American consciousness is the time in between the wars. The sanctions that were levied against Iraq and a lot more people died because of that than the war itself. Essentially not only taking those normal people with normal lives and bombing the hell out of the country but then starving them to death for years in between.
Yeah, and no medical care and stuff like that. Iím glad that you put that documentary together and you made it part of that DVD package. Do you think that will start opening peopleís eyes a little bit?
I think the thing with stuff like that is, I donít know how many people will look at that and actually have an opinion. I just think back to when I was young and I think that there were a few things that happened in my development when I was a teenager that really impacted me and that changed the way that I thought about things. I think that if you catch the right mind at the right time and provide them with a little bit of information, it gives them the choice to go and look in another direction and maybe understand that what theyíre being told every day on the news and on television is not necessarily exactly whatís going on in the world. That gives them an opportunity to go and look for something different. The information is out there now. The Internet is a source of news for people that want to take the time to look. I think that if that documentary, even one or two young people look at that and go ďoh, this isnít rightĒ and then they do something about it, it would be worthwhile. Hopefully more will but I think itís about those individuals that are in the right space to actually have an epiphany or have their consciousness tweaked in a way that might lead them in a different direction.
My parents always taught me to question everything. Donít always take somebodyís word for something. Look into it and if something strikes you as strange, question it. I donít know if a lot of people are afraid to do that or what, but I always ask questions. I never take anything for granted so hopefully more people will start doing that.
I donít want to sound harsh but I think a lot of people just donít care. I personally find that really depressing but I think itís really true. When things become really difficult and when people really begin to understand whatís going on and that story captures the collective imagination then things can change. Weíre getting there but I donít think weíve quite hit that point where it goes over the waterfall and then people start to up en masse. I donít know exactly how that phenomenon works. Iíve seen that with environmental movements as well and Iíve been involved in a few things like that where thereís definitely a consciousness floating around about a concept but then enough people start to wise up about it but it gets a momentum behind it and then it gets shoved into the forefront of the public consciousness. Everybody knows whatís going on in the war to some extent and I think the backlash is definitely out there but it has yet to really explode into the mainstream media but it will I think.
I think a lot of it has to do with just not enough of these soldiers have come back home yet and people havenít really seen the extent of what this has done to them. Theyíre being so quiet when brought back home. Sometimes it has to be in your face for you to see it.
Yeah, I think thatís very true.
What these young people need to understand is that these politicians in office who are starting all these wars want to destroy these young peopleís lives and they donít care what happens to them. Thatís the message these young people need to understand. Itís their lives that are going to be ruined because they are the ones who will be sent over there.
Yeah, itís indicative of a big social problem in what the government champions in this country. Iím not an American. Iím an outsider. Obviously being a Canadian Iím somewhat tethered to this country. I live here now. There is in my country a sense that on a mass level America has accepted that their government has now championed corporations instead of people and that the war machine is very much the engine behind that. I think that until that fundamental concept changes here, I donít think it can. Thereís obviously a big moral dilemma going on in this country.
Iím from this country but I donít have blinders on. I see whatís going on and I feel itís part of my responsibility to make sure people understand what the hell is going on. It doesnít just affect one country. It affects the whole world because we have troops from other countries over there dying. We have those people over there dying. Another fascinating thing about DU is that it spreads on wind currents. It spreads around and itís in the rainfall in Europe and itís in these hurricanes that come over here. Thatís the stuff people donít realize. Everyone will be affected by that.
Yeah, of course the sand in Iraq is blown all over the world as well in wind storms for sure.
Thatís what people need to understand. This is a global thing.
Yeah, it's funny that people don't understand that with the way that other toxins are spread right up to the Arctic Circle. I guess those are things that people don't really want to think about because they're too busy worrying about getting a new iPod.