This week’s Certified Film Threat in Progress is a look at filmmaker Paul Ratner’s documentary The Caveman of Atomic City, currently looking for funds via Kickstarter. Paul took some time to run the question gauntlet, and here’s what shook out…
Tell us a little about yourself: where do you come from, how many movies have you made, etc?
I was born in Russia, in a city called Ufa (I feel it’s my duty to mention it since no one’s ever heard of it). My wife and producing partner Petra hails from the Czech Republic. In fact, we met on a movie we both worked on in Prague.
I studied film at Cornell and Chapman Universities, after which I directed dozens of festival shorts, music videos and documentaries. For a number of years in those distant ’00s, I did video reporting for Slamdance where I met awesome folks and got to take cases of beer home as reward. I also worked for a few years for the director Timur Bekmambetov, first as an assistant then heading development. Writing is my other passion.
Petra gets her film chops from assistant directing and production managing countless commercials as well as coordinating departments on big budget Hollywood flicks that shot in the Czech Republic. Since we’ve been together, she’s been the producer for our company, spearheading all our projects.
What is The Caveman of Atomic City? What is it about?
It’s a feature documentary we’ve been shooting for the past few years about a philosopher who lived in a cave on the territory of the nuclear-weapon-making Los Alamos National Lab. While living in the cave, µmike (or micromike as he calls himself out of humility) came up with the philosophy of “gravionics.”
What is “gravionics”?
It’s µmike’s philosophy of space and time that unites science and spirituality. As micromike says, “Love is the action of sentient beings whereby they give more energy than they take and they make more connections of gravity than they break. Gravionics is the first model of science that’s big enough for love.” This is quite possibly the Theory of Everything that gives a revolutionary explanation for the way our Universe works.
Where did the idea for The Caveman of Atomic City come from?
I was working as a production assistant on a Discovery Channel show that was being filmed in a very remote monastery in New Mexico – we were following a group that had to live in this place for 40 days and 40 nights. One day I read a news item about a guy getting kicked out of a cave on the territory of the nearby Los Alamos National Lab. Apparently he lived there for a few years, in a pretty sophisticated setup, getting electricity from solar panels. I don’t know if it was the experience of living in a monastery for 40 days and 40 nights that I myself was going through, but it was hard not to see this as some sort of sign from the film gods. I realized this was a great story that just kept getting better the more I learned about micromike and his work.
Why does this movie need to be made or seen?
We believe in micromike and his ideas. He is a very intelligent and unpretentious man, who one day sold all his possessions (he had a successful computer company) and came to New Mexico to talk to scientists about improving the world.
He’s been doing that for years but while many scientists love to talk to him on the hiking trails, none are willing to debate him publicly. Los Alamos is a very strange, secretive town. Some of the best minds in the world work there in the National Lab. Yet so much of their work is in the service of war. The reason many are afraid to talk to micromike or us is that science has become an establishment, a club where ideas aren’t challenged, where people are afraid of what pure debate might mean to their careers.
µmike is like a modern-day Thoreau, walking the woods to come up with ideas that challenge Einstein and promote peace. Our film is about micromike’s story and his work, about the excitement of ideas and the purpose of science, and about why a guy can’t just live in a cave these days – someone will surely kick him out.
Why did you decide to crowdfund?
I’ve been working on this film on and off for the past few years. I could never get the money and the time together to get it finished. This year we said that it just needs to get done. People have been writing to us from different parts of the world wanting to see this film based on the trailer we cut from already-shot footage. Crowdfunding is the perfect way to get this film finished because it’s a method that is aligned with micromike’s work. He speaks about connections of gravity made between cosmic bodies and between people. Crowdfunding is exactly that – each gives what they can and everyone participates, aware and responsible in making connections that create art and improve the world.
This project has so far received support from people in 7 different countries (US, Czech Republic, Ireland, Singapore, Iran, Austria and Cambodia) – people really respond to micromike’s message. But we need more help to pull this off right.
Do you have other financial resources or investors in place beyond the crowdfunding?
Why did you choose Kickstarter over other options?
We were inspired by the Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish’s campaign (first spotting it on Facebook). Kickstarter seemed to have more public awareness (and honestly sounded better as a name than IndieGoGo – we thought maybe it’s easier for people to remember). We needed to kickstart this project and it’s exactly what happened when we put it up on Kickstarter. We also liked the all-or-nothing approach. It gives the fundraising an urgency that people have been responding to.
Where is the crowdfunded money going?
We need to go back to Los Alamos and shoot more with micromike. The rest of the money is going to post-production. We need money for editing, animations to illustrate micromike’s ideas, sound work, music and publicity.
If you do not hit your financial crowdfunding goal, what then?
We need to make this happen and aren’t thinking plan B. This film is long overdue and yet timelier than ever. micromike’s words need to be heard now. We feel a personal responsibility in getting this project finished and seen by as many people as possible. This is not just a film, it’s a mission.
In a perfect scenario, where are you and your project a year from today?
We want to screen the project in as many festivals as we can, then get distribution and show this on the web, on TV. We also want to screen it at the Lab in Los Alamos and have raucous debates with the best minds in the world about micromike’s work. And then we convince these guys to spend their time thinking up better things to do with their time than improving nuclear weaponry. And then micromike gets nominated for a Nobel Prize. Because that’s the perfect scenario.
Why should someone give your project money?
Mike’s work is both complex and very simple. One thing that always appeals to me is when he talks about how everyone in the world is connected. Not just in a spiritual, ethereal, Hollywood guru sort of way. We are connected physically. What you do affects me. When I look at you, I change you not just by my expression but because I am exchanging quantifiable matter between us. To me this means I am responsible for the world I live in. When people help this project, they help make it better. micromike’s work deserves to be heard and debated. Science needs to get off its a*s and become what it once was – a pursuit of truths and ideas in service of humanity.
If you’d like to know more about The Caveman of Atomic City, or we didn’t ask all the questions you’ve got, go ahead and comment below or head over to the The Caveman of Atomic City Kickstarter page and comment there. Next week we’ll be back with a new project for you to check out but, until then, we hope you enjoyed this closer look at The Caveman of Atomic City.
DISCLAIMER: Donating or investing in a film or film-related project is always a risky endeavor, so it is important to keep that in mind before deciding to get financially involved with any film project. Film Threat, FilmThreat.com and our parent company, Hamster Stampede, LLC hold no liability or responsibility regarding any of the projects showcased on our site, their content or performance or the content or performance of any of the sites linked to in this article. Our involvement with the featured project is strictly what you see here: we find a work-in-progress project that sounds interesting to us, we ask all the questions we’d like to know the answers to and then we share that information with you, the audience. This should not be considered as personalized investment advice. What happens after you read this is your decision, and, again, before parting with any money for any film, think it through and BE CAREFUL.