The snuff movie. It’s not subject matter many want to discuss, much less think about and what discussion does exist is mostly speculation as an actual snuff movie has yet to be found…or at least this is what the powers that be would like us to believe because, after all, how could we go on living if we knew that there was a secret society of people out there paying top dollar to watch other people being sexually tortured and killed. No, not pretty subject matter at all and the urban legend of the snuff film is perhaps the darkest of them all.
After years of debate on whether snuff movies truly exist, filmmaker Paul von Stoetzel brings us his feature length documentary, “Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera”, that explores our fascination with violence in the media whether it be through horror films, grisly war footage and, of course, the legend of the snuff movie…even going as far as presenting some very butt-puckering eyewitness accounts that these films are no myth, but in fact do exist.
With “Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera” beginning its festival tour this June with A DVD release following in July, we spoke with filmmaker Paul von Stoetzel to find out what he makes of all this death on film business.
What prompted you to make a documentary on snuff movies?
I was attending the Kansas City Jubilee and there was a screening of late night horror/suspense/etc. films that I viewed. There were some decent films in the lineup, but some quite awful ones also. There is nothing new to this except that the audience would criticize the films and mock the ignorance of these pieces and it dawned on me how there are so few intelligent or at least above moronic horror films there really are, though a lot of the horror crowd are quite astute and even socially aware. Though I had never worked, much less directed anything in the genre, I immediately wanted to make a film for these people that wasn’t pandering to them.
At that same festival a few days later in 2006 a few of the people involved in the festival were talking with me and we got on the subject of Snuff Films because I had just finished directing the “war snuff” short film “War Propheteer” which coincidentally is going to be an extra on the SNUFF dvd. “War Propheteer” is about an American contractor who is abducted and is about to be executed and the only thing in his cell is an isolated camera. Anyway, a gentleman at this film festival after party, who I had never met before, was quite vehement about how Snuff Films must exist and I played devil’s advocate and stated that there had never been a proven case of one. Before I knew it, this seemingly polite man was about to fight me because he was so adamant in his opinion, and I found this was the case with many if not most people. People either strongly believe these films exist, or they do not, or they don’t know what these films are. There is very little grey area and I found this extremely interesting and it just fueled my growing desire and fascination to make this documentary.
How did you select your interview subjects?
My Production Manager and A.D. did a basic campaign to find subjects via Craigslist, the Minnesota Film Board, and IFP/MSP as well as word of mouth while I sought out individuals who were referenced to me. Minneapolis has a small film community, so it wasn’t difficult especially when scaling it down even further to the horror/gorehound community. Then we just needed to weed out the crackpots and find reliable sources that were well spoken and had various perspectives on the concept of Snuff Films. It was also advantageous to find people like Todd Cobery, for example, who had various angles of perception pertaining to the myth of Snuff Films. Todd had extensive knowledge of horror and disturbing film history but then also knew quite a bit about the Lake/Ng serial killer case. I wanted a multi-faceted documentary that dissected not only the existence of Snuff Films but also the myth and even definition itself.
Did anyone turn you down due to the subject matter?
No, not really. But I only really approached people who I had a very good idea were interested and competent. The most apprehension I received in preproduction was from some other persons in the film community who had heard about the production and were a bit curious but still hesitant to find out more.
In your research did you ever feel like you were getting too close for comfort to the subject matter? Did you stumble across anything you wish you hadn’t?
Absolutely. Mark’s (film producer Mark L. Rosen) story was something we never saw coming. This documentary was originally going to be more about the macabre aspects of the myth and play with that, but as it progressed the tone became much more serious and darkly serious. Otherwise, the actual footage from the serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng case was probably what got to me the most. And not even the torture and humiliation footage of their poor victims, but the Leonard Lake confessional that is in the final cut of “SNUFF.” The humanizing of someone like that is horrific and disconcerting. His glib tone as he describes his desire for a literal “sex slave” is made so much worse by his nerdy voice. He sounds like a Dungeons and Dragons game player or a video game enthusiast, not a murdering sadistic sexual predator.
So, going back to Mark’s story, do you feel that he was really a witness to an actual snuff film like he says?
It’s a lame answer, but I’ll never know for sure. Not to be evasive but it’s the same answer I would give to anyone who wanted any kind of answer to an “absolute” question. But Mark had been working in film for many years and had the experience to back up his very extreme statement that the film was completely legitimate. I mean the man grew up with his father being Walt Disney’s right hand man. Mark spent his time and knows special effects and what camera trickery is and how it can be done. That’s also why, if you notice at the end of his second chapter I actually ask the question again and he gets a bit offended. I doubted him a little until the actual interview and then my doubts were quelled. Mark has thought about this story a lot and would have never told it as he did if there was any doubt in his mind, and I have to respect that.
There’s a section of the documentary devoted to the story of Dmitri Vladimirovich Kuznetsov who was busted for the distribution of child pornography videos, some of which allegedly contained the death of the video’s subject? Whatever happened with this case? From what I could find, nothing was ever really reported past an article in The Observer. Was this the first reported discovery of actual snuff films, or was this claim exaggerated?
Actually, once I had Dmitri’s full name I found an abundance of information on him. After the initial sting there was a long, full investigation that was in the press quite a bit, especially for Italy and Britain. Italy even had a large scandal and public discussion about whether to make all the subject matter open to the public. This was all censored from the American public. I only found one American publication that even mentioned the case, though it was in the European major papers for over a year.
As far as I know, this is the first “reported” account, but it was never called a “Snuff Film” as a direct statement. We know that child pornography was being perpetrated and that one of the offenders was convicted of killing and then it was released that the child was recorded when it died. However, these facts are always mentioned separate from one another. It’s like saying that cigarettes contain a certain element, and then that certain element is proven to be a carcinogen, and it’s proven that carcinogens cause cancer. But to avoid the simple statement that cigarettes cause cancer one can keep these facts separate and seemingly unrelated. So, it was never officially accounted as a bonafied Snuff Film but all the elements seem to be there to make up the compound. You dig?
In the interest of time, was there any material you left out of the final cut?
Very little was left out of the final cut. One subject that the film skirts is that of America being a death culture. We were originally going to have a “Death Culture” chapter, but it just didn’t work out, though we do touch on the subject a few times.
Also, we had a long mention of the infamous Charlie Sheen “Guinea Pig 2: The Flower of Flesh and Blood” account when the actor called in the Japanese fetish film as a supposed genuine Snuff Film to the authorities. Of course it wasn’t and the production team even made a sequel explaining how the film was produced as a mockery of the case.
What do you say to people who are actually expecting the unveiling of a real snuff movie in your doc?
That really hasn’t been an issue that has arisen. I think people interested, seriously interested in this subject matter are astute enough to be skeptical going into this film. Otherwise, I would probably respond with the question “Why the f**k would you watch this if you were REALLY expecting to see a real Snuff Film?”. But then that is a major part of what this documentary is about; the exploration of why this myth is still so prevalent and potent.
Are you satisfied with the results of your film?
I’m satisfied with the progress of “SNUFF” as of now, but I want and expect a lot more from this film. I’m extremely proud of it and I’ve been very fortunate with it especially because this is my first feature documentary. We have very good North American distribution through Westlake Entertainment but we are still working on the foreign markets. The festival circuit has just started for us but it’s looking very positive. We are slotted for a couple festivals and have had some good attention from the October horror festivals, but nothing official. The sneak preview screenings we put up locally have had incredible responses all the way around so we’re hoping to keep it up.
Will there be a follow up?
The follow up, besides distribution and screenings, may be two more films in the same vein as “SNUFF” also with similar style titles. The second film would center on suicide. We would investigate Iraq War soldiers returning with trauma, assisted suicide, and death by cop suicides. The final film would be called “HOLY WAR: a documentary about killing for god.” I think the title of that one says it all. Because “SNUFF” is more of a history lesson, the suicide doc would be more contemporary and the final film about where the world is headed.
Where will people be able to see your film?
Our World Premiere is going to be at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival. The festival runs from June 6th to June 15th. “SNUFF” will be screening Friday the 13th at the Central Cinema at 9:30 PM and Saturday the 14th JewelBox Theater at 4:00 PM.
After that we will be screening at the Fantaspoa Film Festival in Porto Alegre, Brazil which runs from July 29th to August 10th.
And as I stated previously we have secured North American distribution and our dvd presale date is June 17 and the release date is July 22 through Westlake Entertainment, Inc.