Before Gogol Bordello played festivals like Coachella and shared stages with the likes of Madonna, frontman Eugene Hütz was just the eccentric artist at the center of a thriving Ruso-disco scene in New York’s Lower East Side. That’s how he caught the eye of emerging filmmaker Margarita Jimeno, who decided to follow Hütz and his fellow Eastern European cohorts, tracing their rise from an unsigned band to an incessantly-touring gypsy punk phenomenon in her new documentary Gogol Bordello Non-Stop. We caught the New York premiere of the doc a few weeks back at the 92Y Tribeca, where Jimeno was kind enough to answer a few questions about her filmmaking process.
Our interview after the jump.
Flavorwire: You’ve been working on this project since 2001. Did you have any idea that Gogol Bordello would get this big when you started?
Margarita Jimeno: Not at all, but I really wanted them to get known by everyone in the world. I really thought this should not be kept as a New York secret.
FW: The other members of the band talk about frontman Eugene Hütz as an inspirational figure — was the documentary your way to showcase him?
MJ: If you would meet Eugene you would understand what they mean… Eugene is one of those people who you sit with for a few minutes, and you start flashing ideas at a very high speed, as if you were just hooked to a super advanced Internet connection. You start downloading a whole library of music, films, ideas, quotes… Plus, he’s a performer so you always get a treat song. Unavoidably the documentary promotes the band, but that is just the nature of music documentaries. I remember watching Buena Vista Social Club at Angelika Cinema, and rushing out of the movie theater with my friends into Tower Records to buy the soundtrack. We were all very surprised to find out the CD was sold out; apparently everyone who came out of the Angelika went to Tower immediately to buy that album.
FW: Is the film also a love letter to New York City at large — or at least the gypsy punk scene at Bulgarian Bar?
MJ: Don’t we all love New York? Now more than ever in the last eight years I feel very connected to NYC, and what it breeds. I’ve been traveling a lot this past year showing the film, and I haven’t felt the same creative energy that I feel here, especially in Brooklyn. I don’t know if it is a love letter, but most of the film takes place here.
People change, one always wishes to stay in the past and be nostalgic about great moments, but I think change is good, and the Bulgarian Bar has been evolving into something that tons of other people and new generations can appreciate and connect with. We just had a “Bulgarian Bar friends” reunion last Friday, for the GBNS premiere afterparty, and most of the old crowd was there. We still go out and freak out. I can only say that what I was listening as a teenager I���m not listening to as often now. It’s the same with the Bulgarian Bar. It’s sort of in the past, and it was GREAT. Now I’m into other new music that is happening today, so I go to lots of other venues that I love like Zebulon, Death by Audio, and such.
FW: Speaking of music, the film is driven by the band’s songs — how did you pick specific performances to make fit the narrative?
MJ: Sometimes just because I loved that performance so much, and others, just because the lyrics and performance had to do with the theme we were dealing with. I also edited the music down, meaning there were some jams that were much longer, but I cut them so that they would be shorter and to the point. It took me some time to edit them because I’m not a musician, but I understood the form, and what I wanted to bring out in their performance.
FW: Do you have a favorite scene out of all the footage?
MJ: I love the shoe store scene a lot because I had no clue what they were talking about when I was filming it; I was just trying to focus on the action. I also love the pigeons with Sergey. Most of his interviews were in Russian, and I had no translator, so there were things that I shot that were so intuitive. I like this style of working, where you don’t control everything, and let the moments take place. I’m also happy with all the music editing, and the live performances, because you really feel what the band is like live.
FW: Did your vision of the film change over the years?
MJ: The vision didn’t change much except from the original idea, which was just to film Eugene and his party at the Bulgarian Bar. At the beginning I was more into capturing “this crazy guy” (Eugene) and whatever he was doing. But as soon as I shot a couple of Gogol Bordello shows, I realized maybe this is the story. Let’s see where this band is going.
For a while I didn’t see any story out of the footage, but I kept logging it as I was shooting. I wrote a script of ideas, and I was persistently asking what they were up to. For the most part I got permission to shoot the stuff I wanted to shoot. It was a full-time job just keeping in touch with them. When you are filming people who are launching their career, it is a very busy time, and so you can easily be forgotten. I understood that, and just kept bugging them politely.
View the trailer below and join the Facebook group to stay updated on future screenings.