Exclusive: Alejandro Adams Talks Organ Harvesting and His New Film Canary


Alejandro Adams is a film critic and director. Canary, his second feature film following 2008’s Around the Bay, is a futuristic satire that portrays a world in which organ harvesting has become a mainstream, commercial industry. It pushes boundaries in form and content, leaving the audience contemplating not just the future of the industrialized world, but the present. Note: Rooftop Films is screening Canary tonight at the Old American Can Factory.

Flavorpill: Tell us about your film:

Alejandro Adams: Canary is a sci-fi thriller about organ trafficking. It’s everything you’d expect a sci-fi thriller to be, except that I couldn’t afford Nicolas Cage.

FP: What drew you to the topic?

AA: I don’t really care about the subject matter per se. Canary is based on a short film a couple of friends made a few years ago. I kept trying to convince them to turn it into a feature, but they blew me off so I asked them if I could adapt it myself. This was after my first film, Around the Bay, got a handful of great reviews, and I wanted to do something totally different and punch my way through the so-called sophomore slump before succumbing to anxiety about not living up to the potential of my first film. Now Canary is getting great reviews, so I’m charging ahead with more films, convinced that each successive film will be the runt of the litter.

FP: The film’s website depicts Canary Industries as real. Why did you choose to create this illusion?

AA: I thought the website was a little self-defeatingly goofy, actually, until the Variety critic quoted from it and basically said, “You GOTTA see this website!” I really hate marketing and trailers and stills and plot summaries and that whole side of things. I found a way to promote the film ironically, even misleadingly, which seemed like a nice compromise. There’s very little correspondence between the “about” page on the website and the tone or content of the film itself. It’s worth noting that the images and text on the “about” page of the site appear on the brochure which we used to market the film, and that brochure also appears in the film as the actual Canary Industries brochure. So I’m highlighting the correspondence between how a company markets itself and how a film is marketed.

There’s a key scene in which the Canary agent slinks around a park decorated for Christmas and we hear the Canary automated phone menu on the soundtrack — what we hear on the phone is coherent, whereas the woman’s actions are not, so we “trust” the information we hear on the soundtrack. Take away the PR scene in Canary, take away that automated phone menu, and the whole film becomes meaningless. I’m using one half of the film to market the other half to the audience.

FP: Do you think there is the potential for a company like Canary Industries is to exist in the future?

AA: Viewers seem to be struck by how little is “alternate” in this alternate universe I’m presenting. That provides a really frightening answer to your question. I think that’s what people tend to find most unsettling about the film. It’s as if I’m saying, “Oh, by the way, this van could be driving down your street right now.”

FP: What was your reaction to the recent New Jersey scandal?

AA: I don’t follow current events at all. I’m on Twitter, so I get a trickled-down version of the news. Someone mentioned New Jersey in a recent review of Canary, but I didn’t look it up. Accidental timeliness can’t hurt. Maybe a little farther down the road someone will call the film “prescient.” Someone said Canary is succeeding because of a certain zeitgeist, not because it’s a particularly good film. That may be true, just as it may be true that I made a timely film without really understanding the time I’m living in.

FP: Is the society portrayed in Canary your idea of a dystopia?

AA: What prevents it from being a utopia? Canary requires interpretation every step of the way, and I don’t think we should exclude the possibility that the film presents a utopia. The writer-director of the original short film wrote to me in response to a review the other day, “Why does no one ever think Canary is a big government agency?” Well, within the film there is only one mention of the government’s possible involvement. A critic recently suggested that what looks like a baby furniture store might instead be baby repository, a place to donate infants for organ harvesting. If we’re really actively looking at each scene and flexing our interpretive muscles, who knows what we’ll see. Dystopia or utopia. Science fiction or present-day reality. Thriller or comedy. There are at least three prominent reviews of this film which urge multiple viewings. Watch it once as a comedy, then go back and watch it again as a thriller.

FP: In an interview with Karina Longworth of Spout you confess that you are a film director who “hates film.” That said, do you identify with the Carla Pauli character, who seems to be the only person in Canary with a critical view of the world she lives in, yet still chooses to be a participant in it?

AA: Everything is context. I’m reluctant to say I’m a filmmaker because I’ve spent so little time existing in that context. If I’m still making films in a few years, I may start to feel differently. Labels and titles and identity are very serious business for me.

The Carla character is an enigma. How would we know if her actions fall within the scope of her job description or if she’s a total renegade? The film challenges, maybe even mocks, our feeble notions of identity — ethnicity, job description, language, daily routine, sexual orientation. All that remains is a white jumpsuit.

FP: You’ve directed, produced, written, edited, and photographed all of your films. How important to you feel it is for the filmmaker to take on all of those roles? When you get an idea for a film, do you feel like you’re the only one to see that idea fully through?

AA: I don’t feel proprietary about any of those roles. I like my productions to consist of three or four second-unit cameras and no first-unit cameras, neutralizing the director role. I like it when half the people in the scene and the sound guy don’t know we’re already rolling. Sometimes I’m the last camera operator to push the button and I like that feeling of falling behind on my own set. In a way it’s competitive, as if I’m playing mental games in order to stay fresh. I feel like an insurance adjuster — my job is to say “no” to everyone about everything until someone finally pushes back so hard that I just step aside. I’m probably more of a writer/editor than writer/director.

FP: You’re currently in post-production for Babnik, your third film since 2008. What are the challenges of working on multiple projects in such a short period of time?

AA: I’m in post-production on three features at the moment, but Babnik is the one that’s nearest to completion. I think it’s actually less challenging to make a bunch of films at once than to make one and go on the festival circuit for eighteen months and then try to make another. The challenge is pulling my head out of post-production to promote a film that’s out there in the world. It’s important for me to do interviews like this one because it forces me to dress myself up in words and see if they still fit.