Interview with Filmmaker David Taylor (COMPLEX)

COMPLEX, 13min., USA, Documentary
Directed by David Taylor
COMPLEX depicts the vast system of privately operated prisons which incarcerate migrants and refugees under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the United States. In 2019 the average daily population in ICE custody reached 50000 with upwards of 70% incarcerated in for-profit facilities. Narrated entirely by refugees who were in detention as the global pandemic began to infect prison populations, this short documentary focuses on the La Palma Correctional Facility located in Eloy, Arizona. Functioning as a chapter in a larger project, the documentary suggests the pervasiveness of the border security industrial complex in the American geography and reveals the commodification of human displacement.

Get to know the filmmaker:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Over the last fifteen years I have been making work that responds to how the U.S.-Mexico Border has changed in the aftermath of 9/11. This film is the latest chapter in that larger effort.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

It’s hard to say because the film is derived from a much larger body of work. The larger effort surveys thirty-three detention centers across the western U.S. in both still and moving imagery and I am involved with a parallel effort to interview migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have been detained in prisons located in Arizona. All of that work has spanned the last three years.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

stark, tragic

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The pandemic—which is a central theme in the film. I commenced with the work for this project as the pandemic began. All of the human tragedy that was already unfolding became that much more acute with the pandemic.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I felt gratitude for the careful feedback—I was particularly moved by the sense of urgency and anger it prompted in people. We should be angry about incarcerating people for profit. Also, the film is meant to suggest the pervasiveness of the border security industrial complex in the United States and the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis that is global migration. The feedback affirmed that the intended content is legible.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I have been a practicing visual artist for some time and have always been attracted to the moving image. COMPLEX is meant to be a part of a video installation but the material just felt right for a short documentary.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I don’t tend to watch films over and over because there is too much new material to see. However, I use certain films in my teaching and may end up viewing those multiple times. My students and I just watched Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Rescue Dawn back to back in the documentary class I am teaching this semester. Last semester Nope and Till bookended a semester worth of looking at how identity is shaped and perceived through various modes of representation.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Museum venues are a more familiar space for me, and this is my first film festival, so I may not be qualified to answer this question. There is overlap with a gallery experience but the theater is a unique format. Ultimately, I find seeing work by other artists enriching and challenging so knowing that there is a group of people in a dedicated space having a common experience with your work is very satisfying.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

It’s an excellent platform. I am impressed with how efficient the submissions process is.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Anything made with care, creativity and good ingredients. We have some amazing places to eat here in Tucson, AZ.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

As I mentioned above, COMPLEX is part of a larger suite of work that will be incorporated into a multi-screen video installation. I’m in the middle of that production now.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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