“It’s a fun job,” said director Henry-Alex Rubin, whose first feature film, Disconnect, kicks off SBIFF 2013. “You never have to grow up.”
Rubin seems an odd candidate for Peter Pan syndrome, considering his affinity for grown-up topics like paraplegic basketball, which was the focus of his renowned documentary Murderball. That very adult pursuit of nonfiction film pervades all of his work, even the fictional Disconnect, which impressed festival crowds in both Venice and Toronto last year. “Everything I do looks like a doc because they are my first and strongest love,” explained Rubin. “Even my commercials look like documentaries.”
But Disconnect wasn’t about breaking away from the constraints of documentary making. “It’s not as simple as that,” said Rubin. “I came upon this story written by Andrew Stern that is basically three intersecting tales really ripped from the headlines — and I thought this would be something I might like to do, this was my experiment.” Though technically fictional, Rubin wanted to make the tales look a lot like reality. “I shot it the same way I would shoot a documentary, with two cameras that stayed still with long cuts,” he said. “I wanted it to look and feel very observed.”
Rubin’s producers were supportive of that vision and gave him carte blanche for his cast. “A courageous financier told me to just go out and hire whoever I wanted to do the job,” said Rubin, who then lined up relative newcomers like Andrea Riseborough and Alexander Skarsgård, as well as some bigger names. “Jason Bateman … was my most out-on-the-limb casting choice,” said Rubin, who brought in the droll comic actor in to play a dramatic role. “He’s the most exciting thing in the film to watch.”
The film’s loosely connected stories all relate to the Internet as a way of dehumanizing the human condition, but it’s not meant to be a Luddite lesson. “I use the Internet, everybody I know uses it all day long,” said Rubin, “but I was interested in talking about the way people communicate today.”
Even more important was leaving his audience with an emotional experience. “A lot of movies leave you with no feelings,” said Rubin. “I hope that if you come out and see the film, I do that, I leave you with a feeling.”
SBIFF 2013 kicks off with Disconnect at the Arlington Theatre on Thursday, January 24, 8 p.m.