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Treasure Hunting: Five Questions with the Zellner Brothers

The first resplendent film of 2015 has arrived, and it’s David and Nathan Zellner’s Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. The film is a marvel to behold and experience, and best of all, the writer-director team stress the importance of seeing the Kumiko in a theatre. Like the film, in which Rinko Kikuchi plays a bored office worker, who reads just a little too heavily into the Coen Brothers movie Fargo, the movie itself has gone through a long and treacherous trip to find itself in the theatre, so like Kumiko, it’s best to dive right in.

We spoke to Nathan and David Zellner by phone, where Nathan was in Austin, and David was in parts unknown.

Scene Creek: Your film debuted at last year’s Sundance. Does it feel strange discussing it in the present tense?

David: (Laughing) Our first experience with a wider release for sure. We’ve been living with the completed film. We’ve been touring with it in festivals for over a year. When we first premiered at Sundance, there was this huge moment, and then euphoria, that finally we’ve been able to show this movie we’d been working on for so long was finally done. And it premiered at the Eccles Theatre, so there was a huge audience there and a wonderful reception. (Laughing) And now we have these moments again. It’s been over a year of getting the word out and trying to push the film and getting the word out about it. Definitely been a nice slow burn. Interest has been building, and it is kind of peaking right now with the film’s release.

SC: How should an audience best experience Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter?

David: We like people to take away from it what they will.

Nathan: We usually tell people that the best way to enjoy it is that it’s kind of a fever dream. Go in without any expectations and let it wash over you. People go back and see it a second and a third time. That would be fun to do. There are things that are planted in the beginning that pay off a second time, we think.

SC: How did the film sound and look the way it did?

David: It was a very tight budget, with very limited means. But we put every dollar on the screen making it something you’d want to see in the theatre. From the script stage, it had a very visual quality. We wanted the landscapes to be characters in the film.

Nathan: What we like about it is people can take away what they want, without a particular message being imposed. It’s been fun travelling around and getting different perspectives on it that are varied and interesting and all valid.

SC: David, how did you come to act in the film?

David: We’ve always acted in our films, since we were making home movies when we were little. It’s always been the way we’ve operated and there’s been a shorthand to it so it’s second nature hopping in front of or behind the camera.

Nathan: If Filmmakers are actors, you have to have your act together, and that is something of which we are mindful. Just as with all the casting, make sure that all your pieces fit together. We also had a good crew, both in Japan and Minnesota. It is nice working with people where you have a longstanding relationship, and that rapport, it creates a shorthand. Every time you work with someone new, there’s always a ramp up required, when you have a history it makes it that much easier.

SC: Do you feel like you are influential on the work of other filmmakers?

Nathan: We’re based out of Austin, Texas, and there’s a unique film community down here. A lot of Filmmakers live here. We call up our friends and ask them their opinions. The nice thing about being active as long as we have and making relationships like that is just giving back to the community, and having those friendships to rely on in a professional way.

David: Werner Herzog has been the big influence in our work. The Coens’ film was part of the urban legend. We only wanted to use it insomuch as it was the conduit to our journey, and to be respectful in a way. We’re not trying to a do a winking homage.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter opens in Toronto and Vancouver April 3rd, and across the country shortly afterwards.