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The man with the nightmare vision

Andrew Tiernan, the director of the dystopian extreme surveillance sci-fi UK18, talks about the rise of neofacism, why he thinks the UK is moving in the wrong direction, how his work with Derek Jarman influenced his latest project, and much more!

What would you do if all of a sudden the UK government decided to implement RFID chips inside each one of us? Would you abide and cower in silence? Or would you resist and potentially take arms, without fear of being denounced as a conspirator or a terrorist? Well, you don’t have to imagine it anymore. The British filmmaker Andrew Tiernan has already done it, for his latest flick; UK18 is a nightmare vision of what our society would look like if extreme surveillance is implemented. The film takes place in 2018, suggesting that this isn’t a very far-off reality – our review of the piece if coming up very soon!

Victor Fraga from DMovies spoke with actor-turned-director Andrew Tiernan in order to find out where the idea came from, whether he indeed believes that we are sleepwalking into such a horrific and despondent near future, what he’s hoping to achieve from this audacious independent project, and what ordinary people in the UK can do in order to prevent this dystopian future from ever materialising!

Andrew has acted in more than 100 movies and television series, having worked with the likes of Derek Jarman, Nicolas Roeg, Roman Polanski and Antonia Bird. UK18 is his second feature film as director, writer and producer, preceded by Dragonfly (2015).

Victor Fraga – Where did the idea to make UK18 come from?

Andrew Tiernan – A few years back we were a struggling microbudget film outfit. A collective, I suppose. A few of us were interested in activism and protest and I think it was Kevin O’Donohoe who first made me aware of the introduction of a program where RFID chips were being inserted into people. Anyway, we’d been making our films, trying to get funding, trying to find like-minded people to work with and we just kept getting knocked back as everyone does. So, I thought about a low budget feature that we could do and finance ourselves. I asked Kevin to come up with a script. We’d just seen Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park (1971), I really liked the use of actors being questioned in a kangaroo court and the freedom of expression that the actors had. We wanted to try get something like that, which involved the RFID program being compulsory in some kind of fascist dictatorship of the future. That version of the script didn’t go into production at the time, I think it was good, but way too similar to “Punishment Park,” so it got put on the backburner.

Then sometime in 2015, we’d just finalised and released our first feature Dragonfly and felt that it was time to go back to UK18. Largely due to everything that was going on in Britain and the world, but the timing felt right. Shona McWilliams and myself did another version of it, which incorporated elements of Kevin’s script, but this time it revolves around the character of Eloise who is a documentary filmmaker who starts to suspect that she is being manipulated by a secret government organisation. In our research with Wayne Anthony, we’d been looking at a lot of online documentaries, conspiracy theories, David Icke, the whole mish-mash of information and we went from there.

Andrew Tiernan and his cat: presumably only one of these two creatures has been tagged with an RFID chip

VF – Your film was made on a relatively small budget. Did this restrain the creative process, or was that liberating in some way? Please tell us a little bit about the financing and the creative process.

AT – We had no official backers or financing. I didn’t even apply. I would have loved financing, but if I’d have gone down that route, I would still be talking about the script and waiting for meetings that might never happen. I suppose I gave up on all that, especially with a project like this. Are you kidding me? I’d never get any financing for this, they’d chuck me out the room if I brought them UK18, let’s face it, I’d probably not even get past reception. I’m still waiting to get greenlit on another film, Lost Dog, and it’s an ongoing process as any filmmaker knows.

We knew we wanted to make something multimedia and very inexpensive without restricting the creative process. Obviously, I didn’t have a lot of kit and we used very basic equipment, but in terms of creativity with the performer, a lot of them felt free to express in ways that they haven’t been able to for a long time. I bankrolled the film on my credit card so that was liberating in a way (albeit costly) and being one of the producers I didn’t have anyone to answer to, apart from my close producer buddies, Shona McWilliams and Nick Reynolds. Our work has a DIY Punk attitude to it, so we make all the decisions, take risks and put the films out ourselves and see what happens.

VFUK18 blends dialogue with imagination and TV footage, and sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between these various layers. Was this intentional? What did you intend to achieve?

AT – I didn’t want to give anyone an aneurysm with visuals that were going to make them feel nauseous, like swirling cameras going round and around. But I wanted to convey what modern life is like, how we’re bombarded with images and information, yet at the same time isolated. We’ve all got phones, we all have cameras and I suppose people just sit in front of their screens now, being brainwashed with “fake news.”

Eloise is a journalist. Today that job means going with the company manifesto, their propaganda, embedded journalism, the rightwing leaning journalism of the Daily Mail and the other papers of its ilk. The mainstream media has gone that way too as everyone knows, there’s less impartiality than ever. I mean, George Osborne is now the editor of the Evening Standard and in a way it’s more honest as it’s right out there in the open, the way that they think. A lot of journalists have to comply with what their bosses tell them and that must be frustrating especially in an apparently free-thinking world.

Still from UK18: the nightmare vision comes true

I’d worked with Derek Jarman in the past and I’ve always loved The Last of England (1988). The way he played with video and Super 8 and he never worried about being non-linear or a conformist and the editing style was cut up almost in a William Burroughs type way, so I suppose I was going for those ideas and looks with the film. And a big reason I have Katharine Blake (from the classic choral ensemble Mediaeval Baebes) in the film singing, is a nod to Jarman and Ken Russell, as they always loved a musical interlude in their movies and it felt right for UK18 to have this.

VF – Please tell us a little bit about the actors.

AT – Some of the actors in UK18 we’ve worked with before on our previous projects like Frank Boyce, Wayne Norman, Sean Cernow and Simon Balfour. And then there are new people like Jason Williamson from the band Sleaford Mods. Myself and Shona produced the documentary Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain (2015) about the band (which our cameraman Nathan Hannawin directed) and we asked Jason to play a part in this, as he’s got a lot of presence and is a great performer, so this in fact is Jason’s feature film acting debut.

We’d been interviewed by the Artist Taxi Driver (the performance artists Mark McGowan) in 2015 and we suggested that he come and do something for us in UK18 as we love his passion and direct activism on his YouTube channel.

Jean-Marc Barr and Ian Hart are brilliant actors and like-minded old friends of mine and we’ve acted together in numerous projects in the past. Both have appeared in classic movies, too many to name, but I got very lucky as they both agreed to be in the film. The same with Nisha Nayar who I’ve known for many years. And of course, Jack Roth and Tim Bentinck, who I just recently worked with as an actor on the feature Us and Them (Joe Martin, 2017; which recently had its premiere at South by Southwest).

VF – It will be 2018 in less than a year. Do you think that there is a chance that the UK government could implement an RFID chip program, or a similar initiative, so soon?

ATWhat the UK Government is currently doing is shocking, worse than fiction. The state of funding to the NHS. The rise in the need for use of foodbanks. Homelessness. What they’ve been doing to the disabled community is utterly appalling. The deaths of over 10,000 people who were sanctioned off their benefits, I mean those things are the stuff of nightmares.

But coming back to the chips, the RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) chip. Well, we’ve already got them in our phones, in our passports, in our pets, in GPS devices. The process of introduction began a long time ago in the UK with the cashless society through contactless payment, eventually what will happen is people will use an RFID chip rather than cash or credit cards.

The idea behind them is that they will be multipurpose: rather than carrying identification or money you’ll have one in your forearm. People will also be trackable through GPS and more sinisterly whoever controls them will be able to remotely trigger elements within them. We’ll never quite know what they implant in us, completely putting our faith in the lap of the gods, but they will be compulsory. There was discussion at one point of an RFID chip filled with a fatal dose of cyanide, so basically they could switch someone off, if they felt they were a danger. Pretty terrifying really.

Shona McWilliams and Jason Williamson in UK18

So, a RFID chip program for people could very well be implemented in the next few years, it will cause a bigger divide between classes, they will make it seem like a must have item, exactly in the way they convince us to upgrade our phones for the newest model even though we don’t need them. In fact, I believe that the US have already started talking about implementing the RFID programme for their citizens.

VF – How do you think that the UK compares to other countries in Europe and beyond in terms of surveillance? Do you think that we are more advanced, or behind?

AT – The recent attack on Westminster has prompted calls for the increased use of phone tapping to be utilised even more by the authorities. But we knew that was coming.

The UK has more security cameras than anywhere else from what I’ve read and heard. We also have the Snooper’s Charter, which from what I can gather, we are the only country so far to introduce such extreme measures. But we’ve always been a nation of nosey parkers, sticking our noses into other people’s business, it’s the Great British way. We’re probably not as advanced in our technology in comparison to somewhere like China, but that’s who we buy it all from, ain’t it? But they can see you through your TV now, your phone, your computer. They see everything. Apparently.

The English actor Ian Hart is featured in UK18

VF – How can people engage in the battle against extreme surveillance and neofascism after watching your movie?

AT – I’d like them to look at themselves and ask how brainwashed are we? It’s very easy for me to offer some kind of suggestion of what people should do, but they wouldn’t listen.

Instead, I went out and made a drama about it, but I think that 99% of people won’t watch this film because it’s not on TV, they’re too tuned into what is brainwashing them. Maybe I’m talking about the people who don’t vote, or those who vote without researching what they’re voting for, or vote with hatred. Apathy and narcissism is in abundance and they’re worldwide issues. It’s terrifying what people are allowing the powers that be to get away with. The trouble is that most people have been made to feel that they’re powerless and anything they do won’t make a blind bit of difference, so they just switch off.

People need to fight against neofascism and corporate corruption. Become alert, wake up and start being more considerate to their fellow man.

Perhaps these actions won’t be through social media or the internet, but more through direct action or personal interaction. I’d like to say that the situations in UK18 would never happen, but sadly I might be proved wrong.

VF – Finally, please tell us about your future projects?

AT – We’re working on getting Lost Dog made, it’s a film about two friends. Icky has cerebral palsy, he gets kicked off his benefits, loses his flat and turns up on his old mate Robbo’s doorstep after being the victim of hate crime. As the film goes on, we see that Icky faces hate crime from all sides of society every day. It’s a look at the rise of disabilism, which statistics show has risen even more since Brexit. It’s going to star Jamie Beddard and Jason Williamson, both who appear in UK18. Asides from that I’ve got some decorating to do, that’s when I get my best ideas.

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By Victor Fraga - 28-03-2017

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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