A Conversation with David Farrier (MISTER ORGAN)
It might be cliche to say that sometimes the truth is “Stranger Than Fiction” but in the case of New Zealand journalist and filmmaker David Farrier (Tickled) his documentary films are something entirely different.
With his latest film, Mister Organ, premiering over the opening weekend of Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX, Farrier’s film presents a new intertwined investigation into surprising craziness and surprises with a dash of madness. Pointing his camera and directing his questions this time at an unpredictable individual, Michael Organ, who could be classified as something of an enigma, but not an interesting enigma. A frustrating one is made known about halfway through the film, and one with results leaving you flabbergasted and exhausted while circling the notion of, “it’s not the journey that’s important, it’s the destination.”
Per the Fantastic Fest synopsis, this knotting documentary, one would say could be perplexed but also ask why would someone spend so much time on an individual who is not willing to be forthcoming or leading down a gaslighting path?
“Five years ago, Kiwi journalist David Farrier (Dark Tourist) wrote a piece about a minor scandal involving the clamping of parked cars after business hours in an Auckland shop’s private lot. The parking lot belonged to an antique store, and its eccentric owner refused to allow anyone onto her property, paying an individual to watch the lot like a hawk and then extorting huge amounts of money from the parking offenders. And it turns out that the entire thing was all completely legal. Digging deeper, Farrier discovers that the parking guard, Michael Organ, is not only the mysterious clamper but also the shop owner’s lawyer…and purportedly a prince. David Farrier’s self-reflective examination of his investigation into Michael Organ’s past reveals the perils of journalistic obsession and persistence. David simply cannot step away, regardless of how bizarre, twisted, and unhealthy his encounters with Michael Organ become. You’ve got to love David Farrier’s commitment. Most of Farrier’s interviewees, including Organ’s ex-roommates and estranged family members, have made a determined effort to stay as far away from the man as possible. Driven by the same journalistic instincts that fueled his previous documentary, Tickled, Farrier tenaciously clings to the story like a hungry pit bull, hoping to eventually shake the truth from his subject. Convinced that he can talk some sense into the man, Farrier finds that he’s quickly in way over his head with an oft-charming individual whose cleverness goes far beyond his initial expectations.”
Speaking with Farrier in the Highball Bar [connected to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar] in a very fitting “Joystick” karaoke room, given the sideways and winding movement his film leads us down, Farrier looks tired following his premiere screening and a late night out at the Fantastic Debates, he said, “it was so much fun..but definitely a really late night.”
Farrier continues saying, he was excited to premiere Mister Organ at Fantastic Fest and started by asking him how he knew Mister Organ/Michael Organ’s story was worthy of spending years on, “I’m lucky that I get to test and research ideas by writing about them,” Farrier said, before really getting into the bulk of how Organ’s story developed, “I started writing about Bashford Antiques and Michael Organ when he started clamping cars in my neighborhood and it was a similar feeling I got when researching Tickled…the everyday bit of weirdness lead to more weirdness plus people were really engaged with what I was writing about.”
We talked about how you have all the time in the world to create the first ever album, article, film, before people start asking when your follow-up project, film, or story, “Pretty sure if I start filming elements of this more stuff will happen, I was sort of becoming involved in the story as well, so I thought I’d start filming my journey,” Farrier said, as he also ruminated on if he took a different approach or tactics on developing Mister Organ into his next documentary, “It was a pretty similar approach to Tickled,” Laughing, thinking about the same approach to both films, Farrier also knew the idea of shooting interviews was no problem, but actually shooting footage or scenes, was a very foreign idea for when he made Tickled, but he adds, “With Mister Organ, I knew the elements I wanted to get and needed to get. So I would say I went in a bit more with a savvy approach.”
Something Farrier definitely learned for his second feature Mister Organ compared to Tickled was, “Record everything! There is plenty of research involved, but I didn’t always have everything recorded in Tickled.”
What stands out about Mister Organ is how Michael Organ was more of a willing participant featured in the film, given the film is named after him, Organ certainly had more tricks up his sleeve leaving Farrier asking what does his film or Organ even mean, referring to him at one point in the film as, “Michael is a man detached from his own body. He is a void and a blackhole.”
As Farrier explains how participants in Tickled were trying to avoid being on camera, Organ wanted to be interviewed, but it was not always as easy as planned, “with David D’Amato in Tickled, he was a ghost. Michael Organ he literally walked into our shot and started talking. He was a 50/50 participant.”
When I suggest, Organ comes across as a bit of a gadfly. Farrier laughs and agrees, “Totally. The entire process is a man that is trying to string me along to his version of reality. He’s engaged on camera when he’s willing to give me what he wants me to have, but if I’m trying to extract anything from him, he’s a dismissive character who doesn’t want to be near me.”
Another one of the similarities that is pointed out to Farrier is how family and friends of Organ ignored speaking with him or told him to stay away, as was the case in Tickled. It was not until Jillian Bashford’s (owner of Bashford Antiques) son, Israel, speaks with Farrier more about Organ’s character and history and says why Jillian is not asked more in the film, “I didn’t want the camera to linger on Jillian too much as its more Michael’s character and she wasn’t going to say much about him.”
Making Mister Organ was a more extreme version compared to Tickled, Farrier says, while going further into how the story and filmmaking was more extreme, “People disassociate themselves completely. It is New Zealand, we are shy and closed off and it is small and the level of paranoia is so huge. And the idea of saying something negative of someone in New Zealand it’s a scary thing to do because you’re likely going to bump into that person at the market or the movies. And people are scared of Michael, whether they should be or not.”
Wrapping up our brief, if wonderfully weird and interesting interview, Farrier explains what he hopes audiences take away from Mister Organ and the experience of getting his next feature documentary out into the world, “I hope it finds a home where people can watch it. Everyone has brushed up with someone who is like Michael Organ. A certain character trait where they make you feel less than them and they work their way into your life that is not positive for you. People will watch it and say, “Oh fuck, I know that thing.” People will watch it and say that’s fucked and I’m not going to allow that to happen to me. He is the ultimate gaslighter.”
We end our conversation by asking Farrier, do you think Michael will watch the film?
Without missing a beat Farrier sits up and says, “Michael Organ is such a narcissist, I guarantee he will watch the film. I am curious to what his reaction will be and I don’t think he’ll be happy about it,” as Farrier smirks and ends with, “I’ll be curious to see what his next move is and he always has a long game planned. And he has a long game for me that is still ongoing and he has more of that in store.”
Mister Organ premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and is currently looking for US Distribution.
Jim Brunzell III is the Festival Director of Sound Unseen Music + Film in Minneapolis, MN and Austin, TX. He is on Twitter @JimBrunzell_3 & Instagram @djguam
– Jim Brunzell III (@JimBrunzell_3)