DEAD HANDS DIG DEEP Filmmaker Jai Love Discusses his Intimate Documentary on Edwin Borsheim
Jai Love, a nineteen year-old at the time had only recently completed his foundation year at AFTRS before embarking on his feature-length film debut, DEAD HANDS DIG DEEP. A documentary that paints an intimate portrait of a genuinely tortured musician and now recluse Edwin Borsheim, frontman of nineties shock-metal act Kettle Cadaver. Due to the apprehensive and somewhat volatile nature of Edwin, the project required a small crew in whom Jai could communicate with in the shortest of hands. Gathering a mixture of longtime friends and previous collaborators including co-writer/producer/composer Spencer Heath, cinematographer Hazal Alakus & sound operator/mixer Corey McCrossin, Jai ventured to the United States in 2015 to craft what has since become one of the breakout documentaries of 2016. Our MONSTER FEST festival director Kier-La Janisse was present at the world premiere of DEAD HANDS DIG DEEP at SLAMDANCE earlier this year and caught up with Jai to discuss the film shortly after.
KIER-LA JANISSE: The Mad Max connection is interesting – how did you end up working on Fury Road and was that connected in any way to the trajectory leading to Edwin Borsheim?
JAI LOVE: In 2013 I interned for Tommy Lee Jones on his western, THE HOMESMAN. After wrapping it up, I moved back to Sydney where I got asked to come in and direct extras for Fury Road. It doesn’t have anything to do with leading me to Ed… But I had grown up watching those movies and so had he, so we talked a lot about that.
KLJ: Were you a fan of Kettle Cadaver or did something else tip you off to the potential story here?
JL: I knew nothing about Kettle Cadaver until Spencer Heath, one of my oldest and best friends (also the producer/co-writer/composer) showed me A TASTE OF BLOOD. I had never seen art like this before and immediately knew this was something I wanted to do.
KLJ: Did you try to talk to Eva O for the film? I notice you thank her in the credits.
JL: During filming, Eva refused to acknowledge us. I think this was because of the chance that Edwin may be in contact with her. We decided to thank her out of respect to her and her music.
KLJ: How did you decide to have a non-metal soundtrack that is more folky? It makes a nice contrast to the imagery.
JL: I would say that’s exactly why we used it. The juxtaposition of the environment and the music that Heath composed fit so well.
KLJ: The Lee Hazlewood track at the end –how easy was it to get this song? I know Hazlewood tracks were very difficult to secure when he was alive.
JL: We originally thought Smells Like Records had the rights to the song, so we got in contact with Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth (who runs the label) but he said he wasn’t in contact with Hazlewood’s people anymore. It lead us to Light in the Attic Records. It wasn’t really a hard thing but our producers did get pissed off. We needed it though, so we are happy with it finalising the film.
KLJ: I love that what motivates Edwin is to be ‘real’ and that the way he does that is to explore pain, as though pain is the only thing that is ‘real’ enough – do you feel this is connected to schizophrenia, is it just nihilism, and do you think anything might change this worldview for him?
JL: I think that it is a combination of nihilism and sadomasochism. Nihilism keeps him from believing that there is feeling in his life and the only feeling he can give or receive is to put pain upon others or himself.
KLJ: Did you ever have to compose shots or reshoot anything that would invite disdain from Edwin for creating an illusion?
JL: Edwin would have never allowed that. Although things were sometimes carefully composed, this was manipulated by the filmmakers and never involved planning on Edwin’s behalf.
KLJ: Did Edwin intimidate you at all and how did you overcome that? Watching it I was afraid of what he was going to do – I was afraid of what I might see. Did you feel like that making it?
JL: He is very personable, contrary to what you would think. It’s hard to anticipate how somebody is going to behave after a lot of time of observing and speculating about their work. He has also revealed later on in the shoot that he had planned something he called Kettle Cadaver 3. This was where he would kill the film crew and himself only leaving our cinematographer, Hazal, alive. She would then take the tapes to the police and Edwin would become infamous by leaving what he called the “biggest shit stain on Southern California”… at some point he broke down saying that once he realized that we were all just young artists he couldn’t bring himself to do it and welded his gun cabinet shut. Whether or not any of this was true is totally up for speculation.
KLJ: How do you expect to pass ratings in Australia?
JL: We don’t really and we have no intention on cutting down the film.
DEAD HANDS DIG DEEP plays MONSTER FEST on Friday November 25th at 9:30pm with a Q&A by co-writer/director Jai Love & cinematographer Hazal Alakus and you can grab tickets right here!