The NGFF team were very fortunate to be able to interview Matt Ogens, the Emmy nominated filmmaker who directs projects across various platforms including documentary, advertising, branded content, and film. Matt’s latest documentary is the fantastic Meet The Hitlers, a thoughtful and revealing piece of investigative film-making that we cannot wait to showcase at the film festival this year. Meet The Hitlers also has a planned 2016 release with Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) as executive producer!
Matt’s first feature documentary “Confessions of a Superhero” was released under Morgan Spurlock presents, garnered rave reviews, and has gained a cult like following. He recently wrapped his first narrative feature titled “North”, a post-apocolyptic drama filmed in Detroit starring a host of rising talent including Jacob Lofland (Mud, Maze Runner 2, The Free State of Jones), Sophie Kennedy Clark (Philomena, Nymphomaniac), and Patrick Schwarzenegger. Matt has also helmed award winning campaigns for top brands in the world of advertising.
We wanted to get Matt’s views directly on the characters and the background behind Meet The Hitlers. Here’s what he shared:
The film explores the ways in which people are not often comfortable talking about Hitler or even saying his name. Can you discuss what the research process was like approaching these families and individuals on such a sensitive and quite personal subject? Was it difficult?
Each individual or family posed different challenges. Since most of these families have lived with the name Hitler in one way or another since birth and for generations, they have been heckled and judged. So when we made our initial contact, many were skeptical.
As a documentary filmmaker it’s all about creating trust between director and subject. It took some careful and respectful prodding to explain what our film was about, that one of the tenants of our film is to explain to the world that you should not judge someone by their name.
And in this case I had to establish that trust before we even began filming. Most were sensitive to their names, understandably so. We had many Hitlers who refused to speak with us, even hung up the phone when we called. I think the people who did participate were glad they did.
How important do you feel the role of remembrance is in our social history? Do you think the negative associations with the name Hitler will ever change, and should they?
I do think it is important to separate the name Hitler from the man Adolf Hitler. One has nothing to do with the other in reality. However, that’s not how the world works.
In a way, Adolf Hitler is a brand, a terrible brand of course, but the name isn’t just a name to most people. The name represents the Holocaust, the murder of 6 million Jewish people, and many other negative connotations. So it’s understandably difficult to separate the name from the evil dictator.
I think it is very important to remember the past, to learn from it, so we can make sure what Adolf Hitler did never happens again. When people hear the name Hitler, even if it’s just the name of a nice family man from Salt Lake City (Gene Hitler) they will immediately associate him with Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler will pop into their minds or what Adolf Hitler did will pop into their minds. Is that fair to Gene Hitler? No. Hopefully this film can help separate the name from the man.
Can you discuss the significance of race in relation to the film’s discourse of identity?
I’m not sure race plays a big role in the theme of Meet the Hitlers except in the case of Heath Campbell, the antagonist of the film. Heath is a neo-nazi who caused quite a bit of controversy when he named his son Adolf Hitler Campbell and his daughter Aryan Nation Campbell. He brought attention to himself and his family which then alerted authorities to other issues within the family, which resulted in his children being taken away by the state.
In this case, it was the name that brought attention, but his actions that caused his children to be removed from the home. While trying to get his kids back, instead of putting down the Nazi flag and rhetoric, he tried to make a point and continued with his racist propaganda. His ego got in the way and to this day his kids are still in foster care. We also have a Ecuadorian immigrant named Hitler Gutierrez in the film, but I don’t feel race plays a role in his story. He just happens to be of Hispanic decent. Certainly, one thinks of race when hearing the name Adolf Hitler, but race is not a major theme of the film.
Thank you Matt!
Meet The Hitlers (USA) will be screened at No Gloss Film Festival 2015.