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"I Couldn’t Believe the Poverty and the Destitution in Which the Homeless People of LA lived"



Bonaparte chats with Andzej Gavriss, director of Malaria, a new short film about homelessness in Los Angeles

"I Couldn’t Believe the Poverty and the Destitution in Which the Homeless People of LA lived"

At the of age 19 Andzej Gavriss moved from Latvia to the UK where he worked in a warehouse until he had saved up enough cash to buy his first camera. Since then, he never looked back and has shot commercials, music videos and short films in the UK, Indonesia, Russia, and the US.

While shooting a music video in LA, Andzej came across something he didn’t expect. Shocked by what he saw and the stories he heard, he decided to make a film about the darker side of of the city, with the help of Bonaparte Films, Paranoiia Productions and post-house Supercontinent.

Bonaparte Films talks to Andzej about his new short film Malaria.

BF> Andzej, congratulations. You’ve created an emotional film in a style that feels like an epic blockbuster. A story about an ordinary worker who contracts malaria in the middle of LA. Where did this idea come from? 

Andzej> When I first moved to LA, I was blown away by the city. It was everything I imagined it would be. At some point, I decided to get a bicycle, and it totally changed the way the city presented itself to me. When you’re in a car, it’s easy to stay in your bubble, but when you’re on a bicycle, it becomes very difficult to ignore the dirt and the grime.

I happened to cycle through Skid Row, and I was like, where the hell am I? I couldn’t believe the poverty and the destitution in which the homeless people of LA lived. It really affected me. Afterwards, I discovered a YouTube channel called ‘Invisible People’ which is a collection of interviews with people who live there. Many of them had been normal hard-working citizens at one point. What really surprised me was that a lot of these people had malaria.

Instantly it triggered my memory - I had been shooting in Indonesia a few years back, and I had gotten dengue fever from a mosquito bite. It was the worst fever you can possibly imagine. Luckily I recovered, but it could also have ruined me. That idea, that such a little mosquito bite has the power to change your life stayed with me, and I was reminded of that when I met the people on Skid Row. In that moment I just knew I had to build a film around that idea. In that moment I just knew I had to build a film around this idea.


BF> So it’s a passion project. How did you get it up off the ground?

Andzej> I got a lot of help from all different people - there was a lot of luck in play as well. For instance, I met the guys from Bonaparte Films, we got talking and they really loved the idea and wanted to help out. So I linked them up with Paranoiia Productions in LA and we were able to get the ball rolling.

There was a lot of hustling, and we did manage to get a lot of stuff for free. We negotiated the lenses, the gear, and even the locations. Everyone involved wanted to contribute and help out.

The result is a classy film that was created through the charity of everyone involved to hopefully highlight an issue that needs exposure. So a huge thanks to everyone’s generosity.

BF> The story depicts the downfall of an ordinary guy who is bitten by a mosquito, contracts malaria and ends up homeless on the streets of LA. Tell me about your collaboration with Kelsey, the lead actor.

Andzej> I actually wrote the screenplay with Kelsey in mind. I knew him from a previous project, and saw immediately that he had incredible range. He’s a deep person, and he really cares about his characters. He had a lot of ideas while we were shooting, and I knew I could trust him. When you have a connection with an actor like that, then it’s so much easier to give them the freedom to express themselves and push the boundaries. 

So while he was doing that I was making sure to get the most out of his performance. I myself try to absorb as much of the character as possible, so that I can channel that energy into each shot. Sometimes you can have the best actor in the world, but if the techniques, the framing and the angles aren’t right, then you’re not delivering the maximum emotional impact.


BF> Is there any particular reason why you chose to shoot on film rather than digital?

Andzej> The film is visual and cinematic, but I didn’t want it to look too polished. I was looking for something more real, more gritty, something that feels like a documentary movie, so we decided to use 16mm. Shooting on film was also a way to get out of my comfort zone. With limited amount of film stock, it’s not like digital where you can do endless takes — you have to be so much more decisive. If you’re not careful, you can miss a shot, and then you don’t have a story. So it’s a little more stressful, but you end up with a result that you couldn’t achieve in any other way.


BF> The film feels like a Hollywood blockbuster. And then there is a big tonal switch in the film in the third act where you introduce some really gritty documentary elements. It’s quite a stark, shocking moment — in a good way.

Andzej> I wanted the audience to experience that same moment of shock that I experienced when I suddenly discovered Skid Row on my bicycle. But equally, the last thing people want after a hard day’s work is a film that preaches to them. I always want the viewer to be entertained, so the first two acts are played out as a fictional narrative. The idea was to surprise the audience, switch to documentary footage and really drive home the message that this is not fiction. This is real life.

BF> How do audiences react?

Andzej> Some people outside the US think it’s a sort of utopia of perfection, especially if they haven’t been there before. They are shocked when they realise how many people live on the streets in the US. Over half a million homeless. That’s a lot of people. And that was before the Covid-19 crisis. Those numbers are just going to go up.


BF> You chose certain locations to reflect the protagonists state of mind. The shining glass and steel towers of downtown LA, the sewers underneath the city streets and, of course the memorable scene in the desert. For me, these locations work together to hint at a certain barrenness in American society.

Andzej> So I’m not saying people in the US don’t care about stuff. They do. There are many organisations and individuals who try to make a difference. The amount of help we got from people to make the film, for example, is testimony to the generosity of Americans.

But it’s also true that living in the US can be tough if you lose your job and your income. Housing in LA is tough too. The landlord can put up the rent and if you just lost your job, you can end up on the street pretty quickly. Crashing and burning is the flip side of the American Dream. So, yeah, there is a certain kind of harshness about American society that I wanted to represent in the film.

The thing to remember, is that you can go there and make it, and I love that about the US. I experienced it for myself, and it’s addictive. But you can also end up in the gutter real fast. There isn’t the same kind of public healthcare, like there is in Europe, so as crazy as it sounds, you can end up with malaria as well.


BF> Is this an activist film, then?

Andzej> It’s an interesting question, because it makes me realise I’m not really an activist in the traditional sense. I’m a filmmaker. It’s a story that I felt a strong emotional connection to, and decided shine a light on it in an artistic way.

Of course I want as many people as possible to see it. I see it as more of a contribution to a conversation, and as a way to give the homeless a voice in society. Hopefully that way, more people will become aware of this problem and feel inspired to do something about it.

I feel like, as creators, we have the opportunity to inspire people to take action.

BF> Thanks Andzej.

Andzej> My pleasure.

Andzej’s short film Malaria as well as his previous short films, music videos and commercials can be seen here.  

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BONAPARTE, Mon, 29 Jun 2020 08:44:24 GMT