Up-and-coming Colombian filmmaker Margarita Jimeno met us for a cup of mint tea and conversation minutes from her apartment and not too far from our headquarters here in Willyburg. We were eager to jump right in with questions surrounding her new documentary “Gogol Bordello Non-Stop” and the personality that is Eugene Hütz, lead singer of the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. ‘How did you set aside seven years of your life to do this project?’ ‘Is Hütz really as asshole-ly/sexy as they say?’ But we held back. Sort of.
Jimeno looked a little tired, and understandably so, since she had just arrived the day prior from Prague, where she won the audience award at the Music on Film Film on Music Festival (MOFFOM). MOFFOM’s website said audience members were feeling the screening so much, that the theater itself nearly turned into one of the raucous concerts featured in the documentary.
That’s not hard to believe. After all, Gogol Bordello Non-Stop is able to transmit the energy Eugene Hütz and his band are so well-known for. Hütz, born to Russian-Ukraine-Romani (Gypsy) parents, incorporates his nomadic upbringing in songs like “Immigrant Punk” and performances that can include anything from buckets and booze to half-naked women and Gypsy dancers. He went from DJing the wildest parties at legendary New York downtown club Mehanata (aka “The Bulgarian Bar”) to launching his multi-ethnic, eight member band to international stardom. Along the way, the charismatic Hütz has also become an actor (Everything is Illuminated with Elijah Wood) and Madonna’s muse (she invited Gogol to share the stage with her at Live Earth and he is the star of her first directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom.)
Jimeno was there to capture it all in a chaotic film full of party footage, intimate interviews, and New York City life. Before she jetted off to her next obligation, the North American premiere of “Gogol” in L.A. at the American Film Institute Festival (AFI), Jimeno told us about her personal connection with the band and how she cranked out 90 minutes of mayhem after 7 years of filming (and partying).
Remezcla.com: What did you think when you first saw Eugene?
Margarita: I first saw Hutz DJ at this Russian disco. He was DJing and I really liked the party, but I wasn’t paying much attention to Eugene. Then, I didn’t see him for a while, and I remember I had to ask where the DJ went. Someone told me, ‘Oh I think he’s playing at some Bulgarian bar on Canal Street.’ I went there and saw him playing that night. I had an early call the next day, so I went up to him, and said, ‘I think you’re a really good DJ and want to hear you again. Do you DJ here every week?’ and he was like, [in Ukrainian accent] ‘Yeah, but I a DJ tonight!” I thought, OK, this guy is so funny. I’m going to come back but I couldn’t stay that night. And I went back and never stopped going.
ЯE: When was the first time you saw Gogol Bordello perform and is there another band you would compare them to?
M: In Brighton Beach and I thought it was amazing. [Long pause] I guess if you were a rocker in Latin America, you kind of feel connected to them. I saw Mano Negra in Colombia when I was 15 or 16 years old and the energy was the same.
ЯE: A big part of their fan base is Latino. What made you feel that connection?
M: It’s about the energy. If you were a teenager in the 90s or 80s even, in Latin America, especially in South America, you’d understand. There were a lot of Argentine bands coming out. There was a huge rock scene in Bogotá, Colombia, and especially with Manu Chao (founding member of now disbanded Mano Negra), you felt this energy of partying and a chaos in a good way. Nothing mattered – you’re just there in that moment. The same thing when I was going to Bulgarian Bar, I would dance so much and wouldn’t even drink. It was very adrenaline-driven.
ЯE: At what point did you see them and think, ‘I need to make a film about these guys?’
M: Actually, there was this company in England who wanted to get young people to make short clips about nightlife in New York, so I thought the Bulgarian Bar would be perfect. I wasn’t thinking about doing a documentary. I asked Eugene if I could follow him around for a month in the summer. I told him, ‘I’m gonna call you, ask you what you’re doing and I’ll film the party.’ He said, [Ukrainian accent] ‘You have to come and a check my band.’
I had already been going for a while. By the time I asked him, he knew I was a regular. He said, ‘OK, fine.’ I remember asking him, ‘What band is this?’ What are you playing?’ He told me it was his band he was mixing and I said, ‘Yeah right. Can you make me a mix?’ He said, [Ukrainian accent] “50 dollars!” [Laughs]
ЯE: Is he funny like that, or does he come off kind of like an ass? I’ve heard from other people he’s kind of off-putting.
M: He’s very…he’s Russian, you know? That’s just kind of the Russian style. It’s a little bit aggressive, but at the same time it’s so out there. I guess because I liked his artistic creativity, even when he was DJing, I overlooked all that. I thought it was funny. I thought, 50 dollars for a CD? Yeah. Who’s going to buy this shit? Of course later on, years later, people did and I understood. He spent days and time and dedication into finding interesting new music. Why would he just give away a CD?
ЯE: And he really sold it for 50 dollars?
M: Yeah, but then one day he was walking on Lafayette and he walked into this shoe store. He walked in, and liked the music playing. Then he said, ‘Oh wait, this is my mix playing.’ He realized where his mix ended up and I think he stopped selling them for 50 dollars at the Bulgarian Bar.
ЯE: At what point did it go from being a short film to a documentary?
M: I was at a crossroads. I was really interested in all this Balkan music – that’s why I was going to Bulgarian Bar – and, at the same time, there was this really cool opportunity to work on Maria Full of Grace. I could work casting on Maria or as assistant editor on this documentary call When the Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan. With the documentary, I would be working with these amazing Gypsy music bands and have access to equipment, so it seemed more fitting.
ЯE: What did you know before about the Gypsy community?
M: Nothing. Then I started to realize a lot of the music I like, what Eugene was playing, were some of these bands in the documentary. While I was there editing I started to think, OK let’s shoot a show. Because I was working for production company and editing, and I saw all these DJs playing, I started to understand about the Gypsy community, and I began to film specific things with Eugene. At first I was filming concerts and trying to get the atmosphere backstage. It was slow and natural. It was not like I had an agenda and said, ‘Ok I’m going to film you for three weeks and spend every afternoon with you.’
ЯE: At what point did you realize, ‘I’m going to be involved longer than a summer?’
M: Once I was in it, I was really frustrated. I was like, ‘I’m never going to finish and I don’t know what the story is!’ And of course the band felt like, ‘Oh my god, is she a groupie?’ I don’t think they quite understood and they started making jokes. At some point, I didn’t even have a title for the film but once I finally named it “Gogol Bordello Non-Stop,” they said, ‘Yeah, it’s nonstop because she’s never going to stop filming us.’
For more information about Gogol Bordello Non-Stop and Margarita Bordello’s upcoming projects, Feminine Technical Difficulties and Guerrero, check out the website of her film production company, Guespa Films.