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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Aneil Karia • Director of Surge

"I wanted the film to be first and foremost a kind of experience and a ride, more than governed by the plot"


- BERLINALE 2020: We sat down with British writer-director Aneil Karia to chat about Surge, urban spaces and the frustrations of modern society

Aneil Karia  • Director of Surge
(© Protagonist Pictures)

Surge [+see also:
film review
interview: Aneil Karia
film profile
is the feature debut by British writer-director Aneil Karia. Starring Ben Whishaw as an airport security officer who has had enough of modern life, it played in the Panorama section of the 70th Berlin Film Festival. We sat down with Karia in Berlin to talk about urban spaces and the frustrations of modern society.

Cineuropa: What came first, the idea to make a film with an intense pace or this story that meant shooting the movie with such intensity?
Aneil Karia: It was definitely the storytelling that led to the intensity of the filmmaking. So yes, I just wanted to create an experience. I wanted the movie to be first and foremost a kind of experience and a ride, more than being governed by a plot. I suppose I knew it would be intense, but then quite how intense that would end up being was a discovery for me throughout the process.

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It's the classic story of an ordinary man who falls over the edge, a bit like Joel Schumacher's Falling Down.
That film did come up during development a few times.

So what was the genesis of and development process for Surge?
I made a short film with Ben Whishaw in 2013 called Beat, which examined a man who was operating on the fringes of what is considered normal behaviour. It was also set in London, and it looked at our binary attitudes to what is normal behaviour and what is abnormal behaviour. I enjoyed the experience of making that, and it's always been of interest to me, the narrow sphere of acceptable behaviour that we've defined as a human race, particularly what we consider acceptable in more modern society. And it was something I wanted to explore further, what modern urban existence does to us in terms of how it can grind us down, and the extent to which we've suppressed our more primal instincts. I thought it would be exhilarating to tell the story of somebody breaking free from that limited, numbing mould and going on a journey that would blur the line between self-destruction and self-liberation – and which would hopefully end up being a bit of both.

The relationship between Joseph and his mother is fascinating.
I think a lot of people will connect with the idea of this kind of strained and distant relationship with the people you're actually closest to, as well as growing up in an emotional environment that isn't open or safe or liberating; it's actually quite closed and repressed. Obviously, that goes on to define your journey once you leave that space, to a certain extent.

Why did you give the main character a job working in airport security?
We thought that job was an interesting one for him because airports feel like such inhumane spaces, the way they're absolutely full of human beings who are moved and processed through the airport in such an industrial, cattle-like way. They're processed through a system that is very cold and machine-based, and it's also an environment where people are in this kind of low-level, but still very palpable, state of anxiety.

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