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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedelics

    Festival darling and documentary filmmaker Etienne Sauret came to discover the subject of his latest documentary through complete happenstance. While filming Dr. Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin - one of the rogue chemists who discovered the effects of Ecstasy at a routine press conference, Sauret became fascinated with Shulgin, the man.

    “Dirty Pictures” is a documentary about Dr. Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin. Shulgin’s alchemy has earned him the title ‘The Godfather of Psychedelics,’ and a reputation as one of the great chemists of the 20th century. Working from a lab in his home, and using himself and his wife Ann as test subjects, Shulgin’s discoveries have brought him into conflict with the law but made him a worldwide underground hero. The two books Sasha and Ann co-authored, ‘Pihkal’ and ‘Tihkal’, have built a foundation for cutting-edge neuroscience and medical research. “Dirty Pictures” examines the impact of Dr. Shulgin’s lifelong quest to unlock the complexities of the human mind. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

    “Dirty Pictures”
    Documentary Competition
    Director: Etienne Sauret
    Producer: Sebastian Saville, Etienne Sauret
    Editor: Rachel Warden
    Cinematography: Etienne Sauret
    88 Minutes

    Director Etienne Sauret on what inspired him to become a documentary filmmaker…

    When I was a kid I saw a film about Atlantis, and at the end, Atlantis disappears into the Atlantic. It blew my mind that the filmmakers had time-traveled to film Atlantis being destroyed. I am not sure who blew the cover on the deception but once I understood, I was hooked. I was always very intrigued by how things work. While I began working in film focused on fiction, I eventually realized that I was far more interested in people and real life events. I can enjoy really good fiction film, but the experience is never as profound as watching a great documentary.

    Sauret on what he directed prior to “Dirty Pictures”...

    My first documentary was “The Lazy Man’s Zen,” about bikers, and then I directed the feature “Too Pure,” (1995) which debuted at Cannes and was an Official Selection at the Hamptons Festival. I was there to film the events at Ground Zero on September 11th and 12th, which became my documentary “WTC: The First 24 Hours” (2002). It was an Official Selection at the Sundance film Festival, and was broadcast around the world. I then spent two years making a feature documentary following firefighters affected by the attacks entitled “Collateral Damages” (2003), which won the Special Jury Award at AFI/SilverDocs. Recently, I was Director of Photography for Eugene Jarecki’s “Why We Fight,” winner of the 2005 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, I also DP’d HBO’s David Holbrooke’s 2007 documentary “Hard as Nails” and numerous episodes of Sundance’s channel “Iconoclasts”.

    Sauret on what lead him to make “Dirty Pictures”...

    In 2005 a friend who runs a drug prevention center in the UK wanted to bring Sasha to London to speak at a conference. When Sasha couldn’t attend, we went to California and made a short film for the conference. While filming, I found Sasha and his wife Ann to be truly unusual and endearing. Later, when I was editing the footage, my office interns kept stopping by and asking “who IS this guy?” I never thought Sasha, a wild man with white hair, big white eyebrows and a child-like smile would be so appealing to people in their 20’s, and I thought that if Sasha could stop them in their tracks and hold their attention, making a longer film about both Ann and Sasha was worth pursuing. I soon began to realize that there was a lot more to the story that I initially imagined. Sasha’s been an underground hero for decades, sporadically doing interviews and speaking in engagements, but people generally often saw him as “Doctor X(cstasy)” and asked the same questions, which he often answered the same way. I didn’t know as much about him as some of those interviewer / fans, and this allowed me to ask questions he didn’t expect, and not ask the questions he expected. This brought out something new and fresh, even though he’s been publicly speaking about his work for years. I also deliberately avoided any in-depth research on the drug ecstacy. I was more curious about Ann and Sasha as human beings whose chosen path happened to be Psychedelics. We spent a lot of time together making the film over five years, and became very close. So at some point it was not as much filming him as a subject, as it was being together, engaging one another in conversations, traveling together. As for our rapport, the trust evolved with time, and I think that you should give the courtesy of time to somebody you film, to get acquainted, to earn their trust. You wouldn’t just jump in and start asking questions to a friend, so why would you do that to a film subject? Also, you also have to really care for that person, because if you don’t they will sense it.

    Sauret on the difficult task of editing his film…

    We decided that we didn’t want any voice over or narration, and that made it very tricky. Rachel my editor, was phenomenal and truly understood the scope of the film. Sasha wasn’t difficult, but making a film that makes sense to people about this larger than life figure who invented ecstasy, and who is a very complex and brilliant man, whom we followed in many places from the desert of Nevada to Egypt and around the U.S., took a lot of work. I can honestly say that I’d be hesitant to do another film about an individual. It is so much more complex than when dealing with a subject matter.

    Why Sauret feels SXSW is the ideal festival to debut his picture…

    SXSW prides itself on its “Tomorrow Happens Here” attitude, as does its audience. That’s the perfect place for a film like this to debut, because Dr. Shulgin was very much a frontier person who went out and did the psychedelics research that nobody else was daring to do. He decided to forgo convention, walk away from a lucrative corporate job and go out on his own to fulfill his destiny, and I think that the audience will very much be able to appreciate his Man Against the Machine attitude.

    Sauret on films that inspired him…

    If you look at recent films, I was blown away by Toback’s “Tyson.” I also feel that “Waco: The Rules of Engagement,” “Brother’s Keeper” and “Terrors Advocate” are some of the best docs ever made. But perhaps, the one that made the most profound impact on me in the last few years is “Lake of Fire,” Tony Kaye’s documentary. I think it is a masterpiece, absolutely flawless. The perfect documentary. I was in awe. This film definitely impacted me in a profound way and inspired me.

    and on future projects…

    We’ve been in for a couple of years now on a new film tentatively entitled “Behind,” a documentary exploring the changing perceptions of female beauty in America. We’re also prepping for a new documentary tentatively entitled “Human Beehive.”

    by indieWIRE
    March 02, 2010


  1. enquirewithin
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    Very interesting. That's a film I definitely want to see!
  2. Alias: V
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    This is great! Timing couldn't have been better. I just finished PiHKAL, and probably by the time I'm able to get my grimy little hands on this documentary I'll have finish TiHKAL. Extremely excited to see this film.
  3. El Calico Loco
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    Cally might make it to the premiere and after-party. She hopes to meet Dr. Shulgin and thank him for the chemical that saved her.

  4. El Calico Loco
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaand...she did. And it was grand. Be jealous, all of you. :laugh:

    The house was packed. Hundreds showed up for the premiere.

    Cally enjoyed the documentary. It was cool to see the Shulgins talk about their personal experiences with drugs and their different interpretations of them. They give the autobiographical details and curriculum vitae, but don't dwell on it - most of the film focuses on his life's work and society's reaction to it. Some other notables from the field are featured as well, including some who approach the subject much differently (such as the guy who, contra Shulgin, has never taken psychedelics but experiments with them on animals).

    The movie also featured Bob Sager, Shulgin's longtime friend from the DEA. As a friend of Cally's put it, he was another hero of the movie, of sorts - the former narc who lost his faith and was glad to be out of the game. It was a cool contrast.

    Shulgin's lab was priceless. One of the other chemists in the film sad it best: it looks more like an alchemist's laboratory than a chemistry lab. A wizard from Dungeons & Dragons would look right at home, poring over arcane tomes and mixing bubbling potions.

    There was a bit of Q&A after the film. I can only hope to have as keen a mind when I'm 84. Ann and Sasha were delightful - gracious and witty.

    They had an afterparty at a nearby bar. Cally got to shake hands with the good doctor and personally thank him for 2C-E, the drug that saved her sanity, marriage, and maybe life. He looked delighted; his whole face lit up with curiousity. "How so?" She didn't go into detail - there were lots of people waiting for their chance to shake hands and get pictures - but just mentioned that it had helped her come back from childhood abuse and trauma, and a few other things. "Well," he said, "welcome back!" :)

  5. Shuras_Lab_assistant
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    Will this film eventually hit some (online-)stores? I am really looking for a chance to buy it. I would prefer european vendors if there are/will be any.
  6. El Calico Loco
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    I think they might have premiered at SXSW to try and attract a distributor. But that's just hearsay; I can't say for certain.

  7. Terrapinzflyer
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    ^^^ correct. Keep fingers crossed for a good distribution deal. While I doubt it will get widespread distribution, hopefully it will make it to screens in most cities and many college towns.

    Looking forward to the scene at the big screen in San Francisco and N. CA.
  8. enquirewithin
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    Let's hope for an early DVD release-- or other digital distribution. It will never hit cinemas near me. (The link gives a 404...?)
  9. Terrapinzflyer
    Re: Shulgin - SXSW ‘10 | Director Etienne Sauret Uncovers the Godfather of Psychedeli

    ^^ thanks for the heads up- updated the link.
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