Horror ace Eli Roth’s new cannibal movie The Green Inferno, about a group of naive college students whose trip to the Peruvian jungle goes from humanitarian protest to human potluck, is inspired by what he calls “very lazy forms of student activism” or “slacktivism.”
That is, “basically people hitting the retweet button on their phones or liking things on Facebook and then feeling better about themselves,” the writer-director-producer said in a recent telephone interview from Chile, where he was putting the final touches on the feature that makes its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday.
“I started noticing this real sanctimonious attitude, especially around Kony 2012, which actually happened after I wrote the first draft of the script. But I felt like I was really right on point.”
Roth was referring to the short film Kony 2012, created by the charity Invisible Children to bring global attention to crimes of fugitive African warlord Joseph Kony.
Released in March 2012, it became an Internet sensation with support from celebrities as well as over 97 million views on YouTube and a flood of “likes” on sites including Facebook. The campaign also offered merchandise, including posters, T-shirts and bracelets.
Roth said while he feels many young people who supported the video “are innately good and want to do the right thing ... deep down they don’t really want to inconvenience their own lives.
“So everyone will complain about what’s going on in the Congo and about conflict minerals, but no one is willing to really give up their iPhones. If they found out that the ... battery life actually came from conflict mineral, I don’t know how many people would actually give up their phones.”
“With Kony 2012, what I saw was a whole bunch of people with T-shirts and mugs feeling better about themselves,” continued Roth, who was born in Massachusetts and wrote and directed the films Cabin Fever and Hostel.
“The only people they were actually helping was their own conscience for somewhat feeling guilty for living a very perfect life while these child soldiers are being killed and ... these horrible things are happening.
“But everybody said, ‘Well, I’m a good person, because I bought a mug.“’
He also felt “everybody was sort of shaming each other” into supporting the campaign, which took a hit when Kony 2012 director Jason Russell had a public breakdown in San Diego.
Ultimately, the campaign “did absolutely nothing,” surmised Roth.
“I just thought the whole thing was so completely absurd, I wanted to make a movie about those types of kids that are very smart, that are very educated, they go to school at Columbia University. They’re not idiots, they know what they’re doing, but they also think because now they have the power to stream and embarrass people with their cellphones, that they can just go around the globe and shame people into doing what they think is right,” he continued.
“And they learn the hard way that maybe there are some fights that you shouldn’t be involved in, and if you’re going to be involved in them, there’s a way to go about it. And showing up and streaming in the middle of a jungle isn’t it.”
The Green Inferno, co-written by Guillermo Amoedo, follows college students as they venture to Peru to protest the illegal clear-cutting of a jungle inhabited by an isolated Amazonian tribe.
“These kids are thinking, ‘But we’re your saviours, we rescue you,’ but (the tribe members) just see them as intruders and it’s like, ‘Oh, we have lunch,“’ said Roth.
Roth, who’s a big fan of Italian director Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust, shot in the remote Amazonian rainforest along the Aguirre River and did a lot of research on tribes.
He even filmed in a village with no electricity or running water, and used members of a real local tribe instead of actors to play the cannibals.
“It was weird, these kids would have like Utah Jazz T-shirts but they didn’t know what the Utah Jazz was,” he said. “It was sort of second- and third-hand clothing that had made its way to the village. But these people had never seen a movie before and they didn’t know what a television was, and we brought our coolers with Gatorade and ice and they had never seen ice cubes before. The whole village was freaking out.
“So of course after two weeks we had everyone using iPhones and iPads, YouTubing videos. ... But the villagers really got into it. We actually showed them the movie Cannibal Holocaust, they loved it, they thought it was a comedy and they all signed up to play the cannibals. They thought it was the funniest thing and we had this amazing time.”
The Toronto film festival runs Sept. 5 to 15.