Greatland (2020) Analysis: Interview With Director Dana Ziyasheva

Greatland is a 2020 dystopian science fiction independent film written and directed by Dana Ziyasheva, who has worked in the UN for over 20 years in various countries. The story is centred on Ulysses, a teenager who has lived his entire life in a reality filled with lies and seeming arbitrary rules. In a world where cross-gender couples are frowned upon, Ulysses fights back to save a girl, his best friend, from the people who are behind the organized chaos that life in Greatland has become. I had the pleasure of talking to Dana and Igor (the producer of the film) to gain more insights into this mind-bending film and the vibrant world that it creates. Before we jump into the intro, here is the trailer and links related to the 2020 film Greatland.

 

Where you can watch Greatland:

Tubi – https://tubitv.com/movies/564336/greatland

Amazon – Amazon.com: Greatland

Official Site and Social Media:

Website – www.greatlandthedystopianmovie.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/greatlandthemovie/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/greatlandthemovie/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/greatlandmovie

Greatland Explained: Interview with director, Dana Ziyasheva

Igor, thanks for connecting with me and helping set up this interview. Hi Dana, thanks for taking the time for this interview. I think I just watched the most colourful yet dystopian future shown in a film so far. Congratulations on this fantastic film. There is so much going on in this movie. I’m going to be honest, a couple of the things missed me, so I’ll be asking a few spoilery questions.

greatland-movie

This Is Barry: The community on the mainland is living an elaborate lie powered by the voice of a universal “mother”, later revealed to be a programmed entity. Was there a back story to how it all came about? I mean, this community is even made to believe that death is a condition for which a cure is being worked upon!

Dana: For the last twenty-five years, I lived and worked in places like Iraq, China, Russia and Latin America: in a way, Greatland is my conclusion about where we are as a civilization. Greatland shows how the power of suggestion can alter our perception of reality. Manipulation of mass consciousness can produce crazy results. I saw it with my own eyes in North Korea. In Greatland, funky posters plastered over obsolete infrastructure, seizure-inducing neon hysteria of Bracelet TV broadcasts and the omnipresent voice of Mother are all instruments used in a neuro-programming experiment on the entire population. Greats are fed sugary drinks and gray goo that makes them all the more receptive to this mass hypnosis.     

This Is Barry: If I’m right, though the timing with Covid-19 and the virus in the film is uncanny, there really is no actual virus in the movie, is there? That’s part of the disillusion.

Dana: In Greatland, the Virus is an important element of their religion/propaganda. Greats are intimated that the Virus was invented by the Evil Nation in order to deprive Greats of their immortality. Altruists will find a Cure against the Virus and resurrect Greats who “collapsed” from the Virus. In which order the dead or “collapsed” will be resurrected, depends on how good of a citizen each of these Greats was. So, there is a clear incentive to behave well. 

Greatland-Repentance-Island

This Is Barry: Ah, yes, a measure of control! The fact that an entire population’s lives and beliefs are a byproduct of a couple’s personal tiff, i.e. a cat-person vs a dog-person, felt like a satire on the world today. To quote the Merovingian from The Matrix: Reloaded, “choice is an illusion, created between those with power, and those without”. While this outcome in Greatland may not have been by design, it is how things turned out, and the ludicrous situation is perfectly balanced. Am I heading off on a completely wrong tangent?

Dana: You’re absolutely right. Greats think they vote on which pet is cuter or sweeter. They don’t listen to the programs of the candidates; they are unable to understand what “modernization of S.L.A.V.E Sanctuary” stands for. However, depending on whose pet wins, Greatland could continue stagnating or take a radical turn towards a more aggressive militarist ideology.  

This Is Barry: Given that there are no more cross-gender couples in the film, some boys are given human babies to raise. I was curious, where do the babies come from?

Dana: In Greatland, natural reproduction is taboo. The Dark Ceremony was designed to collect sperm which then, is used to impregnate women in the S.L.A.V.E. Sanctuary. Surrogate babies are distributed at random. That’s why Clerk calls replenishment of the population an issue. Greats are unaware of this cruel surrogacy process. They believe that humans, plants and animals all have one Mother.

This Is Barry: Ah, now that I go back and watch, I’m wondering how I missed that! Thanks for spelling that out, Dana. The production value in the film was terrific, the sets, the location and the design. How much trouble did you have to go through to make it happen?

Dana: I wrote a detailed guide on production design and graphic identity of Greatland. The Greatland universe consists of two completely different if not opposite worlds: the mainland and Repentance island. One is trippy, flamboyant and high on GMO corn sugar; another one is organic, cool and rustic. We had to build Greatland in Los Angeles on a shoe-string budget and within a 30-mile radius. Igor and I did the scouting ourselves, we went off the beaten track and found really amazing locations in Van Nuys, Pacific Palisades, Surfridge, San Pedro and Catalina island.

In the funky, low-tech, run down mainland, everything is toy-looking, cheap and malfunctioning because it’s manufactured by S.L.A.V.E. labor or imported from Evildom. So, mainland is goofy by design. My art department kept telling me that Greatland is a period movie, only the time we are showing is in the future. Costumes by Meghan Spatz and music by Matthew Chilelli blew my mind: they really captured l’air du temps of Greatland with all the historic and geographical references we talked about. Many sets were like riddles. For example, I came up with the Bracelet Studio black light design in my sleep, two days before the shoot. Luckily, our young and resourceful set designers were able to pull it out on time. I love glitter and collective euphoria such as Holi festival in India or Rio Carnival. In post-production, I had a ball adding a giant Trojan Horse and showers of diamonds, hearts and unicorns with our fantastic motion graphic designer Jared Barel. 

The casting process took months; I’m happy I discovered Donzell Lewis, Chloe Ray Warmoth, Ryan Simantel and many others young actors whose raw talent, energy and charisma made their characters into both extreme social prototypes and real human beings.

greatland-set

This Is Barry: Wow, that was a lot of brilliant collaboration and meticulous planning. Ulysses and Ugly Duck get the key to their world, which they can take forward in a brand new direction. But why do I have a strange feeling that they might turn out much like Lady Omega and Alpha Altruist… is it how it was intended, or am I being pessimistic?

Dana: Ulysses is not ready to let go off his resentment against the system. He saw his loved ones being ostracized, abused and even terminated. Much like Odysseus who comes home and exterminates suitors of his wife, Ulysses wants to settle accounts with those who made him suffer. Plus, he learned a great deal about social engineering and political games from those who designed the system. He’ll certainly be tempted to try his hand at it…

Ugly Duck is every Great civilian who prefers a bad peace to a good war. She’s the voice of reason. She does get carried away at some point but it just shows how pervasive child groomers can be. Whether she can hold Ulysses back from succumbing to his hatred, remains to be seen.   

This Is Barry: What is the one thing you would like the audience to take away from the film?

Dana: I hope the audience sees through the “divide and conquer” tactics that makes us shout at each other from the opposite corners instead of coming together and finding a compromise. 

This Is Barry: Excellent. What else is cooking, Dana? Would you like to give us a little sneak peek into your next project?

Dana: We want to do Greatland 2, a sequel with bigger cast and comedic action in the vein of Tropic Thunder. 

I’m also pitching a project called Grassland to the State Center for Support of National Cinema in my home country Kazakhstan. If accepted, it would be a second canvas in the triptych that depicts the current mindset of various civilizations.

This Is Barry: This is very exciting, Dana. I’m curious to find out what Ulysses and Ugly Duck have in store for them as it’s not going to be easy for the two. Here’s wishing you all the best with Grassland and Greatland 2.

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