FILM

ÉCU Film Festival | 2019
Dominique Filhol

THE NINE BILLION NAMES OF GOD

European Dramatic Short

France

1957, New York. A Tibetan monk rents an automatic sequence computer. The monks seek to list all of the names of God. They hire two Westerners to install and program the machine in Tibet… This short film is based on the book by Arthur C. Clarke.  

 

Hi Dominique thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?

I’m fine, thank you. I  just come back from Arizona where I was looking for some inspiration for a next project. This land is so beautiful. This is an amazing place to visit. 

How does it feel to have The Nine Billion Names of God part of this years ÉCU Film Festival?

To have « The Nine Billion Names of God » part of this year ECU film festival is a great honour. I am very proud and excited to share it with the ECU audience. Having your short film in a festival selection is always a pleasant surprise. I can’t wait to see all the other films and meet the filmmakers. This festival is held by a great team, all volunteers, so thanks to them because if they weren’t there it would be difficult to show our short films.

The reaction to The Nine Billion Names of God has been amazing, has it surprised you to have gotten such a great response to your film?

When you make a movie you always secretly hope to have success, but, yes! Definitely! I am surprised to have such a great response from the audience and festivals. I was lucky to have my short screened at many festivals all around the world and I hope this will continue. It feels good when someone you don’t know come to see you and said that he likes your film. When I was at the Sedona Film Festival, someone in the audience told me he was a friend of Arthur C. Clarke (his name is mentioned at the end of some of his books) and he told me: «  I am sure Arthur C. Clarke would love your movie » (Arthur C. Clarke died in 2008 ) His compliment was very special to me. This gentleman used to work for JPL at NASA and made the complete software for the Rover’s opportunity, the one who is on Mars and recently shut down after years of services. 

Are there any nerves ahead of the screening?

Of course, there is. Now I feel better, but a the beginning I was afraid!  However, I practice meditation and it helps me to feel better. Before a screening, I closed my eyes, I breathe, I do a pranayama breathing and then I let things go. Now, I like to see people react to my film and to know how they interpret it and if they don’t like it, it’s ok too.

Can you tell me a little bit about The Nine Billion Names of God, how did this film come about?

The story of The Nine Billion Names of God happens in 1957, New York. A Tibetan monk rents an automatic sequence computer. The monks seek to list all of the names of God. They hire two Westerners to install and program the machine in Tibet and strange things will happen...Then, How did this film come about? It’s a long story.

I think, like every film project, nothing was easy. Making a film is always challenges. Albert Camus, a French philosopher said: “Art lives on constraints and dies of freedom.” Which is true, when you have nothing you have to find solutions… The greatest challenges of the film were related to the budget almost nonexistent, we had just enough to house and feed the film crew. So my first challenge was to bring together a whole team of volunteers, actors and technicians. The second challenge was to make time and places credible with such a small budget. It was, therefore, necessary to find really beautiful scenery on which there was little work to do. It was not easy to find a Buddhist temple that was ready to welcome us to shoot a film, because these are sacred places where people come to meditate and find peace. I had to make technical sacrifices because I would have liked to have a crane or tracking shots on some shots of the film and we had no budget for that. We chose the option of the steadycam operator for all camera movements because we could not take a team of machinists. I can tell you that the challenges were many in this film and I thank again this incredible team with whom I had the chance to work. Nothing would have been possible without them, this film is also theirs.

When did you first discover Arthur C Clarks book?

I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s Book in another book. The first time I read « The Nine Billion Names of God » it was in a French book called « The Morning of the Magicians » written by Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels. Their book covering topics like crypto history, ufology, alchemy and spiritual philosophy. In the middle of the book, there was only one short story, it was «  The Nine Billion Names of God » and I think they decided to add it in their book because it seems that this story was a summarize of all these subjects.

How soon after reading the book did you know you wanted to turn it into a film?

It was 12 years ago, the first time I read it I was thinking that it would be a great short film. The story is only nine pages.

Was it a daunting task adapting Arthur C. Clarks book, did you have any apprehensions?

Indeed I put some pressure on myself by adapting this short story. This is one of Arthur C. Clarke's best-known short stories, and it was very difficult to get the rights to do it in a short film. For me, it was very important to be close to the original work and I hope that the fans of Arthur C. Clarke will not be disappointed. I loved Rendez-vous with Rama or The Fountains of Paradise

Sir Arthur had the genius of a Jules Verne. He was a visionary, a scientist, we owe him the concept of geostationary orbit with which many satellites work today ... He predicted things that happened in the future and of course he worked with one of my favourite directors, Stanley Kubrick for 2001, A space Odyssey whose scenario was adapted from the short story of Clarke: The Sentinel. 

"...follow your heart..."

This film is a tribute to all those who made me dream, gave me some inspiration like Jacques Bergier, Louis Pauwels, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick and many others!  This little story contains many topics that interest me, the meeting of a materialistic society embodied by the two engineers and society turned to the spiritual with the Buddhist monks ... the meeting of science and spirituality. .. it's also a story of adventure, it speaks of a magical country, full of mysteries, this story was the pretext to make an epic short film.

What was the most challenging part of bringing The Nine Billion Names of God to life? 

Making it with such a small budget, it’s a real indie film. In the beginning, it was a complete auto production, because making a Sci-Fi short film in English in France is a real challenge. It’s much more easy to find a producer or money if you want to make a short drama, a comedy or an animation movie. But now we have the help of a production company called Next Film Distribution for the distribution.

What was the most valuable lesson you've taken from making this film?

If you never give up, you will make it. And now, I definitely know that I want to make a feature film.

 

Have you always been interested in filmmaking?

Always, since I am a child. We used to make a lot of short films with my friends. I remember, I was 7 years old and one day my parents left me with my aunt to go on Holidays and my father called me... He said: « I have a surprise for you, please go in my room, open the closet, look at the camera bag. It’s yours now. » I can tell you that I was so happy this day that I jumped everywhere, I will never forget it. ​

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What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?

The best piece of advice is to follow your heart and recently the best piece of advice was from my girlfriend, she told me: « Write your own screenplay for your feature. » and that’s what I am doing actually and this is very exciting.

Now you can be reflective do you have any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

Follow your heart, your soul, never give up, write or find a good story and work with a good team. Do things seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously and everything will go good. I don’t say it will be easy, but it will be good.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

A lot of fun and I hope this short will stimulate their imagination as this story did for me. There are many interpretations we can find for the end of the film…but I won’t tell more, you have to see it.