Fearlessly exploring an unfamiliar topic that not only are you not acquainted with, but not many people are aware about overall, is a daring endeavor to take on. Spanish filmmaker Javier Polo boldly took on the daunting prospect of making a movie when he made his feature film directing and producing debuts with the new documentary, ‘Europe in 8 Bits.’ He increased that courage by examining the largely uncharted territory of the fairly new music genre of chip music, which has gained widespread popularity in Europe in recent years, but is still largely unknown in America.
‘Europe in 8 Bits’ explores the world of chip music, a new musical trend that is growing exponentially throughout Europe. The stars of this musical movement discuss how to turn old videogames hardware like Nintendo’s GameBoy, NES, Atari ST, Amiga and the Commodore 64 into a tool capable of creating a modern tempo and an innovative musical style. This is a new way of interpreting music performed by many artists who show their skills in turning these “limited” machines designed for leisure in the 1980’s into surprising musical instruments and graphical tools.
Polo generously took the time to talk about filming ‘Europe in 8 Bits’ hours before the documentary’s American premiere on Wednesday, March 14, 2014, at the 31st Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) at the Regal South Beach Stadium 18 in Miami Beach. Among other things, the first-time director-producer discussed how he was drawn to making a film about chip music after first being introduced to it, as he had many questions about the genre; how he’s grateful for all the DJs and musicians who gave interviews for the documentary, as they offered him great insight and research into the rising musical phenomenon; and how he felt honored to have the movie accepted into MIFF, as it was a great introductory of chip music to American audiences.
Question (Q): You directed ‘Europe in 8 Bits,’ a documentary that explores the world of chip music, a new musical trend that is growing exponentially throughout Europe. What drew you to explore this trend in a film? How did you become involved in helming the documentary?
Javier Polo (JP): Well, when I first found out about the subject, it was the first time I had experienced seeing it live. I didn’t know anything about this universe. It really interested me, and so many questions came to mind, including how people could make music with a GameBoy. I didn’t know the sound could be so intense and in your face.
I also wanted to know the origins, and why people started using GamesBoys as musical instruments in the first place. It was really surprising for me to find out about it, as I didn’t know anything about it. People also have this impression of the music in their mind, so I wanted to share this experience.
Q: You made your directorial debut with ‘Europe in 8 Bits.’ What was your experience as a first-time filmmaker, particularly while documenting the importance of the evolution of music?
JP: It’s been very special for me, since it’s my first feature film. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that the film’s first premiere would be at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). It’s one of the largest documentary film festivals in the world. We’ve also played the film in a few other festivals around the world.
Everyone has really liked, and been surprised by, the film. I’m really happy, and it’s been the best year of my life. It’s really changed my life, and it’s like a dream come true.
Q: Besides directing the film, you also served as a producer. Why did you decide to also produce the documentary? Did producing the movie influence the way you helmed the film, and vice versa?
JP: It’s been hard to both produce and direct. It’s been a big project-it’s been three years since we started making the film. But (fellow producer) Lina Badenes helped me a lot in the production. She has more experience than I do. She helped in organizing everything, and with raising money and getting contacts.
But I’ve been learning a lot. I didn’t think it was going to be such a big project. People have a lot of interest in this project. It has a lot of deep meaning. We’re pretty happy and proud of the end result. We’ll definitely do more work like this in the future.
I really like directing and producing; I don’t have a preference of one over the other. I hope to continue to do both.
Q: You feature multiple diverse musicians from throughout Europe in the documentary, including Culomono and Lautaro from Spain and Henry Homeset from the UK. What was the process of recruiting the musicians who would appear in ‘Europe in 8 Bits?’ How did you decide which performers you would feature in the movie?
JP: It took a lot of research, as there’s not much information about the music and characters. So I had to do a lot of research in order to meet everybody. I had to write a lot of emails around Europe.
I ended up doing over 100 interviews, but in the movie, you only see about 30 musicians. It was hard to make the choice of which musicians to include in the film. But I think I did a good representation of the artists. It’s a good mix of people, and a good portrait of the 8-bit universe.
Q: How familiar were you with chip music before you began filming the documentary, and what kind of research did you do for the movie before you began filming? Are there any musicians in the genre that you’re a fan of overall?
JP: It’s been hard. There aren’t many places to look at for information. It sounds crazy that we did more than 100 interviews, but I think every interview helped me get more information, and they helped me build the story a lot. So every interview we did was important, even though there are a lot of artists who aren’t in the film, I want to thank all of them, because they all made the film. It’s been hard to make the film in this way, but it was necessary, so we could tell the story in a way that it hasn’t been told before.
Q: ‘Europe in 8 Bits’ explores the world of chip music. Why do you think chip music is captivating musicians throughout Europe? Do you think chip music will make the transition to America?
JP: We’re having our American premiere tonight (March 12, 2014), and it will be the first time the movie will be shown in North America. There’s not much of a demand for this music in the States, because not many people know about it here. People of our generation grew up with these machines and devices, so we’re familiar with them. In the States, these games were very popular, so it will be interesting to see how the American audience reacts to the film.
We have also released the documentary on Vimeo. We’ve partnered with them, and will be selling the film for two years. They’re going to do a big promotion. We’re going to be partners, so we’re excited about the response to the film. The movie (was released) on the 14th worldwide, so people can watch it if they can’t make it to any of the screenings.
When people watch the movie, I’m sure many questions will come to their minds. There are a lot of interesting characters. There are also a lot of politics issues shown in the movie.
Q: Like you mentioned, ‘Europe in 8 Bits’ is available in certain countries on Vimeo On Demand. Are you personally a fan of watching films On Demand? Why do you think the platform is beneficial in distributing documentaries like this one?
JP: I think people’s viewing habits are changing now. Traditional distribution plans are no longer the only way; there are more ways to promote and distribute films now. Our film is for people who are used to technology and use the Internet a lot. So it was definitely a documentary that had to be on the Internet. We did a big campaign, and promoted it as much as we can on the Internet.
We had the movie available on the Internet in Spain, France and Poland, and we also brought it to America. Once we have it on the Internet, maybe someone will want it for television stations. I think plans are changing. But I think the Internet was the best platform to start off with.
Q: Also speaking of the fact that the film was accepted at this year’s 31st Miami Film Festival, and will be having its American premiere here, what was your reaction when you found out? What has your experience at the festival been like so far?
JP: It’s great to have been accepted into a big festival like this, that is now in its 31st edition, and is becoming bigger and bigger. Our team is very excited, because we wanted to have a proper premiere in the States at a festival. To come here and share what the film is about, and have people ask questions, is great. We’ve been planning this for a long time. We can’t wait for tonight’s premiere. We can’t wait for people to share our experiences. It’s been fantastic to be here.
Q: Now that you have directed a documentary, do you have any interest in helming a feature film? Or would you prefer staying in the documentary genre, and explore more socially relevant subjects, in the future?
JP: I would really like to just make another film sometime soon, before I’m 30. I have an idea, but I still have to work a bit more. When I get home, I would like to work on commercials, as I can be creative, but it’s not such a long process; you can make them in one or two months’ time. With films, they can take two or three years’ time. Doing commercials will also still give me time to write.