Hot Docs Interview – BANK JOB director Daniel Edelstyn

“Artist and filmmaker couple print their own money in an abandoned bank, sell it as art and use the proceeds to literally blow up £1.2m of high interest debt.” Filmmaker Daniel Edelstyn on BANK JOB which is now streaming at HotDocs Online. 

Welcome to HotDocs! Is this your first HotDocs experience and what are you looking forward to the most?

I love the energy coming down the wires, even if it’s a remote experience. You can smell the passion. We are hugely honoured to have been included in the festival and we hope it’s the first of many!

How did you get your start in the business and what have you worked on in the past?

Our first feature film was called HOW TO RE-ESTABLISH A VODKA EMPIRE, and it was a chaotic and passionate investigation into my grandmother who escaped the Russian Revolution and then ended up as an immigrant in Belfast. She’d come from a wealthy Jewish background in Ukraine, and I found her manuscript and had to go and look for traces. We ended up importing vodka from the distillery of my great grandfather Ilya, and it was such a blast but ended when the mafia took over the distillery.

Cool background! How did BANK JOB come together?

After the end of the Vodka Empire I had a crisis! I wasn’t sure what to do next so it sent me on a massive journey to answer the question ‘why do i make films?’ I found inspiration in George Orwell’s ‘Why I Write’ and Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” among others and found that purpose can change as you live, and your job is to make contribution possible. Around that time a friend told me about a group in New York who were buying up and abolishing debt and I was intrigued – I ordered all their books and was hooked.. I went to NY and met them and the rest is history.

What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?

I am driven by a need to get a story out there; to reveal an injustice, to reveal the truth, to push the world in a certain direction, to appear clever, to take revenge on everyone who has dismissed me. I’m driven by the quest to make something beautiful, and funny…something a bit surprising.  

What was your biggest challenge with creating this doc, and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

The worst moment was when the police tried to cancel our explosion due to political pressure. We had already sold about 500 tickets to the explosion. To call that stressful is understatement. The most rewarding moment was maybe the actual explosion and the feeling of having accomplished something really hard along with connecting with so many amazing people in our home borough of London.

Let’s get technical! Tell me about the cameras-slash-equipment you used and the post-production process.

Mainly FS7 and a bit of an FS5 as well. We cut it with amazing editor Alice Powell in South London in her editing suite using Adobe Premiere. Some days we would go down there but as it was the opposite end of London we started to cut together via Zoom; this was pre-pandemic so it was very innovative at that time and felt terribly impressive, but now I’m sure it’s standard practice!

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your work at HotDocs?

I’d love to hear what the audience makes of it in Canada and how the film translates across the pond. 

Of course this is an unpredictable time having this show virtually. How do you feel about movies being shown in this format & do you feel this is right, or do you wish to have a more traditional theatrical release?

We are planning a theatrical release and that’s really the ideal format for BANK JOB as it’s a really feel good doc with explosions, cool sounds and lots of fun for an audience to come together, but we are also very happy with the idea of bringing people together online for live digital screenings. I find the idea quite exciting.

Where is BANK JOB going next?

BANK JOB has been invited to lots of other Festivals. I don’t know which is next; there’s one in Moscow which is going to be great and we have a cinema release in the UK in May.

What is the one thing that you would say to someone wishing to get into filmmaking, either short or long format, especially now as things are changing at such a fast rate?

The only thing to worry about and to pursue with ruthless energy is story and character. Cameras don’t really matter. Don’t get obsessed with the technical stuff and try to capture as much unfolding story as you can. Pitch your tent on the major fault lines of the national conversations and provoke and take as many risks as you can. Try not to be scared of failure as it’s a friend in disguise and the best teacher. Be brave and don’t get too attached to anything. The more films you make the better you will become. Be agile!

And finally, what is your favourite documentary of all time and why?

I think it is probably Nobody’s Business by Alan Berliner. I love the conflict in the relations between the filmmaker and his dad. There’s something incredibly warm and honest in the portrayal of his dad. And it’s funny. It’s also deceptively simple. 

BANK JOB is now streaming at HotDocs Online!

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