I’m visiting a small Southeast Asian nation which has lately recovered from a civil war and genocide. I’m friends with a local husband-and-wife filmmaking team who are currently in post-production on a film documenting the national tragedy. I meet them in an outdoor café near the airport, where they describe the government interference they’ve endured trying to get their new film made.
“I thought things were much more open here now,” I say.
“It’s easy for you Westerners,” says the wife. “Here the government sees its citizens as machines for breeding more tiny factory workers.”
As it happens, I’m a writer who moonlights as an actor in Hollywood pictures. Not long ago I wrote and starred in a Killing Fields-like dramatisation of the country’s recent history, called (for some reason) O Canada. My filmmaking friends haven’t seen my movie and they ask me to describe it.
“It’s hard to explain,” I say. “I play myself, a writer, and the movie is full of these postmodern games where I comment on events in the movie as they’re happening. Then there are these kind of recursive feedback loops where I comment on my own commentary.”
“But,” I continue, “I’m not sure if my commentaries were sincere or whether I was just writing to mimic a preconceived idea of what constitutes an ‘art’ film.”
I ask my friends what the budget is on their new movie. “$279 million,” the wife tells me.
“Wow,” I say. “Most Hollywood productions are less than half that.”
“Yes,” she says. “And I bet they’re a lot more fun to work on, too. Like that Hollywood classic, Barnaby Rudge. Two months on a ship in the South Seas, and what funny jokes!” She smiles at the memory of it. I smile too. For some reason I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never seen (or read) Barnaby Rudge.