I had the pleasure of interviewing Janek Ambros who was the writer, director, and producer of the documentary Imminent Threat.
Documentary Imminent Threat is a comprehensive overview of government surveillance and the threat it poses to individual freedom. IMMINENT THREAT is filmmaker Janek Ambros’ first feature. His diverse slate of short films have played across the globe and received more than a dozen international awards and recognition at many BAFTA and Academy Award ® accredited festivals His most recent film as producer is Ten Thousand Saints, the 80s NY drama starring Ethan Hawke, Hailee Steinfeld, and Emile Hirsch which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Arthur Glover: So a good chunk of your filmography seems to include a good amount of war-related topics/subjects. What parts of your background led to the subject of war becoming a well-known topic for you to make films about?
Q: On the basis of your first feature, IMMINENT THREAT, how did the production of such a provocative subject come about, and as a first time feature director, did you confront any major, un-foreseen difficulties along the way?
Janek: One of the many complicated paths to limiting conflict in the world is have citizens focus on their respective country and making sure that their own government avoids authoritative or crypto-fascist policies that undermine their checks and balances and human rights laws. This is what’s made me interested in civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. However, the idea of civil liberties and a more hawkish foreign policy not being a left/right issue is what sparked my interest in the topic.The reality is it’s a top/down issue which creates an opportunity for the libertarian leaning conservatives and the libertarian leaning liberals to work together to ensure we strike a better balance between our security and our liberty.
The largest obstacle I had was money. I essentially made the movie with no budget and no crew in production or post production. It wasn’t until later that I needed money to get the film out there. I was very fortunate to have my executive producers, Jillian Barba and Anthony LoPresti come on board the film and help make the film get out into the world.
Q: The war footage used in the film is some of the most intense I’ve seen since Restrepo. How, as a director/producer, do you go about retrieving such footage? For this particular film, or for any of your war-related short films for that matter?
Janek: I have a great respect for war correspondents and admire their courage. It’s because of them we are able to get a glimpse of how awful, complicated, and gruesome war is and how much our soldiers and military personnel go through. In this case, the majority of the footage was from U.S. war correspondents and U.S. soldiers in the numerous conflicts in the mid-east. I debated whether or not to use footage from ISIS, but I think it was important to use their footage as well so the audience can get a sense of the evil we’re now dealing with after creating such a power vacuum from disastrous foreign policy decisions. In order to highlight the brutality and chaos of war, I used many editing methods from filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.
Q: On the subject of the American government abusing power, what in your opinion are the real limitations that natural government should abide by?
Janek: The Bill of Rights is a good place to start, but all of the amendments are obviously open for interpretation and have been the center of legal debates since the inception of the country. I think the basic principle of free speech and right to privacy is undeniable and goes back further than just the Bill of Rights (Magna Carta, English Common Law). However, every principle can be pushed beyond it’s original intention. The reality is we simply need to have the proper checks in balances, an unyielding protection of free speech, and make sure Congress has a say war by making new authorization for military force acts tailored for specific conflicts, as appose to using 1 AUMF as a blanket with no time limit and vaguely calls the enemy “al-Qaeda and their affiliates.” While I think Hillary Clinton has a vast understanding of foreign policy and the geopolitical climate, I believe Bernie Sanders is the only candidate that truly understands the importance of keeping civil liberties in tact and having restrained foreign policy to avoid making the turmoil worse in the Middle East.
Q: I’m actually a big James Cromwell admirer, and met him once at THE ARTIST premiere in LA. How did he get involved as producer for the film?
Janek: After I completed the film, I figured it would be worth trying to get an endorsement of the film by having someone lend their name as executive producer. I knew James Cromwell has never been afraid to speak his mind and has been a solider of free speech, right to privacy, animal rights, and many other issues involving government or corporate corruption. I was extremely fortunate to have him agree and it’s always great to get support from someone you admire and have been a fan of since youth. He truly is one of the great character actors of the era with roles like Dudley Smith in L.A. Confidential, Arthur HoggettinBabe, former President H.W. Bush in W, and many others. I’m also very excited to see his upcoming film The Promise which he’ll be starring in with Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac.
Q: What can you tell me about your upcoming non-doc feature, JOHNNY HOLLYWOOD?
Janek: While most of my movies have a much more obvious political theme to them, my next movie will be a character driven dark comedy. The film is about a delusional but charming talent manager named Johnny “Hollywood” Bortello who, despite having alcohol, gambling and having virtually no understanding of how the movie industry work, tries to dissuade his one promising client from leaving him. I’m excited to go for a more gritty and raw film and have been influenced by Broadway Danny Rose,The Entertainer, and Midnight Cowboy during the process of writing and developing the film. We hope to shoot in the summer or fall. Before then, I’m also going to be directing a feature documentary about the current and chaotic state of the Republican Party at the Republican Convention this summer. There’s still a lot up in the air with what’s happening in terms of a brokered convention, so it should be a fun, interesting process making the film.
Big thank you to Janek for interviewing, and if you want to see a little of it the trailer is below. It’s now available on VOD everywhere. Also the film is screening at the San Luis Obispo Film Festival this weekend; Saturday, March 19th at 4:15pm, Mission Cinemas and Sunday, March 20th at 1:00pm, Palm Theatre. You can learn more at ImminentThreatFilm.com.