According to Michael Ruppert, the subject of Chris Smith’s latest documentary Collapse, the world has been on a path of doom for the last thirty years and we’re about ready for a major meltdown. Ruppert was a Los Angeles police officer in the ’70s when he blew the whistle on the CIA after they allegedly approached him to smuggle drugs for the government. That was the story Smith reached out to do but Ruppert had a different topic he wanted to talk about.
“He was very intent and focused on all the signs that led to this idea that was the collapse of industrial civilization,” Smith tells me over the phone from the U.K. “He was so overwhelmed and consumed by it that he wasn’t interested in talking about the past.”
Smith has made four documentaries including the highly praised American Movie. After meeting with Ruppert and hearing his theory the experience had an impact and stayed with him.
“What’s interesting about Mike is that he’s a very rational person. He has a methodology in the way that he tries to analyze information,” he says. “A lot of people that have seen the film say it all sounds plausible.”
Most of the film is nothing more than cameras focused on Ruppert in a dark, interrogation-like room as he chain smokes and talks about the destruction he sees coming. The fluid camera work that circles him and the intense soundtrack, along with what he’s saying, builds a very strong tension that left me uncomfortable and anxious.
“We found a location in the basement of an abandoned meat packing plant in Downtown L.A.,” Smith shares. “It was to give the idea that it was an interrogation but also that it was information somewhat secret or dangerous…that wasn’t common knowledge but something you might learn in that environment.”
One of the challenges Smith faced was educating himself on the broad range of topics Ruppert was going to speak about and admits it was difficult to learn about all the issues. He knew he wanted to make an entertaining film and wanted to avoid making a movie about peak oil since there are already “five to ten films” on that subject.
“We didn’t want to make a movie that was just informational about oil or energy but was trying to find a human story as a way into that subject matter.”
Filming with Ruppert took place over five sessions and the production lasted a quick eight months. They finished editing the same day it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September.
“It was something that felt so timely that we knew it was important to turn it out as fast as we could,” he says. “Based off of the screenings in Toronto we ended up trying to get it into theatres as quickly as possible too.”
Smith is happy the film has created debate and dialogue amongst the people who have seen it and hopes this will be a jumping off point for the audience and that they will seek out more information by way of Michael’s book, Confronting Collapse. Smith himself has become more energy conscious.
“We turn off lights and turn down heat when we leave the house,” he says. “Not driving if we don’t have to. The main thing that came out of working on this film is how precious and valuable these resources are.”
Ruppert is reportedly very happy with the way the film turned out and grateful it doesn’t come across as preachy.
“It was a character study of him and his life and [he knows] the message will come through in the way it’s being presented and that the audience can make up their mind,” he says.
As for whether Smith feels we’re doomed or not, he says he believes these are serious issues but he’s optimistic about the future.
“I always feel there is a solution. Being an independent filmmaker if you don’t think that way you will never get a movie made,” he laughs.
Top image: Michael Ruppert in a scene from Collapse. Courtesy Kinosmith.