Alexandre Moors grew up in the suburbs of Paris, painted graffiti, went to art school, and then came to America to make music videos for the likes of Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, and Talib Kweli. Moors’ debut feature, Blue Caprice, which explores the twisted father-son dynamics of the real-life Beltway snipers, keeps the strong emphasis on style, buts puts it to new poetic, provocative, and psychologically complex ends. Isaiah Washington gives a performance of combustible desperation as John Allen Muhammed, the ex-Marine who turned his adoptive son (Tequan Richmond) into an accomplice for his cross-country killing spree. With Gus Van Sant-like rhythms and Dostoyevskian themes, Blue Caprice gives new meaning to the saying that a family is like a loaded gun. Here, Moors talks about the early influence of art school, taking poetic license with history, and America’s abiding obsession with violence.
This is your first narrative film after a a career in music videos and commercials. Did you always know you wanted to make a feature?
Absolutely. I think I’ve wanted to make films since I was extremely young. It was easier for me to go through a traditional arts education because I knew how to draw well. So I took the long way around. But it was always clear that film was the ultimate goal.
How did art school influence your filmmaking?
Most of all it helps you develop an eye and a taste. You study painting, other people’s work, for years. Yesterday I screened Blue Caprice for the NYU film students. It was very interesting to talk to them. I was telling the department chair that I was always a little skeptical of film school. Film is the sum of all arts: music, theater, architecture. It’s everything. It seems like learning filmmaking can be a shortcut. You have to start further away.
And music videos? Did it feel like a big jump to work on a feature?
The first day of the shoot, the first thing I noticed was the energy of the crew, the energy of the actors. It’s totally different. Especially on a low-budget film, everybody was there for art. We were there to make an art object––not a commercial product. With music videos, you’re there to sell records. So the energy with the label is very different. Because Blue Caprice was a low-budget film, it was a labor of love for everyone. There was a beautiful, collaborative spirit on the set.
The film begins with a montage of actual news from the D.C. sniper case. It then flashes back to a very stylized, personal account of the two shooters. How constrained did you feel by the historical record?
When the real killing happened I was not in the country. So I was not infected by all the media coverage. I didn’t know how big of an impact that story had on so many people. That really allowed me to tackle the subject without fear or preconceptions. My screenwriter, Ronnie Porto, had many reservations about doing this film. He knew the scope of what we were doing. I kept telling him we weren’t doing a huge thing. We were telling a small story about a father and son jogging in the woods. We had a small entry point. But nonetheless we tried to learn everything we could about the case: court records, medical diagnoses about their mental health, everything. We knew as much as we could before we started to write. But then it was about choosing which facts to include to tell the story we wanted to tell. I was always clear that this film is inspired by a true story; its not a biopic or a minute-by-minute reconstruction of their odyssey.
Both characters are sociopathic. But in other ways their dramas are universal. And there’s a sense that the story belongs to a post-9/11 America, traumatized and eager for revenge. Do you see the film as pointing to larger currents in the culture?
I saw these characters as archetypes. The only preparation I asked of Isaiah Washington was that he read Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky. But when we were writing, we integrated little points of contact with the culture at large. Washington’s character embarks on this insane war against the entire country. But I think at heart his bigger problem is with god. It is an existential pain. And that’s how I saw his delusional quest. I took out many of the political elements involved. But obviously the film is also a commentary on a very particular problem America has with violence. And the breeding of violent behaviors.
I wanted to ask you about race. We’re almost trained to expect that a film with a black cast will make a statement about that. And yet Blue Caprice really isn’t about race at all.
What was very interesting was that when I was editing the film, I was in this workshop called IFP (Independent Film Program). We had many programs and discussions and people were like “You’re a white man and you’re making a film about two African-Americans. They’re gonna come at you for that.” I told them I thought that was silly. And it turned out I was right. To this day, at screenings, it has never come up. People recognize that the issue of race is irrelevant in the film. In the real case of the snipers, John [Allen Muhammad] was a big reader of Malcolm X and Farrakhan. He mentioned many times that his war was to liberate black people. But when you look at the people he killed, they were mostly black. I had disdain for his political opinions from this point on. His discourse on this issue didn’t make sense. And Lee, growing up in Antigua, told his parents he never experienced any kind of racism in his life until he met John. So yes, it was a conscious idea to leave race out of the film. I’m glad that people can accept that. For me, it’s a film about two human beings and that’s it.