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Dissecting the Diabolical Documentary 'Mister Organ' with Filmmaker David Farrier

Dissecting the Diabolical Documentary 'Mister Organ' with Filmmaker David Farrier

The Advocate speaks with the out documentary filmmaker on his latest film, one in which he found himself also part of the story, and just how Mister Organ affected him.

One could be forgiven for assuming Mister Organ, the latest documentary film by David Farrier, was an expertly scripted work of satirical fiction. The cast of characters is so impossibly eccentric it’s hard to believe they’re real. At the center of it all is an enigmatic man named Michael Organ, a diabolical character who is equal parts magnetic and repulsive.

The elements of the documentary seem mundane enough — an antique store, a car park (parking lot), clamps (tire boots). But this parking lot is lorded over by a man who some might refer to as a psychiatrist’s field day, and his practices are so wanton the laws in New Zealand had to be amended to prohibit them. The storyline twists and turns in improbable ways. Farrier himself becomes entangled in the sticky false reality Organ forces upon anyone close to him. Although the lynchpin of the film is its namesake, Organ, the individuals who sit down to talk about their experiences with him create a fascinating narrative about a man who is, at best, an unreliable narrator. Never afraid of an embed, Farrier walks away with wild firsthand experiences of his own and the footage to prove it.

The documentary deserves a spot on everyone’s watch list, at the very least to hear the phrase “car park” repeated a few dozen times with the broad vowels of the Kiwi accent.

While he got his start in his native New Zealand as a TV journalist, Farrier first rose to prominence in the U.S. with Tickled, a documentary exploring the bizarre world of competitive endurance tickling. Farrier continued his exploration of the strange, dark, and mysterious with Netflix’s Dark Tourist where he examined the peculiar trend of macabre tourist attractions. As Mister Organ hits digital, David phoned us from Roswell, N.M., to discuss all things Mister Organ and more.

The Advocate: The entirety of the documentary takes place in New Zealand, where Michael Organ lives. Do you think he would be as brazen and entitled in a country like America, where there are more guns than people? He seems to benefit from the docile nature of his fellow kiwis.

David Farrier: I don’t think he would be as brazen here. I think New Zealand is the perfect little petri dish for him because he doesn’t have to worry about people pulling a gun on him. But part of me thinks he’d thrive here in America because there’s so many of his personality types around. Or maybe there’d be too much competition for him here. He’s lucky in New Zealand in that there’s not nearly as many guns as in America. I think that did help him thrive and not get himself murdered.

He's like the kiwi bird in that sense. He never developed fear because he had no predators.

[Laughs] I love that metaphor. I find it sort of amazing that he was booting people’s cars for three years, you know, and charging people $700 here, $700 there, and never got beaten up.

I think most of us have a Michael Organ in our lives (ideally in our past). I know I do. It can be frustrating to see someone who continually lies, cheats, and steals seem to move through life without consequences. It’s even more frustrating when said person seems to have more financial success than yourself. What do you think eventually becomes of people like this?

I think unfortunately we’re kind of living in a time where these people thrive. As we were making this, Trump was president, at one point and we just looked at some of the parallels. We are living in a time where you can create your own reality and you can lie and cheat and steal your way through life and it kind of works for you.

I wish I could say that there were consequences for these people. But I think beyond thinking of something pleasant like karma happening at some point, there often aren’t consequences. It’s a frustrating but real part of life. I wish there were consequences but unfortunately for a lot of people living life this way there simply aren’t. Which is hard to stomach.

I think deep down these types of people feel very small and crippled by self-hatred. All their energy goes into distracting themselves from those feelings.

That’s a good point. As far as saying these people are winning at life, not in a million years would I want to be in their shoes or living that experience. I think it would be fucking miserable.

You’ve mentioned you grew up in a devout Christian household. You have also been open about your bisexuality. Unfortunately, those two things tend to be diametrically opposed, but you seem pretty unphased by it all. How did you get to a place where you are so unaffected, and any advice to someone who may be struggling to reconcile their religious upbringing with their sexuality?

I think it is hard to do. When you’ve grown up in an environment that tells you that same-sex attraction is going to send you to hell and that kind of thing it can be really hard. I think the thing to do is to find like-minded people. You just need a few of those people in your life that are more open-minded that don’t have that world view and it just starts to open the possibilities.

And it can take a long time to find your way through it. But if you can just find a few people who are like minded, even if its just one person, that can be a huge way of feeling less along in things and I think the great thing about people being so online nowadays is those communities are easier to find. Finding people outside of your sort of indoctrinated world view can be nice.

Both Tickled and Mister Organ have central characters with ambiguous sexual identities whose own dialogues point to internalized homophobia. Although it’s inappropriate to speculate on someone’s sexuality, there is naturally a curiosity around the role it plays in their behavior. Many filmmakers would make this the focal point and sensationalize it. Why didn’t you do this?

You know, I think you’re right. Both characters in Tickled and Mister Organ — just look at the worlds they operate in and issues of sexuality come into question. I didn’t want to make a film about how — ‘here are people of a certain sexuality and they’re doing bad things.’ The bad things they were doing were separate from their sexuality. It’s just they happened to interact with certain people because of their sexuality.

I guess I don’t want to associate the bad things these people have done with what their sexuality might be, so I kind of avoided it. And I think if you are watching it, you kind of know what’s going on. There are enough clues there so that you can figure out perhaps why they are interacting with certain people and why a lot of their victims are of a certain sexuality. Both David D’Amato and Mister Organ were a form of predator, and I think that’s the thing I wanted to focus on with these individuals as opposed to their sexuality.

It can be more powerful to have it be something the audience picks up on their own.

Oh totally. I also think if you internalize your homophobia, as certainly as someone like David D’Amato has, you see the consequences of that and how it doesn’t play out in a particularly healthy way.

You had some trouble getting people from Organ’s past to even go on record discussing their experiences with him, but the ones who did sit down with you are all delightfully peculiar and endearing. I especially loved the little vignettes each person was sitting in front of. Did you set those up or did you just get lucky?

With the documentaries I make I like to interview people in their homes because I think the way people live and the things they surround themselves with says so much about them. A lot of the people I meet in Mister Organ are quite eccentric and fascinating people and so of course they’re surrounded by eccentric and fascinating things, and I wanted to include all of that. Dom Fryer, our DP, has such a good eye. I worked with Dom on Tickled and Dark Tourist, and I love the way he’s made things look.

Has the film’s release helped you draw any conclusions about the motives behind his behavior? Have other victims come forward to share their stories and more insight into the man behind the clamps?

Yes. We were in New Zealand cinemas for a few months before we were in American cinemas. So many stories came out of the woodwork. They’re different stories but they’re all the same stories. I think the people we interviewed in the documentary are examples of people he has tormented, but there are so many more. That’s the main thing I’ve been surprised with. Just how vast his networks gotten. A bit like David D’Amato in Tickled, the network of people they’ve negatively affected is vast.

One of the things I wanted people to take from watching it is sort of a warning and maybe think about these aspects in other people already in their lives or that they may brush up against in the future. Because, as you said, you have encountered someone like this. They are everywhere. People have come to me after watching the film and said “you know, I have my own Mister Organ. It was my dad, or it was my boyfriend, or it was my boss.” And if people can feel a little bit seen by it or be more aware of things to look out for, that’s a good outcome for the film.

How does it feel revisiting your journey with Michael Organ with the benefit of hindsight?

I feel like a bit of an idiot for not seeing what mess I was getting myself into. It's good watching it removed from it because I feel so grateful that I am out of his grasp, and I feel so grateful that I don’t have to spend more time with him. It’s fun watching it with a crowd of people who are laughing and squirming and having a good time with it.

If you could go back in time and avert a situation from your past, would it be — meeting Michael Organ or staying at the Cecil Hotel in LA in February 2013? [note- On February 19th 2013, the body of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam was found inside the cistern atop the Cecil Hotel in downtown LA. David happened to be a guest at the time and yes, he drank the tap water.]

[Laughs] Honestly, it would be meeting Mister Organ. I would stay in the Cecil and drink the water another ten times opposed to spending another day with Michael Organ.

The scene in which Michael and Jillian have a sit down with you has an underlying tension. Who were you more relieved to get away from, Michael Organ or Pablo Escobar’s assistant Pop Eye?

Again Michael Organ. It’s a very strange thing. Pablo Escobar’s hitman, as awful as he was — allegedly he killed 300 people, murdered his girlfriend and their unborn child. Horrific man on all counts. But strangely he felt very safe and charming, and he was fun to be around. And Mister Organ was the opposite of all of that.

Choose your fighter for a psychological war: Extreme Haunted House owner Russ McKamy or Michael Organ?

This is tough. I think they’re going to be caught in eternal struggle where years from now they’ll still be wrestling on the ground with no clear winner. I think both of those men kind of neutralize each other because they both get sucked into their own bizarre self-obsessed void. And maybe we’d never hear from them again and maybe that would be the best possible thing. I mean I’m thinking now I need to somehow introduce re so this can happen this would be great.

We can see if Organ can make it through Russ’s extreme haunted house, McKamey Manor.

Oh my God that’s really funny, I love that.

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