Three Great Things: Neill Blomkamp

With his new film Demonic out today, the director of District 9 and Elysium reveals the things that he's most passionate about.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To coincide with the August 20 release through IFC Midnight of Neill Blomkamp’s latest movie, Demonic, a horror film about a young woman who has to face the literal demons of her past, the South African-born writer-director of District 9, Elysium and Chappie, shared some of the things that bring him the greatest joy in life. — N.D

Brutalist Architecture
I love brutalist architecture. I don’t know if it’s the era that I was born in, when a lot of the institutional buildings in my hometown of Johannesburg had this vibe to them, but brutalist buildings have a feeling to them that I don’t get with any other architectural style. They just do something unique to my brain. I don’t know whether my upbringing in that place affected me or if that architectural style generally has that effect on people, but it’s definitely something I’m very aware of.

There’s a famous building in Johannesburg called the Carlton Centre, which is almost like a testament to brutalist architecture, and the Carlton Hotel, which is next to it. Those two buildings are incredible and led me to develop an obsession with brutalist architecture, although it wasn’t until I was older that I knew that it was an actual style. The inside of certain buildings affect me even more, like the University of Johannesburg building, which is all just concrete and tiles. I would move into that building and live there if I could.

Canada, where I live now, actually has a ton of brutalist architecture as well. Arthur Erickson is a Canadian architect who excelled in that style, and my favorite of his buildings is the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, which is just mind-numbingly awesome. There’s an urban myth that Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, which was also designed by Arthur Erickson, is said to have a high suicide rate because the structure is so depressing. Maybe over time, living in an environment like that could wear you down, but that’s also part of what I like it, the state-power vibe that brutalism gives you.

I have tons of books on brutalist architecture, and I would love to shoot films that use a brutalist architectural style and, more specifically, to try to capture the feeling that it gives me. It’s the same feeling I get listening to Boards of Canada, which I think of as the audio equivalent of that design style. It would be cool to blend those two things and try to somehow create that feeling in the audience.

Cars and Bikes
I’m obsessed with cars, and it’s another thing that goes back to when I was very young. It must be something to do with the merging of engineering and form. When artistic design meets engineering, and those two things cohesively live together, you get something like the McLaren F1.

I draw massive amounts of glee and inspiration from cars. I think it’s an aesthetic thing. My brain is wired visually and I speak in a visual language in my own head. I’m also obsessed with dirt bikes, the structural design of the dirt bikes and cars that I like is quite specific – they need to be relatively modest and cutting edge, or I’m not that into it. I’m not really into classic cars, because they just look dated; I always want to know what the most cutting-edge thing is.

I unfortunately have sold the cars that I really loved, but I’m still very passionate about owning and using cars and bikes. Where I live at the moment is amazing for dirt bikes, so I have a bunch of those, but I also have a Can-Am Maverick X3 X RS, an off-road vehicle which is basically a dirt bike with four wheels.

Tropical Plants
If I weren’t a filmmaker, I think I would be a botanist. I love tropical plants, whether it’s succulents or a plant like Bird of Paradise. The real name for Bird of Paradise is Strelitzia reginae and it’s from the east coast of South Africa, which is weird because it’s also the official plant of Los Angeles.

My love of tropical, colorful, yet large-leafed plants is similar to my love of brutalist architecture. And again, it maybe goes back to where I grew up, because it kicks off a bunch of visual synaptic things in me – I need those things around me. There’s a bigger version of Bird of Paradise called Strelitzia nicolai, which is four meters tall and the flowers are black and much bigger. I want those everywhere. The problem is because I live in Canada, most of those tropical plants don’t survive outside, so I’ve got cactuses and tropical plants, but they are mostly indoors. In my greenhouse, I have a 35-year-old cactus, amongst other things. That thing is too big to get out of there now. In my office, I have stuff like rubber plants, which are cool too.

Johannesburg is very similar to Los Angeles, in the sense that it’s a man-made, synthetically irrigated piece of land that shouldn’t be that green and tropical, but the weather can support it, so it’s a man-made forest. The architectural style of a lot of the houses is brutalist, actually. There was an architect who designed a lot of Joburg houses called Michael Sutton, who made brutalist, modern, ’80s-era, Michael Mann-style straight-line houses – very Malibu modern – which were always encased in tropical plants. As a kid, I wasn’t aware it was having an effect on me; it was only when I started getting older that I became aware of it. Syd Mead, the infamous, awesome concept artist who worked on Elysium, would always put tropical plants into the architectural styles that he was drawing, which resonated with me hugely. He told me that when you have perfect geometric straight lines, like a lot of modern architecture does, when you combine that with the randomization and chaos of nature, it’s like complementary colors acting to emphasize one another. So you can’t really have one without the other. I love seeing those plants up against very modern building styles, so that’s probably why that stuff started blazing itself into my mind on a visual level.

Featured image shows Neill Blomkamp on the set of Demonic. Image courtesy IFC Midnight.

Neill Blomkamp’s new film as writer-director, the horror movie Demonic, is out August 20 through IFC Midnight. He moved to Canada from his native South African at the age of 18, beginning his career as a visual effects artist in film and television. He is best known as the co-writer and director of District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013) and Chappie (2015). Since 2015 he has been developing experimental films for his independent company Oats Studios, including most notably, Rakka (2017), Firebase (2017) and Zygote (2017).