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Damien Harris - director, "Mercy"
March 2000 - Cinequest Film Festival - AMC Saratoga 14 Theaters, Saratoga, CA

It is always exciting to find a new director who can truly tell a story in a way that makes you feel the character and the life that is portrayed in a film. Judging by his film "Mercy", Damien Harris certainly shows his spark at telling a tale on celluloid. The engaging film shows the dark and seedy side of fetishists, in this case being pain lovers - bondage, domination, sadomasochism - while a serial murder case is being investigated. Damien does a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life, albeit sad lives, while leaving the fetish scenes up to the audiences' discretion of good or bad.

Damien is almost a blue-blood in Hollywood. His family includes such luminaries as: Richard Harris - his father, Jared Harris - his brother, and Rex Harrison - his stepfather. All that talent certainly has rubbed off on Damien.

During Cinequest, we had a chance to hear Damien explain a bit about the film and his vision of it along with talk about directorial aspects. At the press conference, we begin with Damien explaining what was happening during the making of the film "Mercy". It starts with discussing the real fetish women who the author had surveyed for his novel that was made into the film.

DH: Women, like the women in this film, were actually quite open about how they lived their lives. When I came on board, I went to the dungeon, a very, very seedy dungeon and met those people. It was based on what I saw. For me personally, if it hadn't have been for him, I had never been to any place like that before. In the novel, Ellen Barkin's character, halfway through the movie, if it had been an $8 million dollar movie, would have been Sean Connery who comes in, half way through, and basically takes over and wins the case and she [Peta] falls in love with him.

I thought that was a cop out. So, I said "I could make this film for $5 million dollars." I jettisoned Sean Connery and went in and thought, if it's a woman going into a, sort of, homosexual world which is a female homosexual world, it makes sense that her main relationship would be with another woman.

In regards to, the film buyers, censoring or editing the very erotic lesbian sex scenes in the film...

DH: The didn't tell you up front what it is, but they sort of guide you in the right direction of what you should be doing. We ended up cutting out quite a bit of the film. Any studio will not release a picture that is NC-17. Most cinemas won't show them and most newspapers won't advertise them. You have to have an R version. So this is what we did do in the end, the kitchen scene with Ellen and Peta went a bit further and they kind of objected to that. That was the one that they had the most problem with was female homosexuality.

K2K: Are you going to release a "director's cut"?

DH: This is my cut here. (referring to the film that just screened)

K2K: I mean release on DVD or Video?
DH: It depends. Columbia/Tri-Star bought it, so it depends if they want to invest the money and release a second version. This came out on HBO and they cut out a lot of it. Twenty minutes.

K2K: What inspired you to do this particular story?
DH: The book. I read the book by David Lindsey, and I thought it had pretty good commercial prospects as a novel. The genre, I thought it was a page-turner. I thought having a female cop was a good idea. Then, going into this female homosexual world was pretty exciting as well. Then I changed it to make the main character in the movie, Vicki, which I thought was smart and thought it was fairly enticing. I like the idea that the main character was fairly damaged. Then there is a similarity between her and the key character, who she thinks may be doing it or maybe not. In the end, I think she ends up helping herself, the Ellen Barkin character. I thought it had some good twists. Really what I liked was that it dealt with sex in a way that it wasn't just about fucking. It was cathartic in the way of dealing with psychological problems.

K2K: You've never had any interest in the B&D stuff before?
DH: Personally? No. Never. I had never even thought about it. That's what I liked about the film. It made me go and look at it and go with my initial misconceptions or preconceptions of seeing somewhat superficially.

K2K: Do you think that people still don't understand it?
DH: About that? Yeah. Or they don't want to.

K2K: In this film, everyone was a character of their own.
DH: Yes, that was the good thing. Everyone was a character. In the same thing, everyone was sort of hiding in secret.

K2K: Good choice of casting too.
DH: Yeah, they were good.

K2K: I have to ask about Julian Sands. I had read a quote somewhere where a writer called him Julian "Do Anything For A Dollar" Sands in respect to him pretty much doing any film, good or bad, and having made some previously bad choices.
DH: Not this film. He didn't do it for a dollar. Maybe. I know Julian and sometimes people make choices for money, but I think in his case he was hoping that they were going to be good films with interesting parts. This one he did as a favor for me.

K2K: What is your next project?
DH: My next film we're doing in San Diego. It's basically the Vicki character [from "Mercy"] at 8 years old and how did she get to be where she is now. I did it the other way around. We did this one first.

K2K: Did this film get theatrical release?
DH: No. Straight to HBO.

K2K: It seems like this would have done so well in theaters.
DH: It is but the people who financed the film sold it. We actually had offers from Artisan and others who were bidding for the film and they had already presold it to HBO in a package deal. Columbia/Tri-Star bought it. I battling for my cut to be the one that they release. The HBO cut is 20 minutes shorter.

Written and all photos © 2000 by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

All rights reserved © KAOS2000™. No portion contained herein, either text or graphics, may be reproduced anywhere or reposted on any other website for any purpose without the expressed permission of the publisher. All violations shall be punished as the law allows.

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