Berlin Film Festival: Arcade Fire unveils ‘Scenes From the Suburbs’

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Fresh off their upset album-of-the-year Grammy victory and a double win at the Brit Awards, three members of Arcade Fire jetted over to the Berlin Film Festival for Wednesday’s premiere of their 28-minute film, ‘Scenes From the Suburbs,’ their collaboration with filmmaker Spike Jonze.

The film project was a natural extension for the Montreal-based group prone to painting epics with sounds and words, especially on their much-lauded album ‘The Suburbs,’ with its references to suburban war, endless sprawl and dead shopping malls. ‘Scenes From the Suburbs’ is sort of teen drama meets dark dystopia.

‘This album was already so cinematic, we really wanted to use that and try to express it visually as well,’ Regine Chassagne, who fronts the band with her husband, Win Butler, and with his brother Will, said in an interview.

The Jonze-directed ‘Scenes From the Suburbs’ intercuts fragments of the dissolution of the friendship of teen boys Kyle and Winter with scenes of an unidentified town (played by Austin, Texas) where turf and zoning wars have turned literal. Hooded military men in camouflage round up the neighbors into armored trucks and slam boys against the fences while inspecting their mouths with flashlights. At the same time, kids ride bikes, fight, kiss and grow up.


The movie is an extension of the band’s video for ‘The Suburbs,’ which Jonze, who came to Hollywood’s attention with his music-video and commercials work, also directed.

The project was meant to work within the B movie genre, but only parts of it, said Win Butler. ‘When we were little kids, we’d watch a lot of cheesy ‘80s movies that we were too young to be able to be watching, and you’d always just end up watching the first half, before your parents would come in and rescue you, and so it’s kind of a little inspired by just watching the first half of films and not having to figure out how to resolve them.’

The Butler brothers teamed up with Jonze on the screenplay, using tapes of 300 to 400 teens for dialogue inspiration. They cast kids who had never acted before, and shot on the cheap -- if you look carefully, you can find both brothers Butler appearing as cops and hooded soldiers.

‘We might have been a band of movie makers if making movies wasn’t 140 times more expensive than making records,’ Will Butler quipped earlier to a group of journalists gathered at Berlin’s Canadian Embassy.

Win Butler said more film projects could definitely be on the horizon. But right now, the band is still stunned by the awards their music has won. When asked what post-Grammy life will bring, said Butler, “It just means freedom.”

‘Scenes From the Suburbs’ will next be screened at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin in March, and it will be released on DVD in May or June, according to the band.

-- Susan Stone, reporting from Berlin

Top photo: Arcade Fire performs during the Brit Awards at the O2 Arena in London on Tuesday. Credit: Reuters/Luke Macgregor.