A movie may have to be shot in secret for several reasons- fear of persecution by oppressive, cine-phobic governments, sensitive subject matter, desire for anonymity, commercial factors or all of them! While, the purpose of secret shooting is usually to serve practical ends like security, off late, the technique has been used to further the craft of film-making and explore hitherto uncharted aesthetic dimensions. Read on as we list some obscure but gutsy movies that are indeed a tribute to the human spirit and the resolve of the artist to stick to his/her vision without fear or compromise.
10. Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
This is a ride that is better experienced than described! The dark, Indie sleeper phenomenon about a family vacationing in Disneyland had to be shot in secret because of Disney’s fierce protectiveness about its intellectual property rights. What resulted was a master-class in Guerilla filmmaking that subverts the innocent charm of everything ‘Disney’ in sublime, self-assured odes to Lynch and Polanski and to the horror genre as a whole. It is a nightmare that your childhood-self could never have imagined to be possible in this life!
9. Loev (2015)
Director Sudhanshu Saria who wrote and made this Indie flick, has repeatedly emphasized that this movie does not intend to make any political statements. Instead, it chronicles the complicated equations between three urban gay men, one covert and two open. But, homosexuality is a punishable offence (in some cases, up to life imprisonment) in India and thus the personal seldom ceases to political, here, when it comes to art that centers around homosexuality. This minimalistic movie with assured direction and some fine performances was worked on by a motley crew in secret to avoid any roadblocks in its production by an establishment that is too eager to clamp down on small-budget movies that deal with taboo subjects. Despite being well-received at several film festivals, the movie received wider visibility only in 2017, when Netflix acquired the distribution rights for the film.
8. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
With genuine scares and a brisk pace, this Sci-Fi film was shot under the title ‘Valencia’. This movie was actually a sequel to the 2008 found footage film ‘Cloverfield’. Nothing special, right? After all, many movies go on to release with titles different from the working title! But the twist in the tale is this: very few people on the set actually knew that this is a sequel to the 2008 movie. Producer J.J. Abrams wanted to keep this a secret to such an extent that even the lead actors didn’t know that they were filming for a sequel. The trailer of the movie was released just two months prior to its release, thus pulling a Beyonce of sorts in the film world!
7. Under the Skin (2013)
Starring Scarlett Johansson as an extra-terrestrial woman preying on men in Scotland, this eerie Sci-Fi flick was shot in unconventional ways to realize director Jonathan Glazer’s vision. It shot Scarlett as she entered into unscripted, totally spontaneous interactions with casual passers-by, to achieve a more realistic portrayal of an alien interacting with a society that she knows nothing of. Now, even Scarlet wasn’t kept in the loop of exactly when the hidden cameras were shooting in secret. This is one of the interesting uses of the secret shooting device for purely aesthetic and non-political reasons!
6. Exit through the Gift Shop (2010)
Grafitti artist Banksy, notorious for his/her/their anonymity and counter-culture, anarchist themes forayed into documentary-filmmaking with this audaciously brilliant take at a graffiti-smitten French immigrant, Thierry Guetta, living in LA. The raw, pre-edit footage was about 10,000 hours long given that the film chronicles the protagonist documenting every waking moment on film. The film was partially shot in secret with a very small group so that Banksy (who also featured in the film through a modified voice and an obscured face) managed to remain anonymous even after the film was made and released.
5. Closed Curtain (2013)
The second film by Jafar Panahi to be shot in secret (owing to a 20-year long film-making ban imposed on the filmmaker by the Iranian authorities), this film centers around a screenwriters who’s come to a villa to get some writing done along with a dangerous creature- a dog! Dangerous because dogs are considered unclean by the ruling Islamic regime, and so he shaves off his head to obscure his identity. The movie goes on to take some delectable surrealistic flights in its later half, making several allegorical comments about freedom and courage.
4. J’Accuse (1919)
Perhaps the earliest surviving “secretly shot” film, this movie is a document of the horrors of the First World War. Its director, Abel Gance, was commissioned by the French authorities to document the gallantry that the French Army displayed in the warzone. But his perspective went on to cast a critical and gloomy look at the atrocities of war committed by both the French army and its enemies! Ironically, he used footage of real French soldiers to shoot the final scene where the corpses of martyred soldiers come back to life to combat the authorities who didn’t deserve their sacrifice!
3. This Is Not A Film (2011)
Smuggled from Iran to Cannes inside a birthday cake that secretly contained a flash drive, this Jafar Panahi movie is an autobiographical take at a six-year prison sentence and a twenty-year filmmaking ban that he himself was at the receiving end of. It is a fascinating and often aching account of an artist worried about losing his artistic vision due to the ban. The film which was shot secretly for obvious reasons is special because the turmoil documented is two fold- the political turmoil of a citizen who’s considered an enemy of the establishment as well as the artistic turmoil of an artist fighting to retain his identity as one!
2. Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013)
Based on real events, this taut political thriller was screened in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes without cast and crew credits for the fear of Government backlash. The director Mohammad Rasoulof had received a prison sentence and a government diktat in 2010 banning him from making films. Despite being shot in secret and kept under wraps right up to the week before its screening, this movie makes no sacrifices on the artistic level. It takes a chilling look at State-sponsored murders and suppression of art in a refreshingly raw and no-holds-barred manner.
1. Shoah (1985)
Claude Lanzmann ended up creating new benchmarks for documentary filmmaking with his 566 minutes-long study of both the people who perpetrated and the people who were at the receiving end of the holocaust. Though it was made much after the events of the Holocaust, it still had a lot of financial and technical difficulties to manage if it were to live up to its vision. One such difficulty was to get the interviewees to speak their minds freely without reluctance or distortion of their true experiences. For this purpose, some of their reports were shot in secret without letting them know that they were actually being recorded. No wonder, it was hailed as an act of documentation greater and truer than even journalism by several critics!