Q&A with ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ director Frank Pavich

There are quite a few famously unmade films, from Stanley Kubrick’s “Napoleon” to Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” which was chronicled in the documentary “Lost in La Mancha.”

But a cinematic adaptation of “Dune” that never was might have been the biggest cultural loss. Years before David Lynch did whatever he did to Frank Hebert’s sci-fi novel in his 1984 film starring Sting and Kyle MacLachlan, avant-garde writer/director/actor Alejandro Jodorowsky put together an incredible team for a mid-1970s adaptation.

The crew included French comic creator Jean “Moebius” Giraud, sci-fi novel cover artist Chris Foss, artist H.R. Giger, special effects artist Dan O’Bannon, music from Pink Floyd and a cast headlined by David Carradine, Salvador Dali, Orson Wells, Mick Jagger and Jodorowsky’s son Brontis.

The creative team Jodorowsky assembled went on to work on huge films, including “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars,” just to name a few. Jodorowsky, who had made cult favorite films “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” has gone on to direct other films, including “The Dance of Reality,” which came out last year, and wrote a number of influential comics, many drawn by Moebius.

amNewYork spoke with Frank Pavich, director of the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” which chronicles the making of the unmade film and is now in theaters.


How did you come to do this film?

It’s a story that’s been floating around for a while in the ether of the Internet. It’s something that I heard about a while ago. And having been a fan of his brand of filmmaking, should we say, it was just a really intriguing story: Jodorowsky himself, and the films that he made, and putting that together with a lost film of his — a version of “Dune,” of all things. Once you start hearing about the crazy cast of characters that were involved, and the musicians, and the fact that they really told the whole story in pictures, it’s a fascinating story that we wanted to learn more and more about.

What is Jodorowsky like?

He’s the guy who’s on screen. He’s fantastic, amazing and inspiring and also cantankerous at times, volatile. He’s everything you expect. He’s very giving.

What is the film’s legacy?

There’s the legacy of what the project represents and then there’s the actual legacy. The tangible, real world legacy, obviously, starts with his team and the people that he brought in, and the people who had never worked in movies before but he saw something in them that would be great. That’s Moebius, that’s Chris Foss, that’s H.R. Giger, and all these guys work with him throughout the years, create all these things, and then when they can’t be realized in a film when they thought it would be, as they all planned it to be, they all went on to interesting film careers. And they all reconvened on “Alien.” “Alien” itself certainly changed the landscape of movie history, for sure. Not only in its direct influence, but it became a franchise. … Without these guys meeting on “Dune,” Moebius and Dan O’Bannon would never have written a comic book together called “The Long Tomorrow.” And “The Long Tomorrow,” if you look at it, is exactly the world of “Blade Runner.” And you know they showed it to Ridley Scott when they were working on “Alien.” And what’s a more influential film than “Blade Runner?” It’s like kind of like [director Nicolas Winding] Refn says in the documentary — all these roads lead back to Jodorowsky. And they really do. So there’s that legacy. And there’s the legacy that we hope to bring about from the documentary, which is obviously the story of all these events and all these things. What’s the deeper meaning? It’s this whole idea of ambition. Why would you ever tell yourself no? You need to go and try to do the greatest thing in the world, even if everyone else looks at you like you’re crazy, you need to just try for it. So hopefully that’s the real legacy that I would like the world to be left with.

What were some of the challenges in making the film?

Any documentary is tough. A movie with a script is hard enough. Here you’re making a movie but with no script. You’re just shooting a whole lot of footage and then trying to put it together, trying to make it make sense, trying to get a logical narrative out of it, and trying for it not to be boring. That’s really the struggle, just sitting down in an editing room and piecing it all together. ? We wanted it to be exciting, we wanted it to be accessible for people. The goal is you don’t have to know anything about Alejandro Jodorowsky, you don’t have to be familiar with him, you don’t have to have heard of his name ever. You don’t even have to know how to pronounce his name. It doesn’t make a difference. It’s pronounced three different ways in the film! You shouldn’t have to be familiar with “Dune,” you don’t have to like science fiction, you don’t have to like any of this. He’s just such an incredible and interesting guy and can really spin this tale and tell this amazing story that’s hopefully accessible to everybody. That was really the challenge. How do you make it non-niche, though it is, I suppose.

How do you pronounce his name?

I asked him that once. ? He just looked at me and said, “I am more than name.” That’s the best answer than you can ever expect.

Has the film brought Jodorowsky more notoriety?

It’s interesting that I’ve met so many people who have no idea who he was. Absolutely no idea. At a film festival, they’ll check it out — even though they can’t pronounce the title — and they come out totally in love with him and thinking he’s a great guy and [being] interested in seeing his films and interested in reading his books. He’s truly unlike anybody else. I hope lots of people out there who don’t know who he is but will still see this film will come out of kind of being converted and wanting to see more things from him and learning more about him. I think that would be the greatest thing, to learn more about him. To preach to the choir is easy.