It was just a few weeks ago when the head-spinning trailer for Dana Ziyasheva’s film, Greatland, was released and the internet lit up with excitement. The whimsical, outlandish colors, black light neon and dailaogue like, “He’s a rabbit! My son is a loving rabbit. And technically, he’s also my brother,” have grabbed our movie-loving attention like no other in 2020. But what is Greatland? Is it an acid-soaked trip to an alternate dimension? Or is it a mirror reflecting a twisted yet recognizable world we wish we could unsee?
This film is a coming of age story of Ulysses set in imaginary country Greatland, whose citizens, the “Greats” are too evolved to bother with government, work, education, law, technology or money. Trapped in this world of perpetual fun and inter-species love ruled by a universal Mother, Ulysses must cross the forbidden frontier to save his childhood sweetheart, as an absurd election and a deadly Virus lead to chaos and violence.
Greatland was written and directed by UNESCO alumna Dana Ziyasheva (Defenders Of Life 2015 – read our interview with her here). The film stars Arman Darbo (Itsy Bitsy 2019 – read our review here), Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight 2008), Chloe Ray Warmoth (Fuller House TV series), Nick Moran (Harry Potter franchise), and Bill Oberst, Jr. (read our interviews with him here and here) as Philanthropist. Produced by Igor Darbo (Defenders Of Life 2015), Greatland boasts a score composed by Matthew Chilelli (Escape The Dark 2017) and co-editing by Brad McLoughlin (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens 2015) and Michael Palmerio (The Evil Within 2017). The outrageous artwork and sets were designed by Rollin Hunt (Wolves From Another Kingdom 2012) and Danielle Kaufman (Sweet Taste of Souls 2020 – read our review here).
There are two different stories going on in this film. On the surface, naive 15 year-old Ulysses (Darbo) lives alone in a satirical city of Greatland, watched over carefully the omnipotent, omnipresent voice of Mother that comes out of his electronic armband, always ready with advice, suggestions, and punishments depending on what he—and everyone else—is doing at any given time. Everyone must wear their armbands at all times or suffer Mother’s wrath. They clothe themselves in outrageously childish outfits swathed in rainbows, hearts, and glitter.
Any and every type of lifestyle is accepted. Humans are matched up with “spouses” that could be any living thing on Earth, and are given anything from seedlings to bugs to fluffy bunnies to raise as their children. Ulysses’ lifelong friend, Warmoth’s Ugly Duck, is found to be wanting by the powers that be, and she is sent away to what could only be a horrific place called Redemption Island. When the young boy realizes he loves the girl, he vows to save her, and the things he discovers along the way upset the delicate balance of the place known as Greatland.
However, beneath the surface, Greatland is a look at the ever widening spectrum of society. Ulysses is living in a colorful, manic yet downtrodden community where everyone is encouraged to see only the glittery banners and pink hearts pasted like Bandaids over the crumbling buildings and desolate landscapes that they live in. All things are encouraged and accepted—elections between animals, pointless jobs, non-gender specific clothing, interspecies sexuality—but only if they fit under the umbrella that those who control Greatland have already chosen. Who are the men behind the curtains of this surreal city? The rich, the powerful, and the elite, of course, living in the lap of absolute luxury on the backs of the poor and downtrodden. They sip champagne and walk by the ocean while picking what they want from Greatland like the choicest of cherries.
Both sides of the Far Left/Far Right spectrum are shown here, warts and all. Ziyasheva uncovers the worst aspects of each mentality, showing how ridiculous and unrealistic leaning too far to one side can be. A world where everyone must be accepting of all others to the point where it becomes a crime to judge another person, and one where you can’t be unhappy, no matter what the situation, is just as implausible as one where the rich take full advantage of the poor and having all urges satisfied without expecting any kind of mutinous repercussions.
Yes, there is a fantastical story here. But there is also a bigger picture. Do yourself a favor and check this one out. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime!
If you still have questions about Greatland, be sure to check out my interview with the film’s creator, Dana Ziyasheva, where she offers us her inspiration for the film and explains the metaphors behind what, on the surface, may seem frivolous or even ridiculous.