By age 32, Neven Solian was a university drop-out – a taxi driver and social misfit living with his parents; a prodigious intellect with absolutely nothing to show for it. He couldn’t make friends, he couldn’t meet girls, and he couldn’t win his father’s approval. Trivia, though, came naturally to him.
Neven’s brain was a marvel, a limitless repository of names, dates and figures. His remarkable gift offered him a path to fortune and fame – or at least notoriety. But while he hoped that his gift would bring him the sort of validation that he craved, the obsessive streak that made him a quiz champion drove him even further into isolation. As the applause died away, Neven fell into increasingly bizarre patterns of behaviour; into despair; and to the point of suicide.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Ronen Becker
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I was originally exploring a story about the church group and political party Rise Up Australia, who were opposing the building of a proposed mosque next to their church.
After spending some time getting the know the leader of the group, Daniel Naliah, I lost interest in the story and I was about to give up. On my last interview with Daniel, one of Daniel’s assistants, Neven Solian, began sharing quirky anecdotes about how he was a drunk contestant on Sale of the Century, and yet still won.
I interviewed Neven and found him to be a unique, fascinating and complex character.
We began shooting, what I initially thought was going to be a short film. After several interviews and over 30+ hours of interview footage, I realised that Neven’s story could not be told in less than an hour.
Neven’s story is very much the story of a misfit with an incredible talent. I felt very strongly that it needed to be told. I spent my own money and countless hours, over a two-year period, making it.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
This documentary traverses the golden era of Australian TV and Radio Quiz shows from the perspective of arguably one of the most talented and unusual contestants of all time.
Neven’s story is stranger than fiction. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the world coupled with his eccentric outlook and his bizarre path to find meaning in his life is unlikely to be like any story you have heard before.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
This film explores what it means to be intelligent and also the value placed on intelligence. There is often a misconception that knowledge is intelligence. This film questions what intelligence is and also explores its value in this world, especially when one lacks other qualities.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
It has mostly been screened in festival across the US. Unfortunately, I could not attend most of them, so I could not get direct feedback.
I was surprised that It was received better in America than in Australia – as to me, it seems like a very Australian story (perhaps there is a cultural cringe aspect to this).
As an aside - I was really surprised to hear that my mother really enjoyed it. She is a harsh critic and has probably not seen many documentaries in her life. We also do not share the same taste in films. This made me think that the film has resonance with a wider audience than I intended (the issue is, I’m not sure how to get it to them).
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I think Neven’s story is a really interesting one, and I think there are many people who would really enjoy it. I think having it on your site might help reach those people.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
My main aim is to have as many people who would be interested in this story, see the film. Anyone who will spread the message.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
This film does not inherently have an important social message. However, it is a unique story about a loner that I think wide audiences would find very interesting.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What is Intelligence / Genius? What do quiz shows really test?
What are the limits of intelligence in living a fulfilling life?
Would you like to add anything else?
One formal aspect to this film that I found interesting when reflecting back on it is the implicit authority that we, as an audience, bestow upon a narrator. Neven narrates most of the film. His perspective ranges from strange to outright absurd. However, it is not until we hear from other subjects (who often offer contrasting opinions), that we, as an audience question the judgement of the narrator and the information we have consumed. I found that quite interesting.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am currently getting a Masters in Data Science. Looking for topics for my next documentary.
Interview: November 2016
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Sometimes, genius is trivial.
By age 32, Neven Solian was a university drop-out – a taxi driver and social misfit living with his parents; a prodigious intellect with absolutely nothing to show for it.
He couldn’t make friends, he couldn’t meet girls, and he couldn’t win his father’s approval. Trivia, though, came naturally to him.
Neven’s brain was a marvel, a limitless repository of names, dates and figures. His remarkable gift offered him a path to fortune and fame – or at least notoriety.
But while he hoped that his gift would bring him the sort of validation that he craved, the obsessive streak that made him a quiz champion drove him even further into isolation. As the applause died away, Neven fell into increasingly bizarre patterns of behaviour; into despair; and to the point of suicide.
About the writer, director and producer:
The Trivialist is documentarian Ronen Becker’s first feature-length film, a character study that slowly assembles the complex fragments of its subject’s life. Like his previous works, The Trivialist holds an uncomfortably bright light to the human mind: its possibilities, its alarming frailties, and what happens when it comes untethered from the reality of others.
Neven Solian, William Laing,
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
This film was self-funded.
Where will it be screened in the next month?
Sunday 11 December 4:30
The Backlot Studios
65 Haig Street, Southbank, Victoria, Australia 3006
American Documentary Film Festival
Atlanta International Documentary Film Festival - Best Foreign Documentary award
NYC Independent Film Festival