Crew of Sick Birds Die Easy talk iboga, a psychedelic used to kick heroin addiction

Ross Brockley
Sick Birds Die Easy is a deceptive film -- part fiction, part documentary, and all madness. It started with a script, but fell into a kind of personal essay. Somewhere off camera, the director is laughing.

The film follows a group of drug-addled Midwesterners into the Heart of Darkness as they attempt to purge themselves of the fear and loathing that anchors their own sick hearts. Their quest is centered on iboga, a psychedelic plant that's part of the religious ceremonies of the indigenous tribes of Gabon. It's been shown to cure heroin addiction, and underground treatment centers using it have appeared in certain parts of the States.

See also:
How ayahuasca can revolutionize psychotherapy

We caught up last week with filmmaker Nik Fackler and actor/comedian Ross Brockley, both of whom will be in town Wednesday for the Trylon premiere and afterparty at Icehouse. We were joined by Minneapolis-based journalist Steve Marsh, who had tagged along for part of the film's production.

Below is a shortened version of our conversation on drug tourism, cultural exploitation, and each man's unique peek through the doors of perception.

You guys seemed to be conscious going into this film of the irony involved, that a bunch of privileged white guys were escaping into the jungle.

Fackler: I wanted that for the film. There was sort of a script we were going off of when we got there. I wanted this group of people who represented Western culture. I wanted that to be a part of the adventure you're watching, this hallucinogenic tourism. Then it all goes wrong. The film at the beginning was supposed to be this experimental narrative, kind of like a hybrid Blair Witch thing. But once we got there, it all started falling apart really quickly.

Marsh: There were so many challenges right away. You had to negotiate all the time with the white African guys. They wanted more money. What once was possible was no longer possible. The first day was all laughter, and then two, three days in it looked like Nik was having a real hard time. The morale was kind of poisonous. People were talking shit behind each others' backs.

Brockley: And, Steve, don't forget this part -- we're at a black-magic camp. But really, Nik found the whole story in the editing.

Fackler: When we got back to the states, we had half the footage from the original narrative, and half the footage from a potentially cool documentary, and this behind-the-scenes footage of the film being made. We came back with over 500 hours of footage from these three movies, and then just spent a year and a half editing, turning what I had into something completely different than I originally intended.

Marsh: Yeah, kind of like turning horse shit into lemonade, man. I'm amazed at the job Nik did because I thought they were fucked.

Tell us about your experiments with the plant. Ross, you had a pretty miserable experience.

Brockley: I don't think he gave me the right stuff. Tatyo [a French-anarchist shaman in charge of the ceremony] and I were sort of at odds. We never really got on very well, and when the time came for the ceremony, he was completely out of his mind on Iboga and whatever else.

Marsh: You're supposed to crossover to this spiritual plane, sort of this valley of the dead, and they kept me up all night. I did like 25, 30 spoonfuls, and enemas. They would juice you up the ass with the [iboga] bark. I had visions of my family. I had visions of the woman I was dating. Maybe she was cheating on me or something. I had these bad feelings about people that were close to me, and then I was comatose for like 30 hours. I was in my bunk in this fugue state for like a day.

Location Info


Trylon microcinema

3258 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Film

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