Chat w/ Sara Zandieh, director of SIMPLE WEDDING

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SIMPLE WEDDING starring RITA WILSON, had it’s world premiere at Los Angeles Film Festival this year. It’s a romantic comedy about a young Iranian-American woman and the lengths she goes to in order to appease her parents and their need to see her settled down.

We had a chat with the co-writer and director of the film, Sara Zandieh. Here are the excerpts.

- What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of making this film?

Working with a limited budget is a huge challenge so when you overcome it, it’s rewarding. It forces you to be crafty and economical in how you execute the story. I worked hard to create a strategy with my shot choices and directing technique that would be compliant with our production and 20 day shoot. Since I couldn’t have all the jibs and cranes that I wanted, nor copious days to shoot, I designed a “simple” approach to the film language of SIMPLE WEDDING. The scenes in Nousha’s world—her apartment, her time with friends—are all handheld because her world is more “free.” The scenes with her family, we shot all on sticks to create a more formal shot language to speak to her parent’s world and contrast with hers. The shot language then changes again after one pivotal scene (I won’t give it away, spoiler alert!) I also tried to focus on my actors—one of my film’s greatest assets— to ensure we got the best possible performance for each character. These simple strategies made story and production work with our budget. Bringing my story alive within these constraints was one of my most satisfying accomplishments as a director. It was like solving an epic puzzle.

- What was the casting process for the film like? How did you find Rita and what was that experience like?

SIMPLE WEDDING is a mash up of the rom-com genre and the family comedy. I knew that I needed a great ensemble cast to pull off the familial world of SIMPLE WEDDING. This is the type of script that is all about character, character, character. I had Rita Wilson in mind for the role of Maggie from an early stage of writing. I had seen her most recent work on Lena Dunham’s GIRLS where she played a colorful mom character. My great casting director, Meghan Lennox, also suggested Rita. Given that the movie is both a multi-cultural story and a female story, it seemed like something in her wheel house and when she read the script, she liked it. In our initial conversation we clicked on so many levels. We both had multicultural upbringings and big ethnic families. We talked about how we had a similar experience in high school. We just connected on a heart and soul level and I think that’s what made the experience of making the film so magical. It was a heart and soul effort with so many wonderful, kind-hearted people. Rita is generous, good-natured, smart, talented, and spirited. She is truly a “model citizen.” I loved working with her everyday. It was such a joy. Rita also connected me to Shohreh Aghdashloo who I always dreamed would play Nousha’s mother, and then what was just as incredible was that Shohreh pulled in her husband, Houshang Touzie who I always hoped would play Nousha’s father. I knew this particular combination would be special for the Iranian audiences because they haven't been on screen together as a husband/wife couple for a long time. My entire cast Tara Grammy, Christopher O’Shea, Maz Jobrani, Peter Mackenzie, James Eckhouse, Rebecca Henderson, Aleque Reid, Angela Gibbs, RJ Hatanaka, Keon Alexander, were the best. We turned into a real family on set.

- How was your experience at LAFF?

It was fantastic. The film independent family and everyone at LAFF were super supportive, positive and professional. I really appreciate that they were willing to support my film and by extension my interest in making commercially viable films with diverse characters and storylines. They showed a wide array of films, great documentary films, fresh voices, and had great panels as well. We also had an amazing red-carpet premiere where Rita and her husband Tom Hanks attended. My entire family was there and sharing the moment with everyone I love felt amazing. Tom was so generous with my family. I think everyone posted a selfie with him on social media the next day. It was a special and lovely night. 

- What's next for you?

I would love to direct a studio comedy. If someone were to give me the “golden keys”, I know I could revamp a studio script so that it played with lovable, three dimensional characters, and a compelling “heart and soul” story. In the meantime, I’m developing my own pilot about a mother/daughter breaking bad and a new feature film comedy about a female con-artist. Both are comedies with drama.

-What are your favorite romantic comedies and favorite filmmakers that inspire you? 

My favorite romantic comedies are “The Apartment”, “When Harry Met Sally”, and “Annie Hall.” I also love the silent era comedy filmmakers like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Llyod. It’s hard to name my absolute favorite filmmakers, there are too many to name, but I can think of a few that have been particularly helpful in the last few months. Alexander Payne for his satirical wit and complex, tragicomic characters. Mike Nichols for his ability to work across a wide range of genres and for his skillful direction to get the best out of his actors. He’s an actor’s director and I aspire to be the same.

-What's your message to other aspiring filmmakers and storytellers?

It takes years to get something across the finish. Choose a story that you are passionate about so that you can take it all the way. Love your characters, know what you are saying and why it's important. And most of all, don’t give up! Making an independent feature film is like pushing a truck up a mountain. There’s no question it’s hard and it might seem impossible, but if you take it one day at a time you’ll find a way!

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You can listen below for the full interview with Sara Zandieh.

Chat w/ Mtume Gant, Director of a Radical New Entry into Black Independent Cinema - 'I DON’T LIVE TODAY' #NoKingsHere

I DON’T LIVE TODAY follows one night in the life of a Black abstract artist who has become disillusioned with the morally corrupt art world in New York City. On this night, Robeson has declared his exodus from the city and in doing so wanders the streets for one final time getting into misadventures that force him to face his own toxic hypocrisies.

Gant intends to unveil New York City with a focus on rarely seen parts of the city to reveal the fuller truth about his hometown where he has lived his whole life. The film is a modern-day morality fable that takes place in the darker ends of the New York arts economy, where the subjects of race, family, loyalty and ethics are put on trial.

Here’s excerpts from our chat with Mtume.

Why do you think it's important to get this film made at this time?

In today's world its important not only that we have films that address important issues - we have plenty of those - but films that are not going to shy away from looking at the harsh reality of these issues which I believe many films that purport to be socially relevant actively do. The issues we face of exploitation in all its forms are of incredible importance and as artists we have a duty when making a 90 minute film to not sugar coat. This film does not sugar coat one bit from form to function. We need to really step up our conversations in this country and add more urgency, this film will be vital in pushing that. 

Why do you like about being a filmmaker and what does it mean to you?

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I love the totality of cinema. I am a multi-disciplined artist who comes from a background of drama, music and literature so to be able to find a medium that can host all three in a complex way is incredible gratifying, you feel like their so much possibility when making cinema. It also means I have a lot of responsibility because the image is so vital to shaping minds in societies and our society that is obsessed with concepts like “representation.” People are shaping their lives off of the characters they see in cinema, so its my duty to not do what mainstream cinema is doing and providing people with false senses of humanity that placate and engineer people to believing the world is something other than it actually is. 

Who are your favorite filmmakers that inspire you and why?

I have many. A few are Andrei Tarkovsky, Wendell B. Harris, Lucrecia Martel, John Cassavetes, Glauber Rocha, Bela Tarr, Krystoff Kieslowski, Lee Chang-dong and Lina Wertmueller. I could go with many more honestly. The reason why I say these names is because these people made films that exist beyond the market, this is cinema that stands as tall as the pyramids in Egypt, they made monuments of humanity. They expressed, not only their personal visions, but captured the pulse of the globe so it was never singular. I could talk about each one specifically but we would be here for hours. But just know that these filmmakers made pieces of art that will exist forever, out live social systems and social conventions, that are now a part of the human fabric wether they like it or not. 

What's currently on your Netflix (or Amazon/Hulu) queue? What do you love about these shows?

I actually watch Filmstruck and Mubi more. I know it probably sounds pretentious but it's the truth. Last thing I watched on Netflix is Bojack Horseman, I do enjoy the snide commentary on Hollywoods decadence. Other than that I mostly watch the doc series on Netflix. On Amazon Prime I love that they have the Fandor extension I have been able to see a lot of great films, I just watched Tetsuo The Iron Man again, such a fantastic film. I also watched some films by Tsai Ming-liang, who is another filmmaker I have a great amount of respect for. 

What's your most favorite and least favorite thing about NYC?

I grew up here and my favorite thing will always be the ability to walk and take mass transit, even with mass transit these days being as wonky as its ever been. I still feel like I have a certain amount physical freedom that I don’t feel in other cities like Los Angeles which always feel so confined and segregated. Much of it is illusion but life is perception. What I don’t like about NYC is how Capitalism has turned this city into a dreamland for those who have the money. The blatant disregard for the people who made this city what it was. New York is no longer what it was, artists can’t thrive here anymore. As a native I find the gentrification and constant answering to the bottom line of capital inhumane. 

About Mtume Gant
Mtume has been circling the arts industry for decades as an actor of theatre and film. He travelled the world as a hip-hop artist under the name Core Rhythm, and now focuses on making socially aware films. Mtume’s previous short films SPIT and WHITE FACE have screened at numerous festivals garnering countless awards including New York City’s Coney Island, Bushwick, Harlem, Lower East Side, and in San Francisco, Woodstock, Aspen, Ashland, and Manchester.

I DON’T LIVE TODAY is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as @IDLTFilm
and under the hashtag, #NoKingsHere

A crowdfunding campaign is currently on its final week offering a feature film to be executive produced by the Duplass Brothers. Mtume Gant’s I DON’T LIVE TODAY has just raised $20,000 reaching 50% of the campaign $40,000 goal.

In addition to raising the remaining funds, Gant and team must raise 1000 followers to successfully complete the campaign by October 17th 2018.

Individuals can visit the campaign page and click the FOLLOW button which is simple, easy, and free!

Individuals can show their support by clicking the FOLLOW button on the campaign page or pledging amounts upwards from $25 here
www.seedandspark.com/fund/idltfilm

Chat w/ Derrick Borte, director of AMERICAN DREAMER

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American Dreamer recently had it’s world premiere at LAFF. Starring Jim Gaffigan, it’s a film about “A down on his luck driver, who makes extra cash chauffeuring a low level drug dealer around town, and finds himself in a serious financial bind and decides to kidnap the dealer's child.”

Derrick Borte is the co-writer (along with Daniel Forte) and director of the film. We had a chat with him and here are the excerpts

What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of making this film?

Limited resources (and everything that comes with that) presented the biggest challenge by far. Shooting this film in 16 nights was tough. Thankfully the whole team was totally committed and we were able to make it work.

What was the casting process for the film like? How as working with an excellent comic like Jim?

Casting is always one of my favorite parts of the process. So much of your film comes together (or not) based on every one of those choices. I feel like we found such great talent for these roles, and it was such a pleasure working with all of them. Jim was so prepared for the challenges this role presented. We had great conversations every day about Cam, his situation, and his decisions.

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How was your experience at LAFF?

 Jenn and Drea have been wonderful to work with. The entire staff (and all the volunteers) are great!

 What's next for you?

 Scott, Danny, and I have a few projects in development, but it’s difficult to look past this film right now though. We are all so proud of it and want to help ensure it finds its audience.

 What's on your Netflix (or amazon/hulu) queue right now?

 Lately I’ve been going back to a pretty eclectic variety of films; BIG WEDNESDAY, ANGEL HEART, MANHUNTER, BARRY LYNDON, etc. Also all of the seasons of Bourdain for some travel inspiration.

Who are your favorite filmmakers that inspire you?

 (In no particular order) Sofia Coppola, Hal Ashby, David Cronenberg, Jim Jarmusch, John Hughes, Terry Gilliam. 

What's your message to other aspiring filmmakers and storytellers?

If you have a story to tell, don’t wait for permission. Make your movie with whatever resources you have.

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You can listen to the full interview with Derrick Borte below:



Chat w/ Anne De Mare, director of the doc 'Capture The Flag'

Photo credit: Will Thwaites

Anne De Mare is an Emmy-Award winning documentary filmmaker whose feature film exploring the realities of youth homelessness, The Homestretch (Independent Lens), received the 2015 Emmy for Outstanding Business and Economic Reporting - Long Form. She’s the director of the documentary Capturing The Flag, that tells the story of Election Day 2016 from the deeply personal perspective of a diverse team of volunteer voter protection workers in North Carolina that represents the final line of protection for each American citizen’s right to vote.  

We spoke with Anne, and here are the excerpts

• What motivated you to make this film, and at this time?

Like a lot of people, I was really disheartened by the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election.  The negativity and divisiveness of the campaigns and the non-stop media coverage was deeply discouraging for so many of the people I knew.  So, initially, the film was a response to all that media noise, and also to the narrow, top down focus of our political dialogue.  In contrast, here were these everyday citizens - Laverne, Steve, Claire and Trista - who were rising above all that noise and distraction and doing something active to try and make the very process of democracy better. For everyone.  By helping their fellow citizens to vote in a world where voting is increasingly complicated.  Since the election, the themes explored in the film have only grown in importance, as legal and legislative battles over election laws and redistricting are being waged all over the country.

I’ve come to believe that the role of the citizen has been purposely diminished in the media, and that works its way into the way we talk about our own personal involvement with politics.  Capturing The Flag explores what it's like to be a citizen who takes action -- how complicated that can be at times, how discouraging and how exhilarating.  It’s also a film about the deeply insidious nature of modern voter suppression, and why it’s so hard for people to fight.  Through the making of the film, I’ve re-discovered how important each and every one of us is to the function of our democracy.  So I wanted to tell a different kind of story in this moment, in large part because I wanted to find a way to have hope for our democracy again.  

• What challenges did you face making this film, and how did you overcome those?

I’ve never worked on something that was so connected to current events before, and I found that time was a huge challenge for me.  I tend to work slowly - my last film took over five years to make - but with this subject matter there was such an urgency to finish in time to inspire action and dialogue around the midterm elections, we finished in a third of that time.  It gave me a huge amount of respect for the filmmakers and journalists who work on current events everyday.   From a creative standpoint, it was really challenging to find a way to tell this story in a way that consciously fought against the sensationalism of a lot of the media coverage, that slowed down way we usually talk about politics and asked different questions, but was still compelling to audiences.  We’ve come to describe it as a slow burn of a film on a hot button topic, but finding that balance took a really long time.

• Why and how you ended up with all female team? How was that experience?

The film was the brainchild of our Producer, Elizabeth Hemmerdinger.  When she found out that Laverne Berry volunteered to do voter protection work at the polls, she approached me about taking a small film crew down to record what happened.  Initially, we thought we would be making a short about civic engagement and how to participate in democracy, but what we experienced on the ground in North Carolina, combined with the larger direction of the country in terms of the battle over voting rights, led us to understand that we had a much deeper, richer, and more complicated story.  The development of the project from a short to a feature, like the development of the producing team itself, was really organic.  Elizabeth, Laverne and I had all known and worked with each other in some capacity before, although never in this combination of roles, but it has been a wonderful experience.  Elizabeth likes to refer to us as a three-legged stool, and I agree. Filmmaking is a deeply collaborative effort - especially documentary - and we make a good team.     

• What do you hope to achieve from this film and it's impact?

Ultimately, I hope the film can re-energize people around the importance of voting, and the urgent need for election reform and fair redistricting laws.  At the same time, I hope the film can open people's eyes to the current tragedy that far too many American citizens face very real challenges to voting, and that those citizens are disproportionately in poor and minority communities.  We need to fix this if we want to save our democracy.  When I set out to make the film, voting wasn’t really my big issue, but I have come to understand it is THE issue.  If we can’t fix this, we can’t fix anything.   

• What's your message to the voters all over America?

Vote.  Vote the whole ballot.  In every election.  Know your local election law and help your fellow citizens get out and vote.  The largest single voting block in America is the roughly 100 million eligible voters who didn't vote in the 2016 election.  Get off the sidelines and get involved in the day-to-day reality of how we are governed.  Whatever your politics.  Elections are often decided by a handful of votes, so understand that your vote DOES matter.  Own it.  Exercise it.  Insist on it.  We have the power to change who’s in power.  If you don’t like what’s happening, vote your leaders out of office.

You can check more details at
http://www.capturingtheflag.com/