Naz and Maalik is a multiple award winning movie by writer/director Jay Dockendorf, with lead actors Curtiss Cook Jr and Kerwin Johnson Jr. A relevant look at two closeted gay teenage African-American Muslims in Brooklyn who are under surveillance by FBI, this narrative film was inspired by real life stories of LGBT Muslims, as told to Jay.
Art Shrian from myNewYorkeye had a conversation with the wonderful filmmaker. Here are the excerpts.
Art Shrian: How are you doing Jay?
Jay Dockendorf: I’m great Art. How are you?
Art Shrian: I’m great, thanks. So, you’re based in New York?
Jay Dockendorf: I live in Brooklyn. I used to live in Bedstuy, and I moved here. I’m currently staying here, and I think next project will be here.
Art Shrian: So what do you think of the weather here?
Jay Dockendorf: I actually enjoy it more than I Thought. I’ve been here 4 years, I grew up in LA, went to school in CT, and now I’m here.
Art Shrian: So congratulations on wonderful movie. It’s very captivating. The subject of the movie is very interesting, but also the visuals of New York City are great. Like a New Yorker sees it. SO how did you shoot it?
Jay Dockendorf: We shot Guerilla style. We shot on location. I acted as location scout, and most film was shot on real locations, except the mosque scene. The style of the film has a lot to do with camera work, and cinematographer Jake Mickey and Production designer who worked together to create a look, of seeing New York that’s reflected in the shots, but also matches what’s happening with the characters. I have to give them full credit for the look of the film.
We shot with a lightweight camera Canon C300, which let us spend long days hand held. That was good for the guerilla style filmmaking.
Art Shrian: New York City itself plays a character and you guys have done a great job of it. About the story, its very complex. It has various layers, like subject of sexuality, subject of religion, subject of racial profiling. It brings multiple layers of emotions and journey of the characters through this story. So how did you come up with this story?
Jay Dockendorf: This is not a story of myself. It’s a story of many people how I thought deserve their story to be told. The sources are events that I saw on street, on subway, in homes where I have stayed in. Particularly, a gay couple I lived with inspires the main character. It’s not a documentary, but things gave me lot of inspiration. I started writing this 2012, and I had my experience in Bedstuy with the African American community, which inspired me and became source of some of the story.
Art Shrian: As a filmmaker and writer, what was the most difficult thing or biggest challenge? And what was the most rewarding outcome of this project?
Jay Dockendorf: Most rewarding was creation of this film. We rehearsed the film together, walking through the city, for 3 weeks. The actors were so giving and committed, was great help. It allowed building characters in a way, which would not have been possible otherwise. The various challenging aspects were also very rewarding. Like shooting in subway was hard. To get right angles, right sound, everything was tough. Our sound recorder, Joe, was wonderful. Getting the camera to not shake much. And for actors to perform in front of live audience and strangers, it was all very challenging, but truly rewarding.
Art Shrian: The scenes on the street, with the guys selling things, were very cool. We see these folks in subway or street, selling stuff. But we usually don’t think of there backstory. This was cool to see. Were the others all actors, or real people?
Jay Dockendorf: It was a combination. We cast some people on the street. Some people reached out to us. Or actor’s improvised. People were very supportive.
Art Shrian: I really enjoyed the positivity and optimism of the film. Lot of dramatic stuff could have happened, but movie keeps a positive direction, avoiding the drama.
Jay Dockendorf: Thanks; I’m glad to hear that. It’s controversial aspect of the movie. Some people feel it could have been exploited more with potential conflict and drama, or thriller.
Art Shrian: So what’s your overall message for your audience, from this film and in general from your work?
Jay Dockendorf: I would want the film to speak for itself, and let people decide. It might be limiting, if I blurted it out, in few words. I would like to hear the audience’s interpretation of the film. I think it’s more powerful that way.
Art Shrian: That’s wonderful, I completely agree. The movie does speak for itself and shows your care and concern for the wonderful characters, the subject and everything else around it. Thanks a lot for talking to us, and making this beautiful film. Congratulations!
Naz & Maalik opened in select cinemas on Jan 22, 2016. It’s also be available from Jan 26, 2016 on DVD via Wolfe Video and many major retailers. And also on VOD via www.WolfeOnDemand.com and additional digital platforms.