Chat w/ Naghmeh Shirkhan, director of MAKI

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Director Naghmeh Shirkhan’s MAKI just won her the best director award at CHELSEA FILM FESTIVAL. She was the ONLY female director to have a feature film showing at this year's festival. Set in the heart of New York City, MAKI is a modern love story with a dark twist, depicting a young Japanese woman’s coming of age. Maki (Naomi Sundberg) and Tommy (Julian Cihi) can no longer conceal their hidden affair once they learn she's pregnant with his child. Their charismatic and persuasive boss, Mika (Mieko Harada) steps in and takes control. The story unsettles as it unfolds, revealing each character’s true intent.

Born in Iran, Naghmeh Shirkhan moved to America with her family a year before the Islamic Revolution. Her father returned to Tehran in the hopes of resuming his career, while the rapidly ensuing Iran-Iraq war prompted her young mother to remain in America indefinitely. The immigrant experience of separation, displacement, and the struggles of starting anew are major themes in Naghmeh’s work. In 2010 her first arthouse feature, The Neighbor (Hamsayeh), hit the festival circuit to wide critical acclaim. Soon after, she began working on her second feature, Maki.

We had a chat with Naghmeh, here are the excerpts.

What inspired you to make this film? 

I wanted to make a film about a young woman who finds herself in an untenable situation with nowhere to turn. I was influenced by Les liaisons dangereuse by Laclos. I also really wanted to try my hand at telling a visually captivating love story that didn’t end in typical Hollywood fashion.

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

The most challenging part of making this film was working on a very tight budget. But then again I’d say that was also one of the really rewarding aspects of making Maki, especially in Manhattan. You can do a lot with the current filmmaking technology and you don’t end up having to sacrifice quality. Another very rewarding thing was working with my talented cast. It was such a diverse cast. We had Japanese and Spanish and Swedish and African American and our crew was equally diverse both in gender and ethnic background. It was a phenomenal group of people.

  • Tell us about your experience at the Chelsea Film Festival.

I loved the Chelsea Film Festival. The founders, Ingrid Jean Baptiste and her mother Sonia, took such good care of all the filmmakers and panel moderators. The panels were insightful and informative. The festival feels fresh, youthful and edgy and I loved that.

  • How does being an immigrant affects you as a storyteller?

I’m not sure I would have become a filmmaker if I wasn’t an immigrant. I draw a great deal of inspiration from my background and the wanderlust that I developed as I searched for a place to fit it. I found that place in the world of independent filmmaking.

  • Who are your favorite filmmakers and why?

My favorite filmmakers are from the French Nouvelle Vague like Godard, Rivette, Varda and Chabrol. French New Wave represented a totally radical way of making and experiencing film. There was also an intimacy and urgency that resonates with audiences even today. They weren’t afraid to take chances and push the medium to a new place. I was also deeply influenced by Japanese filmmakers like Kurosawa, Ozu and Kinoshita. Their use of lenses and the economy with which they could set a scene really influenced my own filmmaking style.

  • What's your most favorite and least favorite thing about NYC:

My favorite thing about NYC is its energy, and it’s such an international city where people of all ethnicities, races and religions live together and learn from one another. I also love that it’s a Mecca for international art and cinema. 

My least favorite thing is probably the insane amount of traffic these days. It makes shooting a car scene that much harder!

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You can listen to the full chat/podcast of our conversation with Naghmeh below (updated 10/31).

Here’s the trailer for the film:



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.

Jaden Michael is wonderful in Todd Haynes new film, “Wonderstruck”

Actor Jaden Michael plays Jamie, a young boy helping Ben (Oakes Fegley) find his father in
New York City circa 1977 in director Todd Haynes’s terrific new film “Wonderstruck”.
The film made its New York debut at NYFF55 and will open—in select theaters—on October 20.

Already the Oscar buzz is swirling around this charming film and Haynes is back with his past muse Julianne Moore. This film is based on Brian Selznick’s trailblazing debut novel, The
Invention of Hugo Cabret.

“Wonderstruck” it is about a young boy named Ben who longs for the father he has never
known. Set in two different time periods, the film It is also about a girl named Rose, who dreams
of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a
puzzling clue in his mother's room, and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

Ben's story is set in 1977 and is told entirely in words, while Rose's story, set fifty years earlier, is told entirely with pictures. The two stories weave back and forth before ultimately coming together. Rich, complex, affecting, and beautiful–with over 460 pages of original
artwork–Wonderstruck is a stunning achievement from a uniquely gifted artist and visionary.
Actor Jaden Michael plays Jamie, an Afro-Latino New York City kid who helps Ben (Oakes
Fegley) navigate the city after he runs away from home. He’s scared, alone, penniless and deaf
a recent event that occurred during a freak thunderstorm.

Young Michael has been acting since he was three years old, appearing in several programs
produced by Nick Jr. and Sesame Street. He’s also lent his unique voice playing
Baby Jaguar in “Dora the Explorer.” He has also appeared in the role of David Diaz in the
feature film "Custody" with Viola Davis and Ellen Burstyn. He also took audiences and critics by surprise playing the role of the young gangster Rafe in "The Get Down”.


Here’s what Jaden Michael has to share about his role in Todd Haynes’s “Wonderstruck”.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your character. He’s an Afro-Latino kid, right?
Jaden Michael: Correct, I play Jamie. His parents are divorced. He lives with his father, in NEw
York City, in the summers. His dad works at the Museum of Natural History and that’s where he
meets Ben (Oakes Fegley) and helps him out with his journey.

Q: Any challenges working on the set?
A: It was easy going. Everyone on set was so close, it was easy going. We bonded so well. It
was like family.

Q: How did you prepare to play a kid of the late ’70’s? The “Get Down” in which you also
played a significant character was
A: I understood what was happening in that time period. You also had a significant role in
“The Get Down” and that musical drama was also set in the 1970s.
(laughing)
Well playing a gangster is much different than my role as Jamie but I actually did my research
on this film [Wonderstruck] as well and I decided to find out more about the culture. I’ve always
thought that if you listen to music it’s easier to find a character. I like listening to music because
it defines who I am. It makes me special….not that kind of special..(jokingly). And so in order for
me to get into my character, I like to listen to music from that time period, if the story is set in
another era. Or if I think this is something the character might listen to. While I was getting my
hair and makeup done, I liked to listen to a lot of 70’s rock and some David Bowie, and other
people like Fleetwood Mac and Denise Williams’s “Free would always kind of click with me
(snapping his fingers).


“Wonderstruck” directed by Todd Haynes. The screenplay was written by Brian Selznick, based
on his book. Stars Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams and
Jaden Michael.

The Conjuring 2, special screening at Los Angeles Film Festival 2016

Continuing the "tradition" of screening the Conjuring films, the Los Angeles Film Festival had a special screening of the second movie in the franchise, The Conjuring-2, at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The star studded screening was attended by the cast including Patrick Wilson, Vera Fermiga, the producers and the director James Wan. Also in presence were the real family, on who the film is based on.

After a welcome and introduction from Stephanie Allain (president of the LA film festival), the producers brought the director James Wan on stage. He introduced the movie stating how excited he was to return back to his love, horror films (he directed Furious 7 earlier). And how he wanted this movie to be different, but real, inspiring from the last Conjuring film. We also talked to Patrick Wilson he shared his excitement about the film, and his role. A fun fact - He's an East Coater, and our neighbor from Montclair, NJ. He gave his love to us East Coasters!

So, what makes The Conjuring movies more scary, is the fact that they are based on supposedly true stories. It raises the stakes for most people. So we see test after 7 yrs from the first film, Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are almost struggling to continue in their profession. People do not believe them, Lorraine is having demonic visions which are pushing her to stop. But they still want to keep helping people in need.

This leads them to Enfield in London, where a family needs there help. The Church asks them to go investigate, and find out if it's true or a hoax. The house in this family seems possessed, terrorising the 3 kids and their single mother. But it's not sure if is real or made-up by the kid. Or if is just a spirit, or something a lot more dangerous. The stakes get higher and the drama gets bigger!

It's good to see the Ed & Lorraine team back, and they are back in action. There is interesting drama there as well. Both Patrick & Vera give wonderful performances and make their characters believable. Frances O'Connor makes the role of a scared single mother, very beilievable. Madison Wolfe is amazing and the other kids give a brilliant performance. The movie is well cast with good performances.

But the true magic is in direction, camera work and the sound-music. James Wan, returning to the franchise, keeps the movie fresh. It's not your usual jump cuts, jumpy music, shocks, and makeups etc etc. This movie keeps it real. Emotions are strong, camera zooms in & out smoothly, and no sudden loud noises to scare you. Instead, the movie builds its tension through great scenes and amazing scenery. The editing could be little tighter at places, and the first half seems to stretch a little. But for the most part, James has kept the movie moving, building tension and concern for characters, culminating the story to an appropriate climax.

SO... If you are not into horror or scary film, you may stay away from this movie. But if you are into horror and scary films you should definitely watch it!