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Tribeca 2015 Women Directors: Meet Malika Zouhali-Worrall – ‘Thank You For Playing’

Tribeca 2015 Women Directors: Meet Malika Zouhali-Worrall - 'Thank You For Playing'

Malika Zouhali-Worrall is an award-winning filmmaker of British/Moroccan origin. She is one of the directors and the producer of “Call Me Kuchu” (2012), a documentary that depicts the last year in the life of the first openly gay man in Uganda, David Kato. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary and the Cinema Fairbindet Prize. It has since won 18 more awards — including Best International Feature at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival — and has been theatrically distributed in Canada, Germany, the UK and the US. In 2012, Filmmaker Magazine named Zouhali-Worrall one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. (Press materials) 

Zouhali-Worrall co-directed “Thank You For Playing” with David Osit. 

“Thank You For Playing” will premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival on April 17. 

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

MZW: “Thank You For Playing” tells the story of Ryan and his wife Amy, who are building a poetic video game about their terminally ill son Joel.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

MZW: My directing partner, David Osit, and I were intrigued to learn more about how a video game could be used to explore and convey such a profound and difficult experience. But what soon became clear was that Ryan and Amy saw the video-game medium just like any artistic medium — as a way to express themselves, explore their feelings and find beauty in the hardest moments – and the result of their work was stunning.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

MZW: By the time we started filming with Ryan and Amy, their four-year-old son Joel had been living with a terminal-cancer diagnosis for three years. They allowed us to film with them and their children for pretty much the same reasons they were making their remarkable video game: because they wanted to talk about and share an experience that is so often treated as taboo, and they believed that we as a society should be more willing to talk about difficult topics like terminal illness, death and bereavement. As a result, they never asked us to stop filming, even once Joel’s health started deteriorating, and so it was up to us to decide where to draw the line. That wasn’t at all easy as we felt we had a responsibility to continue filming even some of the most difficult situations in order to accurately tell Ryan and Amy’s story.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?

MZW: I think the most important thing for us is that we hope people come away understanding why Ryan and Amy wanted to make this video game, this work of art, during such a hard time in their lives. Ultimately, we hope our film will challenge people to re-examine their own assumptions about technology, video games and art.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

MZW: Grab any opportunity to watch another director, male or female, on set or in the edit room. I’ve learned a lot from watching other filmmakers’ directing processes, whether they’re friends or big shot Hollywood directors.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

MZW: We initially set out to make a short film, so we self-funded production to start with, and worked hard to keep production costs as low as possible. But after a few months, it became obvious that we would need more time to do this story justice. Once we realized “Thank You For Playing” was going to be a feature, we started applying for funding.

We received ITVS Open Call co-production funding, and additional support from American Documentary/POV, Chicken & Egg and the Tribeca Film Institute, which has so far covered the majority of our production and post-production expenses.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why. 

MZW: Too many to name, but I was recently blown away when I watched Laura Poitras’ “My Country, My Country” and Jehane Noujaim’s “Control Room” for the first time. “My Country, My Country” because of the intimacy with which Laura captured the day-to-day life of Riyadh al-Adhadh and his family, while also illustrating the complexities of a country trying to rebuild itself under occupation. “Control Room” because Jehane was able to find such compelling characters through which to examine the nature of media bias, and how the US is perceived in the Middle East.

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