In this week’s In the Works column, indieWIRE takes a close look at the production of the film that won the Film Independent and Sloan Foundation Producer’s Grant for films about science and technology, Musa Syeed’s “Valley of Saints,” produced by Nicholas Bruckman. We also take a look at three looking for finishing funds on Kickstarter and an in-production short film starring Melissa Leo.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “In the Works” is a weekly column taking a look at upcoming films, in addition to projects in production. It spotlights films in development, as well completed films that are taking creative paths towards distribution and occasionally ventures away from films to look at other types of projects, such as interesting new film distribution, funding, or exhibition mechanisms.
“Valley of Saints”
For “Valley of Saints” producer Nicholas Bruckman, the recent announcement that he was the recipient of the 2011 Sloan Producer’s Grant was a validation that the foundation really believes in the film. It was an early NYU screenwriters’ grant from Sloan that got the ball rolling on the production of the film with Kashmiri-American screenwriter/director Musa Syeed.
Set in conflict-ridden Kashmir, “Valley of Saints” tells the story of a poor young boatman who lives in a lake community that is suffering from the ethnic conflict that has persisted since the partition of India in the mid-twentieth century. The boatman, Gulzar (Gulzar Ahmad Butt) decides he wants to leave Kashmir to escape the violence, but when he tries to leave he is stopped. Due to a military curfew, he is caught and must return to the lake, where he plots his next attempt at leaving. Upon his return to the village, he meets a young woman scientist (Neelofar “Neelo” Hamid) who is investigating extreme pollution in the lake on which his community depends. Reacting to the violence and the environmental degradation caused by human recklessness, the two become closer and develop a relationship.
Bruckman and Syeed met at an event hosted by the film grant organization Cinereach, where they were both being honored for grants they received for short film projects. The two, who both have South Asian backgrounds, realized in conversation that they both had a desire to set a film in Kashmir. After working together on “Bronx Princess,” they decided to work together, shooting “Valley of Saints” in Kashmir. After the announcement that he would receive the Sloan award, Bruckman spoke with indieWIRE about the project.
“It was a two month process,” Bruckman described the shoot. “We shot the film with a local crew except for three American crew members (Bruckman, Syeed, and Director of Photography Yoni Brook)…During the time of production, the military curfew was actually going on. There were whole days when talent couldn’t arrive on set because army was blocking the roads and protestors blocking the roads, setting things on fire. We endured various threats and blackmailing, an environment not conducive for feature film production. Small television industry there that makes the Kashmiri TV serials, we were able to work for them. It was easier for them, because production had stopped because of the violence. A lot of production people were available, because there wasn’t much work.”
While the actress that plays the scientist, Neelofar Hamid, is a local Kashmiri TV actress, the rest of the cast is non-professional, all members of the community that live on the lake they shot on. “Gulzar actually rows a boat on Dal lake. Locationwise what makes the place interesting is it’s a living lake community. The community rows to work and rows to school. They’ve made artificial islands to enhance community, but it’s a threatened way of life becauase of the environmental problems.”
Speaking of the filmmakers’ personal attachment to this film, Bruckman added, “Musa is the friend of a former Kashmiri political prisoner. He’s wanted to tell the story of Kashmir for some time. He’s very aware that the political issue is so charged and so difficult to resolve.” Bruckman explains the virtue of telling the story of the conflict while also telling another story about environmental destruction. “Any media that tries to tackle the problems head-on will be criticized and lambasted. He’s been there as a child and went back the first time. What happened to his homeland would be best told by telling the story of the ground beneath his feet. The idea that nature reflects us is a main tenet of Kashmiri thinking, but it also says a lot about us, and the things that let our environment get destroyed are a reflection of us and our people.”
“Kashmir has been called the crown jewel of India. Colonizers and emperors called it paradise on earth. What Musa wants to address is the cynicism of Kashmir and environmentalism in general. How can you care about the environment when people are under curfew? Once the war is over, what will be left of Kashmir? We need to start protecting what we have now.”
“Finding Vivian Maier”
Logline: This film unravels the discovery of over 100,000 negatives from a mysterious photographer that shocked the world of photography.
Production team: Producers/Directors: Anthony Rydzon, Lars Oxfeldt Mortensen, John Maloof
About the film: “Vivian Maier’s photographs were seemingly destined for obscurity, lost among the clutter of the countless objects she’d collected throughout her life. Instead these images have shook the world of street photography and irrevocably changed the life of the man who brought them to the public eye. This film brings to life the interesting turns and travails of the improbable saga of John Maloof’s discovery of Vivian Maier. From pieces of mail, receipts and notes uncovered, Anthony Rydzon and Maloof have been able to find Maier’s old employers and people that knew her in order to fill in her timeline and unravel her life story. Through opinions from experts in the photo world, we will be piecing together how her work impacts the history of street photography. Also, through research, we will gather evidence on theories behind Maier’s intent, motivations, and influences.” — John Maloof
Current status: The film is currently in the pre-production stage. We are using Kickstarter to raise funding for the promotional trailer and research.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. The team has reached their goal, but is still accepting donations through their campaign until March 14.
Logline: “Shakedown” is the story of a black lesbian strip club in Los Angeles. The film’s structure employs the cycle of money exchanged and passed through the world as a metaphor for energy; from costume maker to security guard to patrons to the dancer’s children. “Shakedown” emphasizes the symbiotic nature of how things work in a system.
Production team: Director: Leilah Weinraub; Producers: Michael Hekmat, Venus Jazmin Soto, Pilar Wiley; Editor: Ashland Mines
About the film: “I videotaped the shows at Shakedown every Thursday and Friday night for six years. The first two years I recorded the performances and created video installation at the club. On stage at Shakedown there is a narrative being performed, about sex and sexuality and pop music and emotional interior of the performer. Shooting at night evolved into shooting the performers during the day, meeting their families, going through the process of their labor with them and just being there to record what they did and how they felt about that they are doing. From the beginning of this project I was very influenced by Studs Turkel and his book “Working,” and tried to model my work on that as much as possible. Through the lens of labor, which Americans identify with so highly, its possible to have a window into ones personhood and into broader questions about gender, race, class, education, and mobility. The objective of this film project is to capture a significant black lesbian cultural moment by creating a powerful document that transcends the specificity of its intimate subject matter.” — Leilah Weinraub
Current status: The team is currently in post-production with a few more pick up shots needed.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $25,000 by the end of the campaign on February 7.
“Tradition is a Temple”
Logline: “Tradition is a Temple” is a modern look at traditional New Orleans music. The non-fiction film draws on the unique heritage to examine the fragility of traditional music today.
Production team: Writer/Director: Darren Hoffman; Producers: Darren Hoffman, Patrick Stafford, and Kristen Sullivan-McEntyre; Executive Producer: Darren Hoffman; Director of Photography: James Laxton; Sound: Steve Reynolds and Kevin Schneider; Editor: Darren Hoffman; Featured Artists: Shannon Powell, Jason Marsalis, Lucien Barbarin, Roland Guerin, Steve Masakowski, Ed Petersen, Topsy Chapman, The Tremé Brass Band, The Baby Boyz Brass Band, and Chuck Perkins
About the film: “In January of 2007, I had recently graduated from the Film School at Florida State University and was studying percussion at the University of New Orleans. ‘Tradition is a Temple’ was born out of an attempt to capture the nuts and bolts of New Orleans music and present it on a proper stage. I started by videotaping my drum lessons with my teachers and it didn’t take long to realize that the nuts and bolts of this music were more about soul and tradition rather than theory and technique. By the end of 2009, our “music video project” initiated by a grant in early 2007 had grown to include more than 200 hours worth of multi-camera studio performance media, interviews with the artists, concert and parade footage, and New Orleans cityscape cinematography. It became clear that we had more than enough footage to create a feature length film and so began the editing process.
“Despite the existence of HBO’s ‘Tremé,’ most contemporary New Orleans virtuosos are still largely invisible, obscured by the (understandable) focus on Katrina, the BP Oil Spill, and the economic downturn. Just as Wim Wenders’ Bueña Vista Social Club provided a cinematic access point for people around the world to connect with an isolated musical community, we hope to ignite a curiosity about traditional New Orleans music, made up of music from many cultures yet wholly American. We attempted to document the experience of New Orleans music and memorialize the individuals who create a sound derived from their heritage and practiced as a means of therapy and rebellion against hard times. I once heard Dr. Michael White describe the music of New Orleans as ‘played for and by those who wish to experience joy, despite their condition.'” — Darren Hoffman
Current status: The team is putting the finishing touches on their final cut.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $30,560 by the end of the campaign on February 3.
“The Sea is All I Know” (short film)
Logline: An extraordinary story of love in the face of death. “The Sea is All I Know” is an honest portrait of a family coming to terms with their relationship to death. When estranged couple, Sara and Sonny, come to the aid of their dying daughter, the experience sends them spiraling into brutal heartbreak. In the end, an act of selfless love, renews their lives, transcends their loss of faith, even death itself.
Production team: Director/Writer/Producer: Jordan Bayne; Producer: Katie Morgan; Producer/Editor: Philipp Wolter; Associate Producer: Amanda Pennington; Cinematography: Eunah Lee; Production Design: Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise; Composer: Uno Helmersson; Cast: Melissa Leo, Peter Gerety
About the film: “At the time that I began to write ‘The Sea Is All I Know,’ I was exploring a couple of different themes . I was exploring the ideas of love, betrayal, forgiveness, and grace within the construct of very complicated relationships. Even though the film may easily be pinned as a film about assisted suicide, it is so much more.” — Jordan Bayne
Current status: The team is currently finishing their sound design & mix.