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Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #19: David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall Follow Parents Coping With Tragedy in an Unusual Way

Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #19: David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall Follow Parents Coping With Tragedy in an Unusual Way

READ MORE: Meet the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Filmmakers

The joy of parenthood meets the heartbreak of knowing your child is terminally ill.

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

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.

Now what’s it REALLY about?

When Ryan and Amy Green learned that their baby son Joel’s rare cancer was terminal, they were devastated. Searching for a way to explore his feelings, Ryan, who’s an indie video game developer, found solace in the only creative outlet he knew: a video game. “Thank You For Playing” follows Ryan as he creates the game “That Dragon, Cancer,” and recruits his wife and sons into the process of documenting their daily life for this unusual work of art. 

From the moment we heard about “That Dragon, Cancer”, we’ve been fascinated by the fact that Ryan and Amy are using a video game–a medium typically reserved for showcasing explosions and gore–to convey one of the most emotional and private experiences a family can have. Their game is a poetic exploration of a father’s relationship with his son, an interactive painting, a vivid window into the mind of a grieving parent.

Our film combines footage from both Ryan’s real and animated worlds to follow his journey of encoding his life into an experience that is “playable” by others. A testimony to the empathetic power of art, the film examines how we process grief through technology in the twenty-first century and the implications of documenting profound human experiences in a new artistic medium: the video game.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

This is our first film together. Malika’s last film was “Call Me Kuchu” and David’s was “Building Babel” – we met when our films played at True/False Film Festival in 2012. Soon afterwards, we started working on a couple of projects together; then in 2013 we stumbled upon the story behind “Thank You For Playing” and have been working on the film ever since.

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

Filming with Ryan and Amy while they cared for their son Joel was definitely the most challenging aspect for us in making this film, on every personal, professional, and emotional level. We became very close to the Green family during production, and it became incredibly difficult to maintain enough emotional distance to do our jobs while intimately charting Joel’s deteriorating health over the course of production. The Greens gave us all the access we wanted and never asked us to turn our cameras off – so it was up to us to figure out where to the draw the line in documenting Joel’s illness.

What do you want the Tribeca audience to take away from your film?

We recognize that many people who see the film might not know much about video games (we didn’t either!), but we hope they will be touched to see how this video game is capable of inspiring empathetic and emotional responses in much the same way as a more traditional artistic medium, such as painting or poetry. Ultimately, we hope our film will challenge people to re-examine their own assumptions about technology, video games, and art.

Any films inspire you?

Too many to name – from Laura Poitras’ “Citizenfour” to Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu.” We love Chris Marker and Leos Carax, and their work has inspired the film quite a bit. We also see “Thank You For Playing” as a sort of documentary version of a “Black Mirror” episode (if we squint).

What’s next?

We’re working on a couple of interactive web-based projects, one of which is very closely connected to “Thank You For Playing.”

What cameras did you shoot on?

Almost entirely on the Sony EX1. We began production on our own dime and with the residuals of our prior films, and the EX1 was a loaner from a friend and a camera we were comfortable with. So it was a pragmatic decision, but also an aesthetic one – we knew we’d be filming lots of vérité footage, and we sensed that it’d be more important to capture everything we wanted to capture and focus on intimacy than risk missing a shot by using a different camera we were less comfortable shooting vérité with. Also, our entire crew was just the two of us, and in many cases we just did sound on camera – so we wanted to make sure we were filming in a way that was as conducive to run-and-gun as possible.

Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform. If not, why?

We haven’t done any crowdfunding yet. We received ITVS Open Call funding, and additional support from Chicken & Egg and the Tribeca Film Institute, which have so far covered the majority of our production expenses.

Did you go to film school? If so, which one? 

David went to graduate school for documentary film at the School of Visual Arts in New York, but both of us came from non-film backgrounds – Malika studied journalism and David studied refugee law.

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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