Category Archives: Film

THE CREATIVE CONSCIENCE OF VISHNU PERUMAL

Storytelling has long been about taking one’s personal voyage and relating it in a way that almost everyone can connect to it. While Hollywood has been accused of homogenizing the film industry, some artists who convey these stories are attempting to give the public a glimpse into the lives of others who differ from the majority. It’s ironic that people are often apprehensive to accept differences in their own lives but are attracted to films which display those who possess this trait. Editor Vishnu Perumal learned to be comfortable with differences early in his life. This fact combined with his fascination of film laid out his path from childhood. He has pursued his vocation with fervor for as long as he can remember; the fruits of this labor have been numerous award-winning films and the respect of the Hollywood community. This is perhaps so apparent because Perumal is an artist who seeks out projects which he connects to emotionally and believes in passionately. It’s easy to chase fame or a fat paycheck but pursuing projects which make a clear and resonant statement about society’s potential to aid or hinder is often more challenging and unsettling. For someone like Vishnu, it is also a requirement.

Vishnu relates to being different. He grew up in a situation where it was expected that both himself and others would not have the same exact background and experience. This allowed him to have a perspective different from many people. Regardless of their point of origin, most people are comfortable and content being insulated from those who are different. Contemplating the motivations and life experiences of people who have had it worse than you or who have faced greater adversity is unsettling. For Vishnu, it has been a call to action; one which he has used his most important resource to empower…the role of editor.

Differing perspectives and diversity is an inherent part of this editor’s makeup. The son of an Indian father and an Indonesian mother, Perumal experienced different cultures in his own home and in his surroundings from an early age. He explains, “I moved a lot when I was growing up due to my father’s work. I was born in a small beach town in Malaysia called Kuantan. Later, our family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. Jakarta is a really vibrant energetic city with a lot of culture. It’s big, bold, noisy, and colorful with great food and very friendly people. Growing up there, I remember it being slightly chaotic, especially the traffic. It was a large developing city that was growing rapidly and changing every year. From there, I moved to Singapore where I spent much of my Primary to early secondary school years. Singapore was the total opposite of Jakarta because it was extremely orderly, clean, and organized. I was astounded by how clean Singapore was and I remember trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it doesn’t have traffic jams. Like Jakarta however, Singapore was a vibrant city with a whole lot of mixing of cultures. Both places were located close to the beach so I would spend most of my weekends there. It was natural to me to witness different types of people enjoying the same activities; I never questioned it.”

Watching his father edit his own family movies on a Sony editing deck interested Vishnu in the process, soon to be followed by his interest in the work of Walter Murch (the editor of such films like Apocalypse Now and The Godfather). Murch inspired an approach to the possibilities of editing for Vishnu who recalls, “I was lucky enough to sit in on a guest lecture of his where he talked about the philosophy of transitions and editing. What I really loved about his lecture was that he wasn’t focused on any technical aspect, formula, or technique but rather he talked about the philosophy behind editing concepts and how they relate to the world. It was a lecture that sometimes delved into the spiritual and metaphysical and it made me look at editing in a whole new light.”

Carrying the torch of this idea for his generation, Perumal’s many award-winning productions give evidence that this editor is focused on making a statement with film. As with many of the most respected filmmakers, Vishnu’s work often displays the more unpleasant sides of humanity in hopes that the public will contemplate the plight of those who suffer. “Violet Hour” is the story of Tom Freed, a young black man who is at odds with what he feels is natural in terms of his own sexuality and what society deems acceptable. The film is a powerful statement about the psychological effects of what others use to subjugate those who differ from their own beliefs, opinions, and actions. Freed goes so far as to undergo conversion therapy in an attempt to conform but in the end takes action with a dire resolution. At the heart of the film is the question “What freedoms does our society truly offer?”; a sobering query. Perumal worked with director Mark Allen to create the conflict that the main character feels in his heart and communicate this in the timing and actions onscreen. Allen declares, “Working alongside Vishnu throughout the duration of the project was a wonderful experience. It is rare to find an editor with as much thoughtfulness, support, and passion. What he demonstrated for the project was evident in the final product and success of the film. Vishnu’s emphasis on storytelling provided the film with a powerful tone and ending. It was really pleasant to discover how easy it is to work with him. Because the story and the style of the film according to my vision was so specific and different, I was afraid that it would have taken considerable effort and time just to explain and push for the vision I intended. Fortunately, Vishnu understood and supported my vision 100% and fought to preserve that vision. He not only was able to maintain my vision for the film, but he was also able to incorporate his own creative ideas into the product, helping to brand the film as a creation of his own.” “Violet Hour” received a nomination at The San Francisco Black Film Festival for Best Film as well as an award for Best Narrative Short at the Princeton Film Festival.

Exploring the unsettling and frightening crime of sex trafficking, Vishnu edited the film “Only Light.” An increasingly widespread occurrence across many parts of the world, including the US, sex trafficking is something that often goes unnoticed and unrecognized in many communities, which is exactly the message communicated in “Only Light.” The two lead characters in the film are young women of the same age. Zora is a rebellious teen living in California who has a crush on her older male neighbor. Zora’s parents are wary of this, as well they should be. This neighbor has a girl named Laeticia locked up as a sex slave in his basement. Laeticia was kidnapped from her village in the Congo and transported to California where she moves in and out of lucidity in the basement. When she is ultimately freed by Zora at the end we sadly realize that this event is only a wishful dream that Laeticia has created in her own mind as she is still a prisoner. The film is highly disturbing and unfortunately somewhat based in reality. Perumal was eager to work on this film as he felt it was a story that needed to be displayed to viewers. “Only Light” was recognized at the One Lens Film Festival, Blackstar Film Festival, and L.A. Indie Film Festival. Zachary Skipp (Producer of “Only Light”) remarks, “Only Light was a film with many technical aspects (shooting in different mediums, various effects, etc.) that an average editor would find daunting to work with. Fortunately, we had an editor who was able to integrate himself into the many creative aspects of the post-production process, making him adaptable in almost any project he undertakes. I hired Vishnu as an Editor for ‘Only Light’ after seeing what he had done on previous films. His ability to understand and work with abstract and experimental forms of storytelling and mold them into a cohesive story is one of the many reasons why I brought him onto the project. Vishnu was deeply involved and began working early on in the project, starting in pre-production. For example: there were some effects and stylistic transitions that we wanted to accomplish, and Vishnu was very helpful in helping us figure out how to achieve the desired result, before heading into production.”

It seems contradictory that followers and leaders of religions become upset when religious leaders who are highly flawed are depicted or revealed for their baleful nature. One would think that these “believers” would want those who are not true to their teaching to be “cast into the light.” This seems the most benevolent thing to do in the parameters of their faith. Vishnu used his editing talents on a fictionalized tale that used actual footage and inspiration from the Reverend Jim Jones entitled “Devil I Know.” The disturbing life and events of Jones are well documented but “Devil I Know” creates a storyline inspired by what we know of his behavior to give a firsthand feeling of what it may have been like to be around him. Known for the People’s Temple mass suicide (in Jonestown, Guyana), his infidelities, and other abuses of power, the film takes an almost documentary style approach to portraying this complex and tragic figure. A vital contribution of Vishnu’s on this film was to edit and present the story out of chronological order; a method used to confuse the audience as well as affirm the idea that things are not always as they seem.

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The common thread of all these films is that they reveal to the audience that we should not be so assured that we understand the full truth. Well-known figures or private individuals may be dealing with many factors that we are unaware of. They may act in nefarious ways or society as a group may be overlooking the struggles they deal with. There is no way for anyone to truly know but artists and filmmakers like Vishnu Perumal keep us questioning the intent and the plight of others who are different from us. In doing this, they provide a service that few can…a conscience.

Actress Claire Stollery tells her story in award-winning film ‘Who is Hannah’

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Claire Stollery as Hannah in Who is Hannah

Claire Stollery was never interested in anything other than acting. As a child growing up in Calgary, she always had this one passion. As she grew and moved around Canada, what started out as a childhood dream started to become a reality. There is no doubt that Claire Stollery was meant to be an actress, and audiences everywhere know this every time they see her on the big and small screen.

As an actor, being vulnerable is pivotal to opening yourself up to a character. Connecting with the story and allowing your experiences to come through is vital when it comes to connecting with an audience. Stollery knows this well. She starred in the award-winning film Who is Hannah, that she also co-wrote, and allowed the events in her life to guide her character, creating a cathartic experience for the actress.

“This film was very close to me. I co-wrote it with a great comedian friend of mine, John Hastings. We wanted to collaborate and create a great dark comedy, but we didn’t know what we wanted to write about. One night after a show we were sitting in my cold car, a couple days before Christmas. I told him the story of how I had met my biological father in Los Angeles when I was 21. I found his number and left him a message, lying about my identity because I wasn’t sure he’d call me back if he knew who I was. In the end I came clean and we decided to meet up. When he arrived at the coffee shop, he ended up calling me while he was standing right beside me. We had no idea what each other looked like! It was like a meet-cute you’d see in a rom-com.  John couldn’t stop laughing of the horror and awkwardness of the situation. We decided then and there we would write a film exploring that scenario and what could go wrong when you don’t know what each other look like,” Stollery described.

Who is Hannah is the awkward and unlikely tale of how one girl meets her dead dad. Stollery plays Hannah, a role that was written with her in mind. Because she helped write the film, she already had the character’s voice inside her. Hannah is a girl who just wants to belong somewhere and know where she came from. She feels lost and incomplete because she’s never known the identity of her father – only known pieces from what her mother has told her. The problem is, she discovers everything her mother has told her about her father is the plot to Indiana Jones. When she finds out that her mother completely lied to her about her father’s identity and that he’s alive and lives in the next town, she has new hope for self-completion.

“I can’t really relate to Hannah’s feeling of incompleteness because I was lucky enough to have a dad growing up. My mom met my father who raised me when I was six months old. But even then, you always wonder what that other person is like. Are you like them? Do you look like them? There are always those thoughts at the back of your mind,” Stollery described. “Everyone wants to know where they come from. We want to know our history; it’s a universal desire. For those people who are searching for their identity, we wanted a film that let them know they are not alone. Since making the film I have had a lot of people write me or come up to me after screenings telling me about their experience or a friend’s experience of meeting a biological parent. There are a lot of those stories out there, but people don’t talk about them that often. There’s a lot of shame in having parents abandon their children. For the kid, it is a terrifying journey seeking out and meeting a parent for the very first time. You’ve imagined and built up this person your entire lifetime. There’s a lot of pressure for fantasy to match reality. It was important for John and me to write a film that finds the humour in such a bizarre but impactful moment in someone’s life.”

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Behind the scenes of Who is Hannah

Because of Stollery’s deep understanding of her character, the film went on to do exceptionally well at many international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at The Atlantic Film Festival where it premiered last year, and then went on to be an Official Selection at The Hamilton Film Festival, The Toronto International Short Film Festival, Hollywood North Film Festival and The Toronto Independent Film Festival. At the Lakeshorts International Film Festival where it was also an Official Selection, Who is Hannah took home the Cinespace Jury’s Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award.

“When it finally premiered we were so happy people liked it and were laughing. Because we had been with it for so long, we had no idea if it was even funny anymore. And you start second guessing yourself and wondering, was it ever funny? Were we just delirious on set when we filmed it at 4 am?” said Stollery. “And it was amazing to receive the Jury’s Choice Award. They always have such talented and revered people on their jury, so their opinion meant a lot. I’m so tickled when anyone likes something I make. It was a great honour to receive it and even better feeling to receive the People’s Choice award. We didn’t know anyone at the screenings, and to have a room full of strangers resonate with your film was really a special moment for us. There really is nothing better than sitting in a theatre and listening to people laugh at something you wrote and eaves dropping on people saying good things about it afterwards.”

Part of what makes Stollery so good at what she does is her ability to improvise. Although this is sometimes not encouraged on set, the Director of Who is Hannah, Mark O’Brien, was all for it. He knew what Stollery was capable of, and knew what she could add to both the character and the film. His instincts were right.

“Claire is an extremely talented actress and writer. She’s a very open-minded artist who knows how to collaborate well, while at the same time making her work authentic and unique. She works hard, and that is a rarity in this business. There’s a lot of talk in the entertainment industry, but Claire goes out and gets it done. And really, that’s what you want most from someone you’re working with. And she does it well,” said O’Brien. “She’s a very natural actress, very real. Acting is a tough skill that can be improved through training, but I do believe that there must be some inherent talent in the person first. Claire has a foundation of incredible talent that will take her very far. Anyone who has the chance to work with her should count themselves lucky.”

It was more than just the story and character that Stollery could connect with, even the set meant something to her. They filmed in an old, abandoned farm house that the actress had actually grown up in, as well as a hotel that was the first place Stollery went to when she visited Toronto as a child.

“Even though the film is a comedy, it is rooted in real issues. There’s a fine line tonally with dark comedies. You don’t want to make it too comedic otherwise you lose the truth of the situations. But you don’t want to make it too dark, otherwise you lose the comedic release. It’s a balancing act doing those types of films” she said.

But the most important part of the process for Stollery was not the awards, accolades, or why she embarked on the project, it was what it turned into.

“Filming was therapeutic for me. I had just lost my father who raised me a couple years prior, we were filming in the house I grew up in, the story was loosely based on my experience with meeting my biological father. And I realized I never really talked about it with my father who raised me. I regret that I didn’t check in with him more about the whole situation and considered his feelings more. But he was great about it and knew it was something I needed to do. He didn’t interfere. Not to mention my mother wasn’t too happy I was making a film about a man who had left us, even though it was very loosely inspired by him. But that was how she saw it. So it’s safe to say there were a lot of emotions surrounding the project!” Stollery concluded.

Audiences can see Who Is Hannah at the end of this year on CBC.

ZHENG HUANG PRODUCES AN AWARD-WINNING FILM FROM THE HEART OF HIS FAMILY

Of all the qualities that make up an artist, the most essential is heart. While knowledge, vision, and technical expertise are beneficial, passion is not to be underestimated when it comes to the tenacious mindset that drives an artist of almost any medium. Producer Zheng Huang’s connection to the location and story of the film “Lost” was deeply embedded in his heart. While he wore a multitude of hats for “Lost” (including writer and director) it was the role of producer which proved most taxing. It was Huang’s excellence as a producer that also led this film to such immense praise and eventually a spot at the world famous Cannes Film Festival. The film is epic, adventurous, and gripping for many reasons. Zheng was driven to create the film as a tribute and connection to his family’s homeland and to expose its beauty to the world. The lush grasslands, the exotic characters, and the endearing portrayal by the cast all appear to originate from the story which this producer was inspired to write, and was the only person capable of manifesting onscreen. “Lost” truly is a piece of Zheng Huang personified for all to see.

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“Lost” was Zheng’s first high budget film to produce and he definitely felt the responsibility. Whether it was fear or passion, the fuel that pushed him towards excellence was the appropriate one. After the completion of the script, he flew to China and did location scouting in Inner Mongolia. It was an intensely emotional moment for him. Huang’s grandfather had died on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and it was this which inspired the story. Zheng wanted to be in the grasslands; to feel them and to expose this feeling to the rest of the world in film. For two years he had seen the terrain, the people, and the story in his mind; a mixture of Chinese and American culture and individuals…and now he was seeing the nebulous form start to solidify in front of his eyes. While the story of “Lost” is not derived from his family, Huang understood that the feeling of the location and people who carry the spirit of both his grandfather’s life and his own. The film tells of an American boy named Michael who has lost his mother in Inner Mongolia. Mr. Wu, a native Mongolian, saved Michael and decides to adopt him. Mr. Wu teaches him Chinese and Mongolia culture. Michael’s real mom (Mary) searches for him for quite some time. Michael knows the truth that Mr. Wu hides this from him and Mary. Michael is angry but struggles with the decision to return to his birth family or not. While many films give a clear and imposed decision about situations like this, “Lost” accurately depicts the conflict that can be a part of real life when considering to whom have we bonded most strongly. Just as importantly, the story and the stunning visuals of this film portray the people and the culture of Inner Mongolia not as “others” but as those who share precisely the same emotions, virtues, and faults as those of any group of people on the planet, meaning that Zheng perfectly achieved the goal of his film. The process of creating this onscreen was earned.

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Every producer knows the challenging points for their project. Successfully and positively utilizing these is a badge of honor as well as an accomplishment for any professional in the field. For “Lost” the can easily be defined as: kids, animals, and nature. Due to the nature of the people in this part of the world, the actors needed to be able to ride horses. This is not exactly a skill that the majority of individuals possess these days. While some actors take quickly and easily to it, it only takes one intimidated thespian to derail the schedule. A dutiful producer, Huang prepared a week of riding lessons in advance to the shoot. A couple of actors were never quite at ease with the situation (or the animals) which necessitated a restructuring of the shot list and even some “cheat” shots.

Zheng admits that this film was his first time working with a child actor. The final performance by this youth in the film is exceptional but the producer concedes that it wasn’t exactly the same as dealing with most actors in his experience. He recalls, “He was great and is a very talented actor. I think it’s wrong to expect a young actor to have the same perspective as an adult. It was actually kind of miserable for part of the shoot, it was hot and he was being asked to do things that were difficult…I can completely understand his state of mind. Having been a young boy myself once I knew that there’s not much that pizza and some toys can’t fix when it comes to attitude. Regardless of the actor I’m working with, I find that if I can put myself in their shoes I can quickly find the proper motivation for them.”

One of the most striking traits of “Lost” is the visual component of the film. The beauty of the Inner Mongolian grasslands is as epic as any classic western from Hollywood’s heyday. A shrewd producer who is always cognizant of a film’s budget, Huang had his location manager contact his best friend (a herdsman named A De) about using his private 8,000-acre meadow. A De was so interested in the film being made that he offered the location up free of charge. As a thank you, Zheng gave him a supporting role in the film. In an effort to keep production value high and cost low, he also hired a crew from nearby Beijing (four hours away from the filming location). Casting locals rounded out this international production and provided the authenticity that Huang had envisioned. Since his early vision, it was these very people that he wanted to be seen in the film.

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“Lost” was much more than a film to Zheng. It was an Odyssey that connected him with the previous generations of his family. Through his talent, he was able to communicate to the rest of the world, via film, what it feels like to feel both afraid and comforted in a part of the world that few Westerners will ever see. It’s by seeing these types of stories that we realize how similar all people are at their core. The literal deluge of awards that “Lost” has received in addition to being an Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival (2017 American Film Award, Award of Merit at the 2017 Best Shorts Competition, Official Selection of the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Multiple Platinum Awards at the International Independent Film Awards, and numerous others) is an assurance that the beauty of this film has touched many people in many different lands. While producer is only one of the roles which Zheng Huang performed for this film, it is likely the most applicable to his deep investment in it.

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Producer Melina Tupa talks upcoming documentary ‘Slaves Among Us’

Melina Tupa always has always had two passions: film and journalism. Growing up, it never really occurred to her that there was a way to combine both of these things. Then, one fateful day, she had an epiphany that changed her life. She could be a documentary filmmaker. Being a journalist, she believes, gives her an extra responsibility as a film producer to pursue stories that are of public interest and that will help the communities she lives in. Since coming to that realization, Tupa has been committed to making impactful documentary films, and that is why she is so sought-after around the world for what she does.

Over the past few years, Tupa has delivered hard-hitting documentaries that share truths many are unaware of or afraid to talk about. When producing the PBS Frontline film Rape on the Night Shift, audiences everywhere became aware of the horrifying stories of many janitorial workers who have dealt with sexual assault. With her film The Search, she told the story of a grandmother’s search for her long-lost grandchild, which dives into the Argentinean “Dirty War.” All who work alongside Tupa are not only impressed, but also inspired by her commitment to her work.

“I had the honor of being a Consulting Producer with Melina on her documentary The Search. It was a pleasure working with Melina: she’s smart, driven, tenacious, creative, and yet is open to different perspectives and ideas that are not her own, which means that she is also confident. What makes Melina good, but great is a better word, is that she always has a big vision for her work,” said Director and Producer Spencer Nakasako.

Soon, audiences will once again have the chance to see Tupa’s formidable producing abilities in the upcoming Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) film Slaves Among Us. The documentary will expose the many layers of human trafficking, from the recruiter in the home country to the smuggler, trafficker and subcontractor that make it possible for major corporations to profit from forced labor in the United States. The documentary will tell the story of a group of teens from Guatemala who, with the inadvertent aid of the American government, fall into the hands of a criminal enterprise. This investigation will show who makes money off such victims and how the American consumer benefits from their mistreatment.

“I wanted to work on this project because I believed this was a very important story that needed to be widely known by the audience. The fact that in 2017 we still have forced labor is outrageous,” said Tupa.

Tupa was approached to work on Slaves Among Us after her success with the Investigative Reporting Program on the documentary Rape on the Night Shift. The producers of the documentary knew she had a very good reputation and she had an asset that was key to work on the field: she is bilingual in Spanish and most of the characters on this story are Spanish-speaking individuals. As a field producer, this was vital.

“I liked that I had direct contact with the sources of the story. I did old school reporting: just knocking on people’s doors and asking what they have seen or heard about the case. I was able to get to know the community I was reporting on thoroughly. And I was also able to gain the character’s trust. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants and many times they are afraid of telling wrongdoings because they are afraid of the retaliation they might get,” Tupa described.

Working in Ohio, Tupa reported on the trailer park where Guatemalans (adults and minors) trafficked to the United States were living. She was able to conduct interviews with more than thirty individuals there. She was able to secure three interviews (one in shadow, two full face) where the sources confirmed the story about the trafficking scheme she was after. She was also able to establish a connection with a very important source who had worked with the main characters of the story. This led to finding and securing and exclusive interview with one of the victims of labor trafficking.

Back at Investigative Reporting Program office, she worked as a Researcher. She found archival videos, photos and newspapers on the DeCoster Egg Farm violations, unaccompanied children entering the United States across the border, egg industry facilities, and the case of immigrant minors working on an egg farm. This information was pivotal to illustrate the story.

“I believe it is important to tell this story because nobody should be living in slave conditions in 2017. It’s important to let people know this is happening so this could result in a change of policy, for example, in unaccompanied minors entering the United States or for the poultry industry to have highest safety standards for its employees,” said Tupa.

Slaves Among Us is expected to be released in 2019. Based on Tupa’s track record, audiences can expect an outstanding film once again.

 

Photo by Vanessa Arango Garcia

Director and Producer Sonia Bajaj has fast success with new film ‘Bekah’

Sonia Bajaj realized her true calling while in Pune, India. During this period of transition, she was introduced to people from different cultural backgrounds and varied interests. She was in constant touch with daily happenings in the world and she also began to have a better understanding of art forms like music and literature. She was introduced to several films, television series and documentaries from all over the world, thereby exposing her to different styles of filmmaking. She began experimenting, and soon these experiments translated in experiences. She knew she had to be a filmmaker.

Originally from Mumbai, Bajaj has been able to travel the world doing what she loves. She thoroughly enjoys the aspects of making a film. As a producer, she is responsible for overseeing all five stages of filmmaking: development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution. She creates a business plan, budget, and schedule, handle creative and business affairs, and gather cast and crew. But that is not all she does, she also is a successful director.

“While making multiple short films, I realized how thoroughly I enjoy myself during the entire process of making a film. Being a director is similar to being the captain on a ship. You have your entire team helping you, yet the responsibility of a successful sail lies entirely on your shoulders. When I direct a film, I have the opportunity to take the audiences to the world of my characters through my eyes. That’s what I like about being a director,” she said. “I look forward to narrating stories that touch the heart, that inspire an individual to overcome obstacles and live his dream, stories that educate and entertain.”

As both a director and producer, Bajaj has had a formidable career. She has worked on award-winning films such as Rose, Hari, The Best Photograph, A Broken Egg and Impossible Love. She is also the curator for the women in film series at Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival, where her responsibilities include reviewing and judging films around the globe. She has an esteemed reputation, and is respected by all she works with.

“Sonia is a professional and a pleasure to work with. She has a superb eye for truth when it comes to filmmaking and making an actor feel connected and safe on set. I would work with her again in an instant,” said Tony Ruiz, who worked alongside Bajaj on her film Rose.

With her new film Bekah, Bajaj is impressing both audiences and critics yet again. The film was just completed in May, and was first recognized at LA Shorts Awards where it won an award for Best Drama. Since that time, it has already been an Official Selection at the UK Monthly Film Festival, a Semi Finalist at Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival and Los Angeles Cine Fest and a Finalist at Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival. It won the Award of Merit at Accolade Global Film Competition, the Gold Award at NYC Indie Film Awards, and the Platinum Award at Mindfield Film Festival, with many more film festivals expected for the powerful film.

“With Bekah, I had the opportunity to direct and produce the story of a young African American woman. Our entire cast comprised of African American Actors, and crew from different parts of the world, giving me the opportunity to work in a culturally diverse project. Our goal was to inspire and encourage our viewers through Bekah’s eyes. We’ve been successful in achieving that in a short span of time,” said Bajaj.

Bekah is the story of an idealistic young writer and college dropout who pursues her dream of becoming a full-time writer, motivated by the spirit of her deceased fiancé. She leaves her dysfunctional home and goes it alone facing a world that is less idealistic.

The story focuses on the struggles of a young writer trying to break into the real world. It’s a tale of overcoming the loss of love, by fulfilling a promise that was made. At the end, it becomes all about how families need to be connected and support each other.  We wanted to tell this story to encourage families to support each other, encourage youngsters to pursue their dreams despite the difficulties that they may face,” Bajaj described.

After looking at Bajaj’s success of her other films, the main lead and co-producer Charlie Cakes, also known as Charlotte Makala, asked her to be a part of the project, knowing her needed someone of her caliber to make the film the success it has already become. Looking at the diverse nature of the film, Bajaj instantly got on board. As they began producing the film, they realized that 80 per cent of the cast and crew were all women.

“This definitely was refreshing experience to produce a film made by women and about women,” said Bajaj. “The very fact that our team was so diverse, it was essential to have a director who wasn’t familiar with the culture of the characters. I had my own take to the production, which helped us to create a fresh outlook to the story we wanted to convey.”

There were many rehearsals, and script revisions, and Bajaj, both the director and producer of the film, experimented with different techniques before filming. This enabled her to create a fast-paced productive environment on set, allowing her to get all the shots she set out for in a skilled and quick manner.

“I enjoyed directing my actors in their accent. The lingos were so different that it was a learning experience to get out of my comfort zone, learn a different style of talking and build emotions out of that. It helped to broaden my horizon and work on building varied layers to the characters,” Bajaj described.

Bekah is just one of many films that Bajaj has put her winning touch on. She is a formidable director and producer, and one that audiences can expect to continue hearing about for years to come.

Australian Actress Sunny Koll helps sheds light on cyber-bullying in ‘Zach’s Story’

Sunny Koll doesn’t just tell stories, she embodies them. She brings a story to life. As an actress, she tries to find within her character a commonality, a humanity, that connects each of us together. From that connection, people are able to see themselves within the story. That is what makes her one of the best, and that is why she is recognized around the world for her talents.

This ability to connect with audiences transcends to every project Koll embarks on. She takes audiences with her on her path of ending human trafficking in the series Traffik, and in the comedic television show Flat Whites, viewers feel for her character Stacy, as she has been duped by the two main characters in their attempt to win her affections. However, in the film Zach’s Story, Koll not only connects with her audience, but she helps to tell the impactful story, raising awareness on the important and timely issue of cyber-bullying.

“The script was empowering for kids who have experienced cyber bullying. Within Australia, there has been a lot of action taken within schools to stop bullying and celebrate differences, as the Australian government is getting behind this, I really wanted to be a part of it,” said Koll. “I liked how important this project is. Today’s world moves at such a fast pace and there’s so much pressure on teenagers, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have the speed of the internet added into the mix of bullying. I really liked that this campaign offers answers with how to deal with these situations, so you don’t feel alone, which only breeds more pain and long-term shame.”

Zach’s Story is part of the “ReWrite Your Story” campaign, an anti-cyberbullying campaign for the Australian Government Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner. “Rewrite Your Story” consists of a series of short films focusing on different cyberbullying scenarios. Zach’s Story tells the story of Zach, a high school student who is being cyber bullied. The film highlights various ways a family unit can deal with these situations.

“The message is incredibly important. Bullying of any kind erodes self-esteem and is usually done to the most sensitive of people. The effects of bullying can take years to heal. The real tragedy is that the bullies themselves have something broken within them and are usually dealing with some horrific power plays of their own in their family homes and are only acting out to gain power somewhere else,” said Koll. “It’s very satisfying to know it’s reached so many people and that people want to make a change. It’s also so incredibly brilliant for Christopher Benz for taking out the Best Director’s Award in an Online Drama Project for his work on Rewrite Your Story at the Australian Director’s Guild Awards. He really is a brilliantly talented artist who continuously gives and works very hard, never resting on his laurels and I can’t wait to see what he brings out next. To also win Gold at the World Media Festival and the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festivals Television & Film Awards is so fantastic for him and his team at Brave TV.”

Zach’s Story premiered online, on the “Rewrite Your Story” site and on the “Rewrite Your Story” Facebook page. The Rewrite Your Story campaign has had almost one million views online with 133 thousand of them being for Zach’s Story. The film went on to win the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festival’s Television and Film Awards, and the campaign won the Gold Award at the World Media Festival 2017.

“It’s very satisfying to know it’s reached so many people and people want to make a change. To also win the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festivals Television & Film Awards, and for the entire Rewrite Your Story campaign, to win Gold at the World Media Festival, is fantastic as it means these topics are getting the air time they deserve,” said Koll.

Koll played the vital role of Leanne, Zach’s mother. Due to the cyber bullying, Zach was withdrawing, which caused concern for his parents. After his father discovered the cyber bullying pages, the parents worked together to create a safe family atmosphere where Zach could talk openly about his feelings and they could work out a plan of action. She’s doing her best to keep a normal relaxed home life, so Zach feels safe to express his feelings. For this role, Koll researched bullying in all its aspects, including the effects it has not only on the person being bullied, but also the entire family, as there can be radical changes within the person being bullied. This commitment to her performance was appreciated by all she worked with.

“Working with Sunny was a breeze. She is very much a team player and in tune with cast and crew. She’s also very open to direction, which is important. Sunny is a dedicated, passionate actress. She puts time into her preparation and turns up ready to work. She’s driven to create and combines working hard with natural ability, to find the layers, truth and need within each of her characters,” said Christopher Benz, Director of Zach’s Story.

The accolades and the awards, however, are not why Koll is proud to be a part of the project. For her, she wanted to educate, knowing that education can heal all parties involved with bullying. Showing young children that their actions can have such effects is important, as Koll knows firsthand.

“My uncle is a holocaust survivor, and regularly goes to schools to talk with the students. At one school a student approached him after his talk and said that his entire life he had treated people very badly and since hearing about the holocaust first hand wanted to make changes. It works out this boy was the school bully and nobody had been able to get through to him, but for whatever reason on this day in this moment he was reached and forever changed. This is what the power of continuing the message of compassion and acceptance does,” she said.

To learn more about the “ReWrite Your Story” campaign, and to watch Koll’s performance in Zach’s story, you can click here.

Producer Xueru Tang connects with her heritage on upcoming film ‘Hot Pot Man’

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Producer Xueru Tang

Xueru Tang has two mottos by which she lives her life. The first is “work hard”. Her friends call her a workaholic, but to her, she is focused. She loves what she does and she strives to be the best, and she makes no excuses for that. Her second mantra is “believe in yourself”. The world “believe” is important to her. Every project she takes on, she truly believes it will succeed, and this belief keeps her pushing through any tough times, or any problems that may arise, causing her to face her fears. These two qualities, hard work and faith, combined with an innate talent, are what have allowed Tang to become the film producer she is today, and she is recognized around the world for what she does.

Having worked on award-winning films like Locked, Inside Linda Vista Hospital, and Emily, as well as last year’s popular commercial for Chinstudio’s Fall Collection, Xueru Tang has had a career filled with success. However, with her upcoming film Hot Pot Man, she got to feel a sense of accomplishment that she has yet to feel in her esteemed career, telling a story of her hometown.

“I was born and raised in Chengdu, China. The hot pot was created in Chengdu, and it’s my home food. It really important to me. All the story in the film happens in Chengdu, and it is shot in Chengdu. This really excited me when I heard about the project. I want to show the world how beautiful my city is,” said Tang.

The film, which will premiere in October in Chengdu, has received a lot of media attention. Newspaper Xin Cheng Kuai Bao and Jin Ri Toutiao reported about Tang, calling her a New Power filmmaker from the generation after the 90’s. They interviewed her about her experience in U.S. film industry, how she combined the differences between China and U.S. in film production and operated the whole project from funding to future distribution.During these interviews, Tang also shared her opinions about helping Chinese independent filmmakers spread their strength in U.S. market and form its own way to distribution and achieve a greater personal, marketing and social value.

“Five years ago in China, not every filmmaker studied film, and we don’t really think about the professional and how it is important. For today, we still don’t request professional producers who study producing or filmmaking as their college or university major. Everyone just works, never studies, and they just use their way or someone’s way to do thing. For me the kind of the producer who studied and worked in Hollywood, and knows about Hollywood style, is really difficult to find in China. I think this is similar to what it is like in Hollywood, they don’t know a lot about the Chinese market there. When they call me a New Power Filmmaker, I think it is because I understand both markets. In that way, I am a unique producer,” Tang described.

This understanding of both the Chinese and American film markets is vital for Hot Pot Man. Tang brought the Hollywood style of thinking to her hometown. She did the funding and location scouting for the film, and dealt with the stars, like the famous rapper Di Xie and the Chinese comedian Jian Liao, and their agents. She checked all the contracts with crews and locations, and made sure there was insurance and the required permits. She made sure labor was fair and didn’t allow for too long of work days. For distribution, she got the film into Chinese cinemas, negotiating in what she calls the “Hollywood” way.

“Xueru is our excellent producer. She delivered a business plan and pitch book in english and Chinese in one day. This work efficiency we have never experienced from one person in China. And Xueru was a very responsible producer. I remember, another producer couldn’t find the location and couldn’t make a deal with talent, so we called Xueru. She didn’t blame them, she just bought a plane ticket and came to China to solve all the problem. I really like working with her. She has respect for the views of others, and she brings a lot Hollywood working style to us, making our shoot very smooth and all the crew members very happy,” said Dage Zhang, Director of Hot Pot Man. “Xueru loves her job, she crazy loves what she does. She told me she believes the movie will change the world. She wants to produce good movies that will affect the world. And most importantly, I never once heard her say she could not do something, she always tried first, and I think that is remarkable not just as a producer, but as a person.”

Tang found the story of Hot Pot Man very interesting, and when she got the call asking for her help, she didn’t care that she was on the other side of the world, she wanted to come and do what she could.

“No one thought of this as a job or work, everyone thought of it as a film. It was really great team work. But working for this project, it’s my passion. I have special feelings for my city, my city helped build my personality,” she concluded.