Interviews: City, State Filmmakers Talk Short Films at Chicago International Film Festival

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CHICAGO – One of the great nights of the Chicago International Film Festival is the “City & State” Short Film program, as local filmmakers from Chicago and the State of Illinois present their work. Directors Nadav Kurtz (“Paradise”), Fawzia Mirza, Ryan Logan (“Queen of my Dreams”), Benjamin Kegan (“After Christmas”) and Brad Bischoff (“Where the Buffalo Roam”) were part of that program and spoke to

Before the short films program began, producer Mary Kay Cook of the film “Wednesday’s Child” (directed by Rocco Cataldo) was acknowledged for winning the Illinois Shortcuts film competition, which won them a place in the same City & State presentation. Click here for the interview of Mary Kay Cook.

StarNadav Kurtz, Director of “Paradise”

‘Paradise’ won the Silver Hugo prize in the Short Film competition for Best Documentary at the this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, and is on the short list for Oscar consideration in the same categories.

Scene from ‘Paradise,’ Directed by Nadav Kurtz
Photo credit: Chicago International Film Festival In a few sentences, describe your film and more importantly what it means to you.

Nadav Kurtz: My film is a meditation on being an outsider, what it means to be alive, to be human and what it means to work while we’re at work. How we deal with a job – in this case window washers – that demands a risk of life. With a non-fiction film, what kind of planning is involved – were you doing any storyboarding or shot lists or was it all just the truth you were trying to capture?

Kurtz: That’s actually a relevant question. My approach in making this film was to have a combination of thought out, shot list type filming and also moments that were off the cuff. The tension was between those two elements – we had to pick certain lenses for the shots as a feeling of surveillance, for example. When you talk about your love of filmmaking or film in general, what do you talk about primarily?

Kurtz: It’s about honesty and truth, and that comes from the intimacy I wanted to get from these men, who I don’t know very well and probably won’t ever know as well as their families know them. How do I capture something that is close to their heart. Everything else came out of that. I knew I would have a good looking film aesthetically, because Chicago has a beautiful skyline, and the guys work in the heights. It was crucial that I find something about these men that they could share that was unique. Finally, in the film that influences you the most as a director, what is your favorite scene and why?

Kurtz: Someone who I watch in the documentary genre is Steve James, the director of ‘Hoop Dreams.’ I can’t tell you specific scenes, but it was more about the incredibly true story about real people and situations, so epic and dramatic, that it opened my eyes to the possibility of what non-fiction film can be.

StarCo-directors Fawzia Mirza, Ryan Logan of “Queen of my Dreams”

Fawzia Mirza, Ryan Logan
Fawzia Mirza, Ryan Logan at the Chicago International Film Festival, Oct. 16th, 2012
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for In a few sentences, describe your film and more importantly what it means to you.

Fawzia Mirza: In three words, it’s a film about Bollywood, drag and identity. For me, it’s a story that I’ve had in the queer community, being Pakistani, Muslim and South Asian.

Ryan Logan: For me, it’s a film about Fawzia. I like the idea that it’s a universal story that translates love using Bollywood as a vehicle, and it communicates to everyone. It doesn’t matter that it’s two women, it was still universal. I was glad to be programmed in this category, other than the gay film section, just because of the universality of the film. What plan in pre-production do you like to use – storyboards, shot lists or do you just like to seat-of-the-pants your films?

Mirza: With this project, and projects that Ryan and I – and our DP Amanda Clifford – it’s that this is just a project we’d like to work on, and we’re very collaborative on how we work on it. It’s about the passion and energy, I guess it would be seat of the pants…[laughs]

Logan: I like to plan, and I like advance notice, but Fawzia is about calling me and saying ‘we’re doing this.’ And I always say, ‘great I’ll think about it’ and she comes back with ‘I’ve already booked it, it’s happening tomorrow, are you free?’ [laughs] That’s how it goes. When you talk about your love of filmmaking or film in general, what do you talk about primarily?

Mirza: I’m an actor first, a filmmaker second. But what I love about filmmaking is that I truly see this need to tell the stories I don’t see depicted of world that I know, I want to tell those stories. What I love is that now is the time I can create them. And Ryan as a collaborator is able to make that real in a way I never thought possible.

Logan: The reason we worked well together is that we’re both interested in pushing the form of film, and how we tell the story, in addition to what the film is about. It’s hard for me to connect to any filmmaker who doesn’t feel that way. It’s not only the story, it’s the way we tell, and that validates my reason for making a film. Let’s talk about the term ‘queer cinema.’ As a film critic, I don’t like to categorize films per se, but I know there is an identity aspect to the term. How do you think that avenue has made you more free as filmmakers, knowing that your addressing those identity issues?

Logan: Gay filmmakers are in conflict, because those issues are on everybody’s mind. They are worried about overly ‘normalizing’ something. As a gay person myself, when I lived in Boston there were few gay bars, as everyone there just mixed in straight clubs. I had come from a town which had a more open gay community, so in Boston it was harder to access just because it was more mainstream. That’s how it is in the gay film community – am I going to make something that will cater to a mainstream festival or gay community? I feel like the new gay cinema has the freedom of, ‘we don’t have to choose.’ We don’t apologize in our film for the relationship we depict. Finally, in the film that influences you the most as a director, what is your favorite scene and why?

Mirza: My motivation for this film was love and Indian cinema. Films specifically are harder, but the songs are so influential, which is the title of our film, ‘The Queen of my Dreams.’ That is what we’re searching for, that has been my quest in life and love, and the reason I became a director as well as an actor.

Logan: I wish mine was as sentimental. [laughs] I would say for me, as a gay boy from Kansas, it would be ‘Bad Education’ from Pedro Almodóvar. My favorite scene was the closing sequence, where it all wraps up. It was the first time for me that I had access to something so non-traditional or non-mainstream. It was the first film also that I saw, where I thought, ‘god, I wish I had made that.’ It taught me story movement, transitions and creative flow. And in that epic ending, after it was done, I wanted to die, because it was so gorgeous. It set off the feeling of ‘this is what I was meant to do.’

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