Last month, the Cinequest Film and Virtual Reality Festival wrapped up leaving audience members all over Silicon Valley wanting more and opening their eyes to absolutely creative talent all over the world.
One film that should be mentioned is Imitation Girl which had its world premiere at the festival. If you’re into sci-fi and characters discovering themselves, this is for you. Director and writer Natasha Kermani put together a thought-provoking film that can probably relate to viewers more than they imagine. Check out our interview with Natasha below where we learn more about her career background, how the film came about, and her time at Cinequest!
The Young Folks: I’d love to know your story on how you got into filmmaking. How did you dive into becoming a director and a writer?
Natasha Kermani: I grew up in a very arts-friendly environment – my mother is a performance/multi-media artist and from an early age I was playing music and putting on small plays and making little movies. Yes, I was a bookish nerd, but I was also very comfortable in front of an audience, and quickly made the jump from reading to writing and performing my own ideas. I was lucky enough to go to a high school with a fantastic arts program, and from there I attended NYU’s UG Film and Television program, where I was able to not only develop as a writer and a director, but also work as a crew member for a number of years. My initial passion for filmmaking grew into a deep respect for the craft of film directing while working for a directing professor at NYU, who really helped me appreciate the challenges and creativity that is demanded of a film director. I was constantly intrigued by the craft – which requires not only a thorough understanding of the technical aspects, but also leadership skills in combination with a deep rooted compassion and understanding of story and character. In 2012, I created our production company, Illium Pictures, with a few close fellow NYU grads. Having a production company gave me a great foundation to begin creating work out of school, and provided the infrastructure and support system to make the move from short films and music videos to higher end commercial work and eventually my first feature film.
What’s a film, show, etc. that has inspired you the most after watching it and why?
This is such a tough question! I pull so much inspiration from the content I see or read – I try to always have a novel in hand and a TV show on my queue. I am a genre filmmaker with a deep love for science fiction and am always on the lookout for awesome sci-fi content. But I have to say, if I really go back into ancient history, I’d have to credit the first time I saw 2001 Space Odyssey as a really pivotal moment. I was very, very young – probably like 6 or 7 years old – at a family reunion, and someone had left the TV playing a Kubrick retrospective on, and 2001 was playing. I remember sitting down and being completely mesmerized from start to finish – I definitely had no idea what the hell was happening, but it sparked so much in my imagination, a sense of wonder and mystery in this perfectly sublime package of miniatures and shapes and colors. I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered, truth be told.
Imitation Girl was SO interesting to watch. What is the story behind the film? How did it come about and what motivated you to write/create this?
The story is actually very simple: it is the idea of two halves becoming one. I think that there is inherent contradiction that lives within us all – a ying and a yang portion – and it is by balancing and making peace with both halves that we can form our identity and move forward into the universe. Imitation Girl is the story about two separate identities becoming one. In some ways, the Julianna character has lost her sense of joy, wonder, passion. The alien who takes her shape experiences these things – love, pleasure, beauty – but must also learn that to be human means juggling those emotions with the darker side of life. There is proof that the majority of our universe is ‘dark’ matter and ‘dark’ energy. I loved that image and that is really where the idea of splitting the identities of a single character comes from: to show a mirror image that is The Other, who comes to our world and reflects our own identities back in our direction. I’m also a Gemini and I think I’ve always been fascinated by the image of The Twins – especially seeing women who look alike or identical. As women, our relationships with our faces is incredibly complicated – so tied in with our identity – that when you start playing around with the idea of reflections and manipulating image you start getting to some really interesting places. Finally, I was very inspired by Lauren Ashley Carter’s talent, and I really wanted to see her acting across from herself!! I hope viewers will enjoy watching as much as I enjoyed seeing her bring these characters to life on set. Her talent is really incredible to watch.
Why did you decide to use New Mexico and New York as your two main locations for the movie?
We always knew we’d be shooting in New York City as that is our base and we have some amazing resources which came together to make those scenes possible on an incredibly tight budget and schedule. New Mexico was a bit trickier – we knew that we wanted a landscape that would be very physically different from New York City, and I knew I wanted a dry, desert environment that would really contrast with winter in New York. Ultimately we chose Albuquerque because of its striking beauty and welcoming film commission, as well as the great crew available to us.
What was the most difficult thing during the process of completing this film?
I’m sure that filmmakers at every level of their career feel this way, but it really is very challenging to make an Ultra Low Budget film, especially one with special effects and ambitious themes. I consider myself very lucky to have had such an amazing cast and crew that were able to stretch every dollar, and am so proud of the production value we were able to achieve. We will always want more time! But we were very specific from the outset with this project about what our goals were and how we planned to get this film made, and because we stayed disciplined and focused, we were able to accomplish a lot with very little. The most difficult thing for me is asking people to dedicate their time and energy when they are being underpaid – but we always tried to make sure that they were not under appreciated!
How did you go about casting Lauren Ashley Carter for the leading role?
Lauren and I met several years ago through a mutual friend and immediately wanted to work together. We collaborated on a short film, Bereavement, and then a six part web series with Lewis Black, called The Mentors, and at the time I was developing some ideas for my first feature film. After working with Lauren on those short form projects, I knew I wanted her in the film, and also felt that she could handle the task of playing a ‘dual role’ lead. So, essentially, the roles were written with her in mind and came from the trust and friendship we had built working together on the other projects. We are developing some new projects now and I look forward to our continued collaboration in the future!
What do you want your audience to take away after watching the film?
I think that ultimately Imitation Girl has a positive message, though the end might have a foreboding tone, because it suggests that we are all capable of balancing the light with the dark to overcome our fear and the challenges that we all face. I hope as well that Imitation Girl is an opportunity for audiences to see Iranians in a different light, especially right now in our current toxic political climate. I am first generation Iranian American, and it was important for me to feature Persian actors – especially in a story that is, to a great extent, about accepting Otherness.
How or when did you know Imitation Girl was completely finished with no more edits, re-shoots, etc.?
When we ran out of money!! (ha-ha) Actually, the post production process with this film was very smooth – our editor, Gabriel De Urioste, did some fantastic work stitching the piece together, and we had the piece fully edited about three months after we completed principal photography. On an ultra low budget picture your resources are always stretched very thin, so we tried to be as efficient as possible throughout the entire process while keeping to our deadlines. We had a few test screenings, which were very helpful as well.
How did you come to hear about the Cinequest Film Festival? How was your experience overall?
We found out about Cinequest Film Festival through one of our EP’s, Claudia Murdoch, who suggested we submit. We had heard great things about the festival, especially their focus on the filmmakers’ interactions and experience, and we were not disappointed – the festival created a great atmosphere for discussion and meeting new people. It was a great start to our festival circuit.
What’s next for Imitation Girl?
We have some exciting announcements coming up regarding festivals and screenings in the USA and abroad this year – you can follow us at @illiumpictures for updates!