Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sundance with Arielle: Hala

It’s my pleasure to introduce Arielle, my wife and an eager new contributor who is covering the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City this year, along with a few Sundance selections.

Directed by Minhal Baig
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Before I had the tremendous privilege to watch Hala, I was lucky enough to be seated just ten feet away from the brains behind it at Chase Sapphire on Main: director, screenwriter, and producer, Minhal Baig; executive producer, Jada Pinkett Smith; lead actress, Geraldine Viswanathan (Hala); and supporting actors Azad Khan (Zahid), Anna Chlumsky (Shannon), and Gabriel Luna (Mr. Lawrence). Without knowing anything about the film beforehand, it was fascinating to learn where the idea for this film began.

Director Minhal Baig and executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith

Baig explained that growing up, she didn’t see family dynamics that looked like hers depicted in media. She wanted to capture the nuances of a religious, but more importantly, culturally Muslim family on camera, and she wanted to shed light on the issues that she faced as a teenager coming of age within the boundaries that delineated. While she stressed that Hala is not her, she ingrained bits of her own story into every character in the film. Viswanathan was excited to do an in-depth character study like the one this film offered her; she was excited by the complexities that Hala offered as a teenage woman figuring out who she is and what she wants, a feeling many of us can understand regardless of our heritage or upbringing. As his debut film, Khan found the parallels of playing a Pakistani Muslim who had spent his first thirty or so years in Pakistan were uncanny to his own life, and similar to the actress playing his daughter, he feels this storyline has the capacity to resonate with everyone. And once Pinkett Smith knew was this film was about, she jumped on board. She felt that Baig’s voice needed to be heard and she wanted to make it happen. In fact, she wanted to ensure that the voices of all those who tend to be underrepresented was heard loud and clear throughout the process, which is why an inclusion rider was adopted by Overbrook Entertainment and Endeavor Content during the making of this film.

Cast and crew discuss the film at Chase Sapphire on Main

The film is told from Hala’s perspective, but there are things that even she does not know that unfold as the characters and the story develop. Baig intentionally created her characters that way, hoping that they would deepen as the film progressed. “They may be the supporting character in her story, but they’re the protagonist in their own, and it was important for every character to feel that way.”

While Baig has yet to tell her own mother that she made a movie (as of now, her mother just knows she worked on one) because of the cultural norms she feels she is pushing through its content, I think Apple’s purchase of the film may be the catalyst that pushes her to come clean. And from my perspective, this film is one that Baig and of which every member of the cast and crew should be tremendously proud.


No comments: