November 19, 2007

November 19, 2007

Nina's Heavenly Delights, an uplifting film about following your heart, opens this Wednesday, November 21 in LA, and November 30th in NY. Director, Pratibha Parmar spoke with Women & Hollywood about the film and the struggles women directors go through to get their projects made.

W&H: Why was it important for you to tell this story?

Pratibha Parmar: Many reasons. One of the received wisdoms in the film industry is that you should always make your first film about something personal. So I chose to write a story that was based on my own experience of falling in love in a way and with a person that was a complete surprise! I wanted to tell a story that has at its heart a non traditional ‘forbidden love’ but using a traditional genre like romantic comedy.

W&H: It took seven years from writing the story until production. How did you persevere in your vision throughout that time?

PP: Now I know why they say make your first film about something you feel passionate about, because in that long seven year journey to get this film onto the screen, it really was sheer blind passion and determination that helped me to keep going. You hear so many more ‘No’s’ then you ever hear ‘maybe’ or ‘yes.’ It was also pride and sometimes anger that kept me going. I could see male directors with half the experience that I have making their debut features without the kind of intense struggle that I was going through, without having to ‘prove’ that they were ready to make a feature.

By the time I had come to make Nina’s Heavenly Delights, I had already made award winning documentaries and also directed a number of short dramas. So it was frustrating to say the least when I kept being asked by potential financiers if ‘I was confident enough to direct drama’ and ‘work with a big crew.’ I don’t think the majority of men in the film industry internationally have an innate sense of confidence in women directors in the way they do with male directors.

W&H: Did you write the film knowing that you would direct it? Do you think that more women directors are writing their own scripts because so few scripts are available to them to direct?

PP: Oh yes, when I wrote the story it was very much with a view to directing it. I am a director first and foremost and want to tell stories that I don’t often see on the cinema screens. I think first we have to be SEEN as directors to be even sent scripts for consideration. I am always having to generate my own work and that can often mean that you have to wait so many more years until you make your next feature. So it would be lovely to be sent scripts that have already gone through ‘development hell’ and are ready to go into production.

W&H: Music is a very important element in the film and brings life to many of the scenes especially in Bobbi's scenes. Talk a little about the importance of music in telling this story.

PP: Music has always been a key story telling device for me. I had chosen some of the songs in the film very early on. I wanted the texture of the music to reflect the world of the film which is a cross-cultural and cross everything else kind of world. The few Bollywood songs in the film have lyrics which help to advance the narrative. And then there are also contemporary pop songs like The Monkees’ ‘ Day Dream Believer’ and tracks from some great female singer/songwriters like Alex Parkes, Shelley Poole and Holly Vallance, whom many people will recognize. Music can trigger so many different emotional responses and you don’t always need dialogue when a lyric or a musical refrain can evoke the mood or story so much more effectively.

W&H: What do you want people to get out of this film?

PP: I want people to leave the cinema feeling happy, hungry and horny. No seriously – I want people to see the characters beyond their sexuality or culture. The film showed on British Airways long haul flights last Christmas and a friend was traveling from London to Delhi when it was screening. He got his whole cabin to watch the movie and at first a few of the Indian mothers were saying, ’oh dear, we didn’t know this happened in our communities,’ i.e., a woman falling in love with another woman, but then half way through the film, he said everyone forgot that Nina is gay and were rooting for her to win the cooking competition. It was great to hear that.

W&H: There are so few films released in the states that feature female leads and you not only have a woman lead in you piece, she is Asian and realizing she is gay. How is the film being marketed so that the widest audience possible will be exposed to the story? Do you think that the audience will be gay people, Asian people, Scottish people, women or all of the above?

PP: I hope that the audience will be people of every color, sexuality, musical tastes and everyone who enjoys a feel good movie! So far the film has screened at over 50 international film festivals – many of them mainstream festivals and some for niche markets. But across the board, the audiences have loved it. From Hong Kong to India to Paris to Turin, people have responded very positively.

The US distributors, Regent Releasing/hereFilms have been fantastic so far! They totally get that the movie has great potential to break out into the mainstream and so they are trying (with their limited resources) to get the word out there. Ultimately with films that are not ‘star’ led or have some kind of celebrity marketing push, it’s the WORD OF MOUTH that is crucial. So I really hope people who have seen it and like it blog about it, get onto Rotten Tomatoes and other sites and write or vote for it and help spread a buzz.

W&H: What does it mean to be a woman director in a world where so few women are directors? Do you feel an added responsibility?

PP: The main responsibility I feel is to myself as a story teller and to make films with truthfulness, honesty and integrity. In doing so, if the work inspires other women to want to become directors, then that’s terrific but I am not into carrying that ‘burden of responsibility’ for all women or all minorities for that matter. Having said that, I am an Associate of the Birds Eye Women’s Film Festival in the UK and have been their supporter since they first formed. As an active member of Women in Film & Television in the UK, I helped to initiate the Women Directing Change program where less experienced women directors get the opportunity to shadow more experienced film directors, both men and women. The abysmally low number of women directors is appalling- so I am supportive of anything that helps to change that.

Keep watch as to when the film will open in your city. More info: Nina's Heavenly Delights

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