Wed, 01 Feb 2023 06:27:19 GMT
Zia Mandviwalla grew up in the Middle East, and being able to watch a movie was a fuzzy experience, at best, limited to censored bootleg video tapes. “There were no cinemas and Basic Instinct was only 20 minutes long. Instead of celluloid dreams, I grew up with a fascination with other people’s lives and a keen eye for people-watching,” says Zia.
One day, she decided to shoot a short film in her back garden while mulling over her future career path after graduation. It clicked. Zia spent the next few years chasing down film projects.
“I made anything I could: short films, wedding videos, music videos, instructional videos. I cut the news on a rural TV station (ask me anything about bovines). I documented the crazies in my neighbourhood; my travels in India; and I traded filming live music performances for free tickets to gigs. I eventually turned all of this into running around the world shooting films, commercials and episodes of Chef’s Table.”
Zia loves the sense of adventure in every gig she works on, and as she says, it’s tourism in unfamiliar worlds. “It’s seeing the beauty in someone else’s everyday and making it magic… It’s truly a privilege.”
Her passion swept her along, eventually leading to a call from the Festival De Cannes informing her that her short film had been accepted into the main competition. It was a defining moment for Zia.
“Truthful performance is the connective tissue for everything - I love enveloping an audience in unquestionable humanity. And then I excavate the story for the right visual language. I’m always looking for a lyricism in the camera that speaks to the deeper ideas at work and the underlying feeling of each film,” she says.
Saying something of substance and significance is everything to Zia, and it keeps her pushing the boundaries in her directing from her home ground in New Zealand.
At the heart of this story was the father/daughter relationship, and we wanted to hit the ground running with a dynamic that felt real. So, we got together and created a shared history. We talked through and improvised memories and milestones of their relationship: Dad’s experience of her first day at school; that 12th birthday party when someone’s hair caught on fire; bringing the dog home from the shelter for the first time. We made these moments part of our actors’ on-screen DNA. It wasn’t part of what we were shooting but it was woven into the fibres of their performance. When we got to set, they were already breathing in sync. The rest was about just existing in the present.
Also, that’s my dog Goose in the spot.
How do you create a visual language for a story about a piece of code that addresses a human story of inclusion and representation? It was the first question we asked ourselves.
We started to look at data collection online. I mean really look at how this gendered and misgendered people. For the first time, I found myself questioning why an airline needed to know my gender, or seeing that on mortgage application forms male and female were the only options offered, or wondering what was up with all those gender reveals.
We wanted to speak to the messages this puts out about gender. We thought about our relationship to screens, the boxes we tick and the pixels that define us. And ultimately, we wanted to create a visual arc where our previously unseen talent became both seen and celebrated at the end.
There is an alarming and heart-breaking number of people who remain in abusive relationships in order to protect their pets. Leaving is hard enough without worrying for the safety of those most vulnerable in your household. We asked ourselves the questions ‘What would you do if you did leave?’ ‘Where would you go?’ ‘What would you do?’ Our character’s journey was a response to those questions. The whole time, we balanced the vulnerability of the three lives inside that car with a young woman desperately holding it together while trying to find safety.
Miss Tootsie didn’t take too kindly to us when we first arrived in Lexington. Even though she’d agreed to be part of the show, she didn’t quite realise that a film crew would be tailing her every minute of the day. She didn’t want to talk about her past. She certainly didn’t want us to come to church with her and she ripped into me and the DP at 4am over a smoky pit of coals and sausage because she thought we were going to be arriving later.
The absolute joy of this episode of Chef’s Table is that every so often, Miss Tootsie calls us (in New Zealand) to check on ‘how y’all are doin’. You’ll see from the episode, she let us film in her church and also allowed us into her home, into her life and into her heart. When we cut this episode, we referred to her as being like a Greenland Shark - a majestic, beautiful and battle-scarred soul who has lived and endured.
It was a pleasure to get to know this incredible woman and it was an honour to tell her story.
We were all sitting in our homes at the start of Covid lockdown wondering what was going to happen to the world as we knew it. Covid numbers were rising, lockdowns were extending and we were given the challenge to make something emotional, rousing and inspiring - something to keep the nation going. With just empty spaces.
We were given special dispensation from the government (I still have my letter somewhere) to work. For Tomorrow was shot with a three-person crew who headed out into the silent, empty world with a camera. I was not one of them. I remained at home, not realising this was about to be the first of many remote shoots from my living room.
Through the process we leaned into the humanity that was missing from our frames - the voices in the music, the evocation of the missing humanity within those spaces. We wanted everyone to sense the lives lived, the breaths taken and feel hope that we would all return.
It’s great to be back.