Whistler Film Festival 2017 Interview: VENUS director Eisha Marjara
By Jason Whyte
Posted 12/01/17 06:11:18
"What if a strange kid came up to you and announced that you were his dad? And what if you told this kid that you, his dad, was transitioning into a woman? You could say that VENUS is a modern day gender-bending comedy about a blended family situation. The story is about Sid whose coming out gets complicated when she learns that she is the dad of a fourteen year old teenager named Ralph. Enter Sid's Punjabi parents who over night, go from being devastated about Sid's transition to ecstatic about discovering that they have a grandson. The only problem is, Ralph has not told his mom and step dad that he has tracked down his new Indian family. Director Eisha Marjara on VENUS which screens at the 2017 edition of the Whistler Film Festival.
Welcome to Whistler Film Festival! Are you planning to attend WFF for your screenings?
I will definitely be at the screenings of VENUS along with producer Joe Balass. I am also pleased to announce that Zena Daruwalla will be in attendance. She gives a powerful and passionate performance in the role of Sid's mom!
I heard you are back at WFF this year? Tell me about your previous experience here at the festival and your favorite parts of Whistler and the fest.
I came to Whistler as a part of the Praxis Screenwriter Lab which is run every year by Patricia Gruben. I was mentored for my upcoming feature CALORIE by bad girl kick ass screenwriter Guinevere Turner who wrote American Psycho, and Bettie Page. I love the location, naturally, the landscape and how cinematic the backdrop is. It is like when you step out of the cinema, the cinema just keeps going. Could we call it the Canadian exotica?
Great to have you back! Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and your previous work in the industry!
I got my foot in the door with my NFB feature docudrama DESPERATELY SEEKING HELEN. It's an autobiographical film about my search for Bollywood movie star and vamp Helen. The search was a way to explore representations of women in popular culture and my relationship with my mother who I lost in the Air India bombing of flight 182. The film won some prestigious awards at film festivals. I made several short fiction films after that, which danced around similar themes of gender, belonging and identity. Venus is my first feature, and I am currently developing CALORIE, a dramatic comedy. I have also written a novel called FAERIE about a teenager battling anorexia.
How did VENUS come about for you?
VENUS was inspired by my short film HOUSE FOR SALE, which received several awards and seemed to resonate with audiences. It's about a transgender woman who is having an affair with a married man. My curiosity around gender identity, sexuality and the transgender experience flowered from there, which is when I wrote VENUS. I met with producer Joe Balass of Compass productions with the project and we submitted it to the NSI Features First Programme and got in. Joe and I work well as a team and are passionate about the similar themes; queerness, gender, immigration and family.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
I don't feel like I need to be driven. In other words, it's not a matter of discipline or motivation. It's pure pleasure for me. I love the process. Not that it's not hard and frustrating at times, but I never question whether to quit or do something else. It has never crossed my mind. It's like asking a river if it would rather stop flowing when it meets a boulder. Making films and writing seem like the most natural things for me to do.
All projects are challenging in many ways, some more than others. What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment where you knew you had something special with VENUS?
Before I met Joe Balass, it was really hard getting anywhere with it. I did not know where to begin. I knew I did not want to produce the movie myself. Once he came on board and NSI took us on, there was no holding us back. VENUS would not have happened without our team effort. Joe is the hardest working most tenacious and passionate producer on the planet! On earth anyway. We always knew we had something different and special with the story of VENUS. Getting it off the ground was a slow and steady process.[br]
I am about to get on the technical side of things, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.
I wanted anamorphic! I felt that space was important in a film about a trans person coming out. I wanted the audience to experience the horizon, stretch the borders of her life previously kept in the confines of the closet. We shot the film on ARRI Alexa mini with prime Hawk anamorphic lenses we ordered from Toronto. I come from a photography background, so storyboarding is important for me. I storyboarded the entire movie, which I shared with the cinematographer Mark O Fearghail. The aesthetic and cinematic style really came together when we got Eric Barbeau, the production designer, on board. We strove to achieve an other-worldly look to the film. Dreamy, soft focus and feminine, emblematic of Venus. The costume designer Noemi Poulin also integrated the other worldly theme in her choice of jewelry and accessories while maintaining a modern urban look for the trans lead.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Whistler?
I am looking forward to laughter from the audience. I really hope they do laugh! I also love question and answer sessions and getting an insight into the audience's perception of the film. I will also be looking forward to getting the reaction of actress Zena Daruwalla who will be seeing the film for the first time!
After the film screens here, where is the film going to show next?
We are still awaiting replies from film festivals. So my guess is as good as anybody else. The film will be released theatrically in the spring of 2018.
If you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
Although I am not familiar with theatres globally except for Cineplex, it would be BFI Southbank in London. I have a feeling VENUS would do well in London; the film's combination of comedy and art house sensibility would lend itself well to the location.
What would you say or do to someone who was being disruptive at a screening you were attending?
Been there, and did not put up with noise. I tell them politely, or not so politely, to quiet down. "Hey do you mind keeping your voice down please?"
What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?
Get clear about who you are. Get clear about your voice as a filmmaker. That's what will set you apart and attract attention from the industry and the audience, AND keep you going for the long haul.
And finally, what is the greatest movie you have seen at a film festival?
I saw an obscure faux documentary by Peter Jackson called FORGOT SILVER at the Montreal World Film Festival. Half way through the film I realized that it was all fiction. It was brilliant, hilarious and very clever.
Read my review of this film and many others playing at WFF this year in my preview article by clicking HERE!
This is one of the many films playing at the 2017 Whistler Film Festival. For showtime information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website at whistlerfilmfestival.com!
Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a photo or two. You can also follow the festival Instagram Stories at jason.whyte!
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com