by Jason Whyte
Blood Relative - At VIFF
“Blood Relative follows the remarkable story of Indian activist Vinay Shettywho is fighting to save two young adults who are dying from the disease Thalassemia. As a result of not being able to afford life-saving medication, fourteen-year-old Divya and twenty-four year old Imran have severely stunted growth and remain trapped in the bodies of children. Chronicling Vinay's battle to get Divya and Imran free medical treatment, the film gets unprecedented access into modern India's broken health care system. Caught in the middle are Vinay and the children he must look after who are bound together by ties stronger than blood.” Director Nimisha Mukerji on her film “Blood Relative” which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.
Is this your first film in the Vancouver International Film Festival? Do you plan to attend Vancouver for the screenings?
In 2009 my film 65_RedRoses screened at VIFF and went on to win two audience awards at the festival; Most Popular Canadian Film and Most Popular Documentary. I’m excited to attend the screenings of Blood Relative at the festival this year.
Could you give me a little look into your background and what led you to the desire to want to make film?
I’m a UBC Film Production grad, but I actually went into my degree with a plan to study English Literature. On a whim, I took a film class as an elective, and it quickly went from being a passion to an obsession. I was spending all my time in the edit room trying to learn how to use the programs. I loved watching films but then it became about understanding the language of cinema. I hadn’t owned a camera before or ever tried making a film until I was at UBC. It never occurred to me that I could actually become a filmmaker!
How did this project come together?
I was finishing up 65_RedRoses when a friend of mine returned from a trip to India. She stayed with some of my relatives and met my Uncle Vinay who was working with kids suffering from Thalassemia. She encouraged me to look into his story, and while I was resistant at first because I knew the subject matter would be about an illness (and I had just completed 65_RedRoses which was about someone going through transplant) I quickly realized that my reasons not to make the film weren’t nearly as strong as the reasons forwhy I should. The children I met in Indiawere facing life and death situations, the stakes were so high that I was immediately hooked into their story and Vinay’s plight. I wanted to know what would happen next.
What was the biggest challenge in the making of this movie?
Access was the biggest challenge, access to my subjects and access to locations that are normally restricted. Cameras aren’t allowed to film in government hospitals, and we had a lot of people tell us that getting an Indian politician to agree to speak on camera would be impossible. But over the months we spent in Mumbai we met some incredible people who understood the social message of the film and wanted the project to succeed. They helped us secure incredible access. After that itwas just about my cinematographer and myself just staying open to the possibilities.
Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
My cinematographer Mark Ratzlaff (also the editor and co-producer of the film) picked the Panasonic HPX 170 because it was lightweight, worked well in low light and was small enough to avoid attracting attention. We filmed on the trains; we filmed in rickshaws, and in a lot of very crammed spaces. So this camera was ideal for the conditions we had to work in. Also Mark’s background is directing, which was a huge asset since he’s a natural storyteller and always knew where to point the camera.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are? Any inspirations for this film in particular?
I was inspired by Eva Markvoort (the subject of 65_RedRoses) to make this film. Her love of life and desire to connect with people from around the world is what motivated me to take the leap and travel to India without knowing where this story would go. After Eva passed away I was on a plane to Mumbai three days later, and the magical thing that happened when I landed in India was that I was hit with this wave of generosity. Even if people had nothing they would offer you a cup of chai and a good story. The friendships I made in Mumbai gave me a lot of strength – and hope.
Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.
Well if money was no object and I was totally dreaming, I would love to work with Aaron Sorkin!
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
I think critical success is important for independent films in terms of giving them a better chance to be seen. For documentaries a good review or quote of endorsement can make all the difference. With 65_RedRoses we were lucky to receive a lot of amazing press as well as notable awards within Canada, and that helped us draw the attention of networks in the US. Getting chosen for Oprah’s Documentary Club was a game changer for us. It was followed by a great review in the New York Times and it just kept driving the film forward. Promotion is always the hard part for independents, because we just don’t have the budget to publicize our screenings. Festivals help generate buzz.
If your film could play in any movie theatre or "space" in the world, which one would you choose?
I love Vancity Theatre, it’s my favorite in Vancouver. And after attending festivals in Toronto, TIFF Lightbox is a place I would love to screen one day.
No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start, and especially for those with films in the festival circuit?
Don’t let rejection stop you. There’s a lot of rejection in film, and like all the arts, it’s subjective. You have to stay strong and persistent, even when faced with a “no.”
How can people keep in touch with the film at this point in the festival circuit?
Please visit the film’s website, www.bloodrelative.net and we have a Facebook & Twitter page as well as a Youtube channel with lots of great clips from Mumbai that you can access through this site!
And finally, what is your all time favorite movie and why?
It’s hard to pick a favorite film, but I definitely have a favorite movie-going experience. I adore The Passion of Joan of Arc. It’s a masterpiece that was almost lost to the world and two years ago I had the chance to see Voices of Light at the Chan Centre. There was a big screen projector with a live orchestra and choir. I fell in love with film all over again.
This is one of the official selections in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival lineup. For more information on films screening at this year’s fest, showtimes, updates and other general info, point your browser to www.viff.org.
Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF ’12 on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #viff12 is the official hashtag.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3442
originally posted: 10/06/12 03:51:08