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SXSW '05 Interview: 'Highway Courtesans' Director Mystelle Brabbee

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Highway Courtesans' Pitch: What happens when an independent-minded young girl is born into a centuries-old tradition of prostitution? Against the rich backdrop of rural India, we follow Guddi Chauhan from the age of 17 through 23 as she struggles against tradition in hopes of accomplishing her dreams.

"Coming of age in a community of prostitution "

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience?
Regretfully, first time SXSW'er. This is the US premiere for the film. Only internationally- not in the US yet. Oh, I run a film festival though. I typically sit on the other side of the fence.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
David Bowie.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
With larger than life storytelling fantasies, two pennies and too many naive ideas.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
A lot of nice e-mails have come my way. Ask me again after the festival.

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
I had festivals in mind. Always thought it would be great to get to SXSW.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
Script? I wish, that would have been nice. Finish? I highly doubt this film will ever be finished.

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Next time, it might be a good idea to film something I have access to, perhaps in a language I speak and perhaps a little closer to home.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
Sure. Salaam Bombay and Bombay Prostitute - any film I could get my hands on about prostitution. Old Robert Gardner films too.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?
Dare I say L'Avventura.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.
Not dying to work with actors right now. Dying to work with people and their stories. No actors in my film. Just people.

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
Yikes. Perhaps a certain nameless festival could be deflated a little to avoid making so many feel like the forgotten redheaded step child. Favorite part by far has been meeting other filmmakers.

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
That's an esoteric question. Therein lies the answer to my happiness.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
No, my editor would have beaten me with a wooden stick.


Highway Courtesans, directed by Mystelle Brabbee, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information.

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originally posted: 02/23/05 12:29:27
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