Your upcoming movie Seeking Valentina
- in a few words, what
is it about?
is a psychological thriller about a Jewish
writer named Benjamin played by Ali Bavarian [Ali
Bavarian interview - click here], who lost his wife to
cancer after a year and rents out his bedroom to a mysterious woman named
Valentina played by Kristin West [Kristin
West interview - click here]. Over the course of three days, Valentina
disappears and Benjamin goes out to search for her not knowing
if this could be a dream, a hallucination, or if the tenant is a runaway
or a ghost. It's an ambiguous story where it allows the audience to
think for themselves.
What were your sources of inspiration when
writing Seeking Valentina, and was any of it based on personal
had this story in development about a father and son living in a remote
area in the outskirts of California. As I was writing the treatment, I was
thinking about my father, who is a handyman and a landlord. Of course
his job was to pick up the month's rent and fix any maintenance problems
that were reported, but I had this curiosity of what would happen if
the person, who was the source of your income just disappeared without
a trace? I am also a big admirer of Ingmar Bergman's work and Persona
was a huge inspiration for Seeking Valentina. Ingmar Bergman's movie
contains all sorts of themes from death, betrayal, insanity and illusion
vs. reality, which are key elements in Seeking Valentina.
With Seeking Valentina
being called a
psychological thriller - how would you describe your approach to the
genre, and to what extent does your movie follow genre conventions?
color blue is referenced and shown in Benjamin's story. The color blue
symbolizes depression, melancholy and this gloomy atmosphere that Benjamin
is surrounded in. At the same time, Benjamin is still mourning the
loss of his wife as well as having deceased parents, an estranged sister
and his only child that he's trying to reconnect with. He's a lonely man
that hides behind his charm and internalizes his pain.
talk about the overall look and feel of your movie for a bit!
course there is the look and feeling of blue in Seeking Valentina. Benjamin's
residence takes place in a remote area. He lives in a 1800's house
that is surrounded by trees and acres of land. There are mystical and
mysterious elements to the story and it continues to get more and more moody
as the story progresses.
also appear in front of the camera in Seeking Valentina
- so what
can you tell us about your character, and what did you draw upon to bring
him to life? And did you write him with yourself in mind?
I did write him with myself in mind. I play the role of Jay. Jay is Benjamin's
disgruntled brother-in-law. He is a bookish, collected guy, who is
just fed up with the tensions between Benjamin and his sister Ana played
by Vida Ghaffari [Vida Ghaffari
interview - click here]. My character's objective was to not only watch Ana
try and bring Benjamin back to sanity, but to make sure that Ana stays
in reality and making the effort of getting Benjamin the help that he needs.
can you tell us about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?
a great question. The casting of this film was premeditated. Being
an Iranian-American of first-generation, it was very important to me that
the Iranian-Americans in this story were portrayed by actual Iranian-Americans
and that they have a voice in cinema. My second cousin Mel A. Gibson,
who plays Benjamin's son Jacob, is a newcomer in the film world. He
is half Iranian and half Caucasian. I feel that it's absolutely necessary to
show the world that actors of Middle Eastern decent, who look like Mel and
Vida, are ethnically ambiguous. The other cast members are Srinivasa Kapavarapu,
who is a dear friend of mine and I went to acting school with him.
Srini is Indian and portrayed Benjamin's psychiatrist Dr. Lodi and also
in the cast are the wonderful Emily Heffner and Diane Silvester who play
Amy and Pamela. They work at the rock shop, which plays a significant
part in the fictional town known as Red River Valley. I wanted to cast
a movie that showcased diversity, gender balance and actors playing against type.
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
principal of photography took six days, 500 miles starting from North
Hollywood, Ojai and the Inland Empire. We had a very small crew. It was
a low budget and many of the cast and crew members were working multiple
positions on the set. It was one of those production experiences where
we would go from wearing summer clothes in one city to wearing winter
clothes in a snowing city around 7,000 ft above sea level. Also, we were
working, eating and sleeping in the same house that a huge percentage
of the movie takes place in. Everybody was working tirelessly and
I can speak for everybody that we all gained life experiences pertaining
to our creative, personal and work growth.
$64-question of course, when and where will the film be released onto the
are still in post-production. We are anticipating that it will be released
in the fall.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
I have a number of projects in development. There is no movie as
front runner at the moment.
far as I know, you initially entered the filmworld as an actor - so what
got you into acting, and what can you tell us about your training as an
since I was a child, I was always intrigued by actors performing on
television and movies. I was entertained by what they were saying and how
they were saying their lines on screen. In my eyes, the actors on screen
were getting away with swearing, lying, kissing, sex, violence and murder.
That's when I decided I wanted to become an actor and get away with
all of those things. When I entered high school, I took a drama class and
auditioned for a part in The Crucible. I was one of the two freshmen that
landed a part in the play. I was surrounded by upperclassmen and it helped
me grow as an actor. I had a small part and received a positive reception
from multiple classmates and faculty members. I moved to Wilmington,
NC at the age of 20 and started working on small films with my
friends. I studied Meisner acting under Jack Landry and got further training
at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, where I studied
method acting, Shakespeare along with singing, dancing and stage
combat during the intense eight month process.
What prompted you to also step behind the camera
had two choices. I could just focus on acting and go from audition to audition
hoping that the directors can select me or do what Robert Townsend,
Warren Beatty, Jon Favreau and Woody Allen do and that's grabbing
the bull by the horn and do it yourself by creating your own opportunities
as well as for other artists.
Any movies of yours (in whatever position)
prior to Seeking Valentina you'd like to talk about?
2009, I directed a short film from my school titled Jump, which is about
a guy who falls in love with a French prostitute as he tries to get her
on a train to New York before the cartels find them. After I finished school,
I started working on multiple positions on film production before editing.
One of the projects I edited was a web series called Blackman Depressed
created by Derek Dow. He is a multi-talented Chicago native and
a friend of mine, who I learned so much from. Prior to Blackman Depressed,
I also worked on a short film titled Son Shine. The film is directed
by my friend Katrelle Kindred and the story follows the 1992 LA riot
from the eyes of a 13 year old boy and the film has gone through 13 film festivals.
would you describe yourself as an actor and as a director?
studied theater, Sanford Meisner, Uta Hagan and Konstantin Stanislavsky
from different instructors. I believe that acting on screen is 80%
attitude and 20% dialogue. As an actor, I take what's written on the piece
of paper and facilitate it. I do my research, take events from my life experience
and substitute it on the characters that I portray. For me, the accomplishment
is to embody the spirit of a character and stay in the moment.
As a director, not only does the outlook of the film and the cast have
to be spot on, but the chemistry is the most important thing - or else how
do good actors but bad chemistry sell on screen? I describe myself
as an actor's director. I come from an acting background and I like giving
actors the freedom to bring their characters to life and giving them the
direction that will help the story do justice.
actors, writers, whoever else who inspire you?
of the actors who inspire me are Robert DeNiro, Daniel DayLewis, Gene
Wilder, Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Kevin Kline. Filmmakers that inspire me are Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick,
Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Hal Ashby, Rob Reiner, Jonathan Demme,
and Ingmar Bergman, whose movies have been the biggest inspiration for Seeking Valentina.
of my favorite movies are Stand By Me, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho,
The Graduate, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi
Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas,
After Hours, A Bronx Tale, The Shawshank Redemption,
Pulp Fiction, Swingers, and the list goes on...
... and of course, films you really
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
can give you a list of many bad movies, but to cut my answer short, I
films that have no character development. Films that already have
established for the audience to just accept and to rely heavily on
just the plot during a run time two hours or more.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
can check out our website
us on the Seeking Valentina
Facebook page and also follow us on
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
have forgotten to ask me if I like to play the bongos?
Thanks for the interview!