Interviews with former Fellows Emelie Mahdavian and Kristina Motwani about 2019 Sundance selection "Midnight Traveler" | BAVC

Interviews with former Fellows Emelie Mahdavian and Kristina Motwani about 2019 Sundance selection "Midnight Traveler"

Success Story
January 6, 2019
By 
Nicole Opper

When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run.

 

2017 BAVC Mediamaker Fellowship project "Midnight Traveler" is premiering in competition at Sundance 2019. Image of hands holding a cellphone recording a woman and her children walking down rural path in the winter.

 

Emelie Mahdavian was a 2017 BAVC Mediamaker Fellow when “Midnight Traveler” was in production. The film is now set to premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

 

Emilie, what is your our role/credit on the film?

Producer/Writer/Editor

 

How did you come to tell this story?

Hassan Fazili and I met through a mutual friend and shortly thereafter I programmed his short film Mr. Fazili’s Wife in the Davis Feminist Film Festival. I am a Persian-speaker with a Ph.D. in the film and media of Central Asia, and I was impressed by his work. Before the idea of Midnight Traveler emerged, during the period that the family was trying to avoid having to take the smuggling route, I tried to organize a letter-writing campaign in support of the family’s case. When their situation deteriorated, I agreed to help Hassan in documenting their life. We did not know what the end product would be at that stage, but we felt it was worth capturing and preserving. So from day one of the filmmaking journey, I was there to provide logistical support and to collaborate with Hassan to tell his family’s story.

 

What was the greatest surprise you encountered during the making of this film?

At the outset, none of us fully understood the duration of the journey the family was embarking upon. Over the course of the two years of shooting the film, his daughters grew up, he and his wife Fatima were both evolving in their hopes and fears, and every member of the Fazili family participated in shooting some element of the film. Much of the insider perspective and humanity of the film emerges as a consequence of this multi-perspectival approach. But still, after nearly three years, the family does not have permanent asylum in Europe. We all thought that by the time the film was in festivals, their legal status would be much more resolved.

 

Where do you find creative inspiration?

We really worked to let the aesthetic of the mobile phones guide the storytelling and edit. What the family captured has an incredible intimacy that pushes the film beyond the “refugee film” genre. So, we aimed to make something that was cinematic, not simply a work of reportage. In the edit, we avoided all establishing shots as a means of keeping the audience immersed in the family’s journey. We often included elements that would normally be trimmed from a shot: the refocus, the reframing, and the visual glitches of the mobile phone camera. Throughout, we embraced the aesthetic messiness of the journey and the mobile phone footage as an integral part of the nature of this story, while also seeking out moments that celebrate the unique artistic perspective of the Fazili family.

 

How did participating in the MediaMaker fellowship impact your journey with this film?

BAVC was our very first "yes," which is an incredibly important first hurdle. I'm grateful to BAVC for seeing the potential in the project and including us. During the fellowship, I met Kristina Motwani, my Co-Editor, and through fellow Rodrigo Reyes I met Su Kim, who also came on board the project as a Producer. Without both of them, the work of Producing and Editing this film would have been impossible.

 

What would be your advice to future MediaMaker fellows?

Take advantage of the chance to build strong relationships with your cohort, and treat each meeting as a deadline for whatever "homework" you can give yourself. There are lots of opportunities to grow professionally and make new connections in the course of the fellowship. 

 

What is your greatest hope for 2019, both for yourself and for the world?

I'm hoping that as this film travels the festival circuit this year, the Fazili family finally has the opportunity to settle into a permanent home.

 


 

Kristina Motwani was also a BAVC MediaMaker Fellow in 2017 (working on her film What Happened to Amos), where she met Emelie and become the and Co-Editor of “Midnight Traveler.” 

 

Kristina, what is your role/credit on the film?

Co-editor

 

What was the greatest surprise you encountered during the making of this film?

I was surprised at how uplifting a story it became. While the subject matter is heavy, at the heart of the story is this family who cares and loves one another and in the biggest adversity they still find joy and happiness where they can. Gives you some hope for the human spirit.

 

Where do you find creative inspiration?

Emelie and I found a great working relationship, where I think we both push each other creativity. I'd say for me, the creative inspiration came from our partnership.

 

How did participating in the MediaMaker fellowship impact your journey with this film?

I wouldn't have ended up having the privilege of working on this project without the MediaMaker fellowship! That is how Emelie and I met and I learned more and more about the project.

 

What would be your advice to future MediaMaker fellows?

Embrace your cohort, relationships are really the key. So many times while making a film you feel like you're working in vacuum and this is a chance to collaborate! And to that note make sure you help your other people in your cohort too, they will help you more than you know.

 

What is your greatest hope for 2019, both for yourself and for the world?

My greatest hope for 2019 for myself is to continue to work on projects that interest and inspire me and push me in my storytelling and creative skills. For the world, may it be a kinder more empathic place for all of us.